About what matters

Writing about what really matters

Category: Love

Forty-eight things I’ve learned along the way

Leo cropped

Nora Ephron famously felt bad about her neck (though hopefully she no longer does). I do not, despite having the sort of neck not found on any swan, the sort of neck not flattered by a flaw-concealing turtleneck.

In those moments when I could be feeling bad about my neck, I instead choose to feel good about the head sitting on top of it–specifically the many contents that were missing in the days when the neck beneath was flawless.

In honor of my birthday, a list of 48 random things I’ve learned thus far. (Links are mostly to previous blog posts.)

  1. How to choose my battles. It’s amazing when I think about it now, how many (unimportant) things I was once willing to pitch battle for.
  2. Being able to recognize my ego’s involvement has really made all the difference. At least 99% of the time, that’s what the battle was really about.
  3. Compassion is a great thing to have on hand when your own or someone else’s ego flares up.
  4. Kindness is also pretty important. Even when you need to draw a boundary firmly, it’s generally possible to do it with kindness.
  5. How to forgive continually.
  6. And how to release bitterness–also key.
  7. I used to think being smart was a lot more important than it really is. It’s nice, sure, but far from the most important thing.
  8. Love–that would be the most important thing.
  9. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear …” (I John 4:18, KJV). When fear comes up in one of its many guises, love is the antidote.
  10. Learning to meditatelife-changing for sure.
  11. I learned I was an artist–and I bet you are too. I’d love to see everyone find a really good way to access their right brains.
  12. I grew up laboring in a huge organic vegetable garden, but only as an adult did I discover the joy of working hand-in-hand with Mother Nature to unleash plants’ amazing desire to grow and thrive.
  13. I still remember reading the magazine article that taught me to recognize a narcissist. Based on my early experience, I was choosing narcissists as friends. (Word to the wise: they don’t make very good ones.) I’ve finally learned to stop doing that. Woohoo!
  14. I’ve also learned to allow others to be exactly who they are. If people in my life are behaving badly, I generally do say a few words about it–and leave it at that. People have to change, if that’s what they’re going to do, at their own pace. I hope that if they’re not ready to hear now, they will be later.
  15. But just because I must allow people to be exactly who they are doesn’t mean I have to allow everyone into my inner circle, regardless of their behavior.
  16. Much if not most of what I was taught as a child simply isn’t true.
  17. It’s OK to be uncertain. Embracing a model that offers a complete set of answers about how the world works is certainly tempting, but it’s also a pretty good way to be wrong.
  18. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter a great deal what people believe, if anything. What really matters is how we treat others. Living a good life isn’t dependent on a particular worldview.
  19. Therefore, beliefs are generally not worth fighting for–but a value might be. Justice is worth fighting for.
  20. Karma is real–a universal law to which there are no exceptions.
  21. At the same time, if you’re a graduate student in the school of life, expectations are higher for you than for someone at the elementary-school level–and that’s fair.
  22. I no longer believe you only live once. I find this comforting, because it means there’s no need to try to accomplish everything, see everything, do everything, in this one lifetime. Accordingly, I don’t have a bucket list–or if I do, it’s a short one.
  23. It’s OK to relax. In fact, it’s a really good idea.
  24. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being an introvert. Oh, I am an introvert. (I was quite sure for awhile that I was right and Myers-Briggs was all wrong.)
  25. Models are really helpful, but there’s still a lot they don’t reveal.
  26. Life is not a competition.
  27. Cooperation is really enjoyable.
  28. Sarcasm is best in small doses, and is probably not one of the world’s great art forms.
  29. Participation in social media is not a measure of the validity of my life. And Facebook friends are not the same as real friends.
  30. Complaining isn’t a tool for making anything better, though feedback might be.
  31. Having companion animals is totally worth the trouble and mess. And just think of all the money I’ve saved by eliminating carpet and rugs from my life!
  32. An old house is worth the trouble too. But it’s best to have an excellent plumber, electrician, carpenter, and painter on speed dial.
  33. I am the very best person, bar none, to define what my life should look like.
  34. A good, hot bath can cure what ails you.
  35. A good cup of hot tea (my favorite: acai green tea) is also a pretty good idea. I leave my desk for at least one cup of tea every day I work.
  36. Whether or not you should listen to your mother depends entirely on what your mother has to say.
  37. The leaders of my country may or may not be wise. If they are not, I should notice and take an active role in electing those who are.
  38. Self-help is ultimately the only help there is.
  39. But we could all use a hand up.
  40. No one asked me to judge.
  41. The less I judge, the happier I am.
  42. This is what a feminist looks like.
  43. I should decide what is and isn’t BS on the basis of how well it works, not what other people say about it or what it looks like on the surface.
  44. But when in doubt, follow your gut.
  45. It’s a good idea not to abdicate control, but it’s a mistake to think that every aspect of my life can and should be within my complete control. Forces of nature came by their name honestly.
  46. I am responsible for making the world a better place–and so are you.
  47. I’m not perfect, and neither is anyone I know. Discovering anyone’s imperfection should not be surprising. We’re all human.
  48. The best is yet to come.

What have you learned along the way?

This post is illustrated with my SoulCollage® card Personal power + Leo.

SoulCollage cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

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The power of acceptance

Nurturer cropped

Often, it seems, when I’m told I’ve done something well, it’s not the thing I’ve struggled over and really worked on. No, many times it’s something I’ve taken for granted, barely given a second thought to. This happened most recently when I spoke with my animal communicator a couple of weeks ago.

A little background on animal communication … it doesn’t require the physical presence of the animal, or even for the animal to be in physical form. Once, when I was a foster for my breed rescue, I contacted my animal communicator to let her know I’d recommended her to help with a lost dog. I was surprised to hear that she doesn’t work with lost dogs! The reason is that she has difficulty distinguishing between an animal that’s here, and one on the other side that is what she calls “very present” (as she says my dog Cherry is right now). So a lost animal might truthfully report that it’s fine, and actually be on the other side–which its people may regard as far from fine.

In my experience, though, there’s always a significant difference in an animal’s perspective when she’s here, and when she’s not. After Honeycomb’s death, when I asked what she was doing, she said she was speaking with the Wise Ones. (Hey, just what we do over there! I thought.) She also gave me some advice about my own life–something she’d never done during our sessions when she was still alive.

In those sessions, typically I get very useful, practical information, like that a foster dog I haven’t gotten yet has bad teeth, including which quadrant of the mouth (I asked for the vet to do a dental if needed along with the spay or neuter–it was), or that a dog’s skin is itchy due to the dry air (I got a humidifier), or that a dog wants to take more walks so that she can smell some new smells!

With Cherry, the main theme was again something she’d never mentioned in our sessions when she was alive–how grateful she was for how well I’d understood her, how I’d accepted her and allowed her to be just who she was.

This took me aback at first, because it’s not something I’d ever tried to do, or put any effort into. It just made sense to accept her as she was, value the contributions she made, and not try to make her into something she wasn’t.

I do remember being a little disappointed when I realized she was never going to make a therapy dog. That had been my original dream, but my first dog, Honeycomb, was an unsocialized breeder’s dog, so when she came to me, my complete focus was on overcoming her terror so that she could function and have something approaching a normal life. She also (until she started to lose her hearing) always startled at the slightest sound, like a loud light switch or a clicker. Being able to tolerate loud sounds is required for a therapy dog, but attempting to acclimate her to something she hated seemed cruel to me. At the end of her life she was tremendously loving, and I think would have been a great therapy dog–especially if people could have come to visit her, rather than the other way around!

Cherry, whose original person or people had been elderly, absolutely hated wheelchairs and walkers, and barked in their presence! She was very friendly, happy, cheerful, outgoing, affectionate, loving, and loyal, but she was also fairly empathy-free. She admired strength, but didn’t understand that those who appear weak are often the strongest of all. (Granted, a lot of people haven’t figured this out yet, either.) The ability to tolerate medical equipment is an absolute requirement for a therapy dog, but while it may not be on the test, so is having a heart for those who are struggling in one way or another. So I let go of my dream … and perhaps one day it will come back around.

Cherry was always with me at home, and two of her favorite things to do were to watch me work in the kitchen–especially loading and unloading the dishwasher, because she loved how fast I moved–and watching me get ready to go out, because she loved being beautiful and valued beauty rituals.

If you’re thinking that these are not old-soul values, of course you are right. This was just one waystation on Cherry’s journey, one that we’ve nearly all experienced in some way, and no doubt she will eventually choose other, more challenging lives where she is not gorgeous, strong, and dominant.

These are some of my notes from our last conversation …

She says you got her like no one else. She is so grateful that she got to be who she was. Thank you for honoring who she was. She has a true sense of completion.

“I was gorgeous and I knew it! … Thank you for everything. … We were the steady ones, Heather and I. We were a team. … Without a doubt, I’m not done protecting her. … I love her so, and it was a great, great life.”     —Terri O’Hara, animal communicator, communicating with Cherry

Afterwards, I thought of how truly wonderful it would have been to be accepted for who I was and what I came to accomplish by everyone along the way in my journey. Whenever I’ve had that experience, it really has been wonderful and validating.

It also occurred to me how karmic debt is incurred–by doing something that throws someone else off their intended path. The most definitive way to do this, of course, is to end the person’s life prematurely–war must have huge karmic implications, especially for those making significant decisions–but it can also happen in much subtler ways. No doubt failure to accept and honor the other person and their intended mission is always part of the problem.

So conversely, I saw that accepting another being, their place on their path, and what they came to do and be is really a profound expression of support for their soul’s intention–and, by extension, for the purpose of the whole Universe, our collective growth and expansion. I’m remembering this as I go about my business and observe others being and doing differently than I would.

That’s what I learned from my dog Cherry.

This post is illustrated with my SoulCollage card The Nurturer, made at last weekend’s SoulCollage Archetypes retreat to represent the Mother archetype.

SoulCollage® cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

How to help your companion animal have a good death

Cherry

Last weekend I had no thought that my topic would be my focus this week. Everything seemed completely normal. I did notice Cherry, my oldest dog, possibly breathing a little more heavily than normal as she flopped down on the floor, but thought (almost) nothing of it–her breathing has been audible for years.

In the wee hours of Monday morning, I was awakened by one of the dogs throwing up, and got up to see what was going on. I found Cherry in my office, staring at a blob that appeared to be pretty much her entire dinner, undigested. This seemed odd all the way around. I moved the food off the floor into a bowl, and went back to bed.

In the morning I found the food untouched, which was odd. Cherry was my alpha, and loved to assert her right to all things edible (and a few that were questionable). I tossed it out, and made breakfast, a light one for Cherry.

It was our custom for Cherry to go outside while I prepared the dogs’ food. She felt the need to comment on and supervise the process by barking continuously, and even though she’d been debarked when I got her, I found that a door–actually two–between us at this time of the morning made my life a little more peaceful.

When I finished, I had to go fetch her. Although she was deaf and could no longer hear me calling her, she would stand at the bottom of the stairs and watch for me to open the door. Except for Monday morning, when I found her lying down in a flowerbed instead.

When she came inside, she walked right past her bowl in a daze; I had to point it out to her. She took a couple of laps at the liquid in the bowl, and walked away. As it turned out, she never ate anything again.

I cook for my dogs, and they are exceptionally enthusiastic eaters of virtually everything I offer them. When one of my dogs doesn’t eat, it has never failed to be a sign of serious trouble. I went into my office and called the vet.

The dogs go outside when I get out of the shower, and come back in to eat their treats before I leave. On Monday, only two dogs came inside. It was freezing cold.

When I went outside with the leash to take Cherry to the car, I found her curled up on the sidewalk, her flanks shivering in the cold–a disturbing sight.

When we arrived, the vet was out of the office for a bit, so I dropped her off and headed to work. Before long I got a call from the vet explaining her bloodwork–elevated phosphorus, normal calcium, blah blah–and that the X-rays showed a mass with some calcification in Cherry’s abdomen, about where her spleen should be. The vet said she was giving Cherry fluids, and wanted to keep her and get an ultrasound done. She also asked me to bring some of Cherry’s food.

At lunchtime, I went home and prepared a bowl of rice and yogurt, topped with three freshly-scrambled eggs. I had no chicken in the house–food of the gods as far as dogs are concerned–or I would have added some. It was a hugely optimistic amount of food for a 23-pound dog who wasn’t eating. I felt hopeful as I made it, remembering that my dog Honeycomb would eat from my hand when she wouldn’t eat from her bowl.

When I got there, Cherry had sat up to greet me. She smelled each bit o food I offered, but was having none of it. She seemed disengaged, and settled her head on her paw to rest.

I looked at the X-rays with the vet. The mass was more than a little calcified–it was whiter and more solid-looking than any bone in her body, and bigger than an elongated jumbo egg. I’ve had an orange-sized cyst, and fainted from the pain–and I’m a lot bigger than 23 pounds.

I went back and talked to Cherry about what was happening. There’s more than a little irony there, since she was deaf, and no doubt understood the situation better than I did. Nonetheless, I believe a dog doesn’t need to hear my voice, or understand every word, in order to receive my message.

I called the vet shortly before closing to ask for an update. She must have been busy, because a tech I barely know told me that Cherry was still refusing all food, and that they had observed some blood in her urine and were planning to check it again in the morning. I had not observed this, and thought it was a quite recent development. I asked what it meant, and was told it could be a UTI, or it could be a symptom of something much more serious.

Irritated to have to do my own basic research to get the answer to my question, I consulted Google, and drew the conclusion that if not a UTI, the culprit was likely to be cancer.

I don’t remember the details, but I’m sure I asked for wisdom and insight during my meditation before bed. I woke the next morning with much more clarity, and immediately called the vet’s office before they had opened, saying that I wanted to talk to the vet prior to any additional tests.

After breakfast, my grounding work, and meditation, I called again. The vet told me that things were not looking good–there was much more blood, surprisingly little urine, and Cherry was very lethargic.

I asked her if there was any reasonable explanation of what we knew other than cancer. She allowed that on a list of the top five most probable diagnoses, cancer would be at least 1, 2, and 3–and the prognosis wasn’t good for any possibility. She said she expected the ultrasound to provide “definitive bad news,” and I said I thought we already had it.

I told her I wanted to bring Cherry home, and asked her to make a house call when she could. She said she thought she could come at 1:30, or failing that, at the end of the day.

I mentioned that I remembered that my landscaper at the time had been quite slow to bury Honeycomb and plant the row of hollies I requested, and that I didn’t intend to allow that issue to repeat itself. She offered to place a call to her own landscapers.

Now I was working against the clock–I had a lot to do, and a deadline. I arranged to take a personal day, whipped my bedroom into visitor-receiving shape, and eventually decided on a favorite worn and very soft cotton appliqued quilt to wrap Cherry in.

I got ready, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and went by to pick up Cherry with plenty of time to spare. I wanted to be sure we had some quality time together before the vet arrived, and very much hoped she would be alert enough to interact with me.

I was holding it together at the vet’s office until one of the techs I do know well came out to show me a plaque she’d made with Cherry’s pawprint. I’d seen some of these in the back room while visiting Cherry, but hadn’t realized the significance of the craft project.

Cherry came out walking on lead, which surprised us–I’d expected to be carrying her out. She was clearly happy to be going home. However nice the vet’s office, my dogs are clear that it is an unnatural place to be. (Honeycomb was so sure she didn’t want to be there that she pulled her IV out, not once but twice.)

When I saw Cherry looking comparatively perky, I experienced a flicker of hope–and then reminded myself that I had a dog who had stopped eating, whose organs were shutting down. Onward.

When we got home, I carried her to the grass, but she had no business to do. She started walking down the driveway to the backyard; I asked her to come in the front door. The other dogs rushed up to smell her, and Gracie (who loves to get status information through her nose) continued to do so for awhile.

We sat on my bed for awhile as I reminisced about our road trip to New Orleans and other good times. I cried as I gently petted her fur. Cherry moved her head so that her nose was touching my hand.

Eventually she raised her head and looked at me meaningfully, like I should know full well there was someplace else she needed to be. I wasn’t sure where that was, but I lifted her down to the floor. She wandered into my office, seeming perhaps to want to visit all the important places in the house.

I spread a blanket on the sofa, just in case, and lifted Cherry onto my lap. After awhile she started to pant a bit; her breath was pretty bad, as expected. Water seemed like a good idea, so I went to get a small bowl, and she drank some. When she seemed finished, I took it back in the kitchen, and she jumped down, came into the kitchen, and drank for awhile from the real water bowl. I remembered Honeycomb fortifying herself with the entire bowl of water immediately before she died. Cherry then nudged toward the back door, and I let her out.

She took the initial steps on her own, walked out onto the deck, and gazed into the middle distance. I lifted her down to ground level. More gazing, and then she lay down, half on the grass, half on the sidewalk.

I went inside and got the pillows for my chair, and my jacket, and sat down to watch with her. After awhile, she raised her head, opened one eye, and looked at me quizzically as if to say, What are you still doing here?

We agreed on the timing, but she clearly had a strong instinct to die outside. I had difficulty getting on board with what I took to be the way of the wolf, especially given the weather. I went back inside, pulled a warm fleece out of the dryer, and put it on my bedroom floor at the foot of my bed. I brought her back inside and lay her on it. Cherry accepted the compromise and settled in. I put a TV pillow on the floor next to her, and sat down. The other dogs came in and joined us. This was more like it, as far as I was concerned. Soon Cherry was on her way.

The phone rang; now the vet was on her way. I felt relieved.

Cherry’s breathing was increasingly labored. When the vet arrived with the vet tech, she could clearly see that Cherry was already very close. When she lifted her and looked in her eyes, Cherry seemed almost no longer present in her body–which she may well not have been. Cherry still had her IV catheter, and the vet began administering the injections, while I stroked Cherry’s head, telling her she was a good girl. Very quickly, the labored breathing stopped. She had been so ready to go. The vet finished the injections, and listened as her heartbeat faded. The vet hugged me, and told me she thought I’d done the right thing. We all wrapped Cherry’s body, so different now, in the quilt.

When they left, I returned the landscaper’s call, and it so happened that Tuesday and Wednesday, they were working in the neighborhood next to mine. They would come by on their way home. I went out to the backyard to identify a good spot. An hour later, the phone rang–they were here.

The ground had been dug before, so three men made quick work of the burial. At mid-afternoon, it was finished. Events from start to finish had spanned only a day and a half. I felt stunned.

Since then, I have felt a quiet peace.

************************

Here are a few suggestions based on my own experience that have helped me give my companion animals a good death when that time arrives.

1. Have a great vet before you need a great vet. When your animals are healthy, it can be more difficult to see whether a vet will still meet your needs when they are not. You want a vet who’s knowledgeable, competent, ethical, and has good judgment. You also want a vet who, like mine, truly listens to you. I really appreciate people who give it to me straight, and she will do that.

2. I also recommend establishing a relationship with a good animal communicator prior to any health crisis. Mine was a recommendation from the adopter of my first foster dog. Animal communicators can be quite helpful in solving everyday problems, as well as for discussions of end-of-life issues. Although Cherry’s situation moved too fast for me to do this, I was able to do so with my dog Honeycomb, who had congestive heart failure and kidney failure. My vet had stabilized her, but it was clear we were close to the end, and I wanted to understand what her wishes were. Our animal communicator told me that Honeycomb was enjoying the extra attention and closeness, and wasn’t ready yet, but would let me know when she was. A couple weeks later, in the middle of a very difficult night when she’d had an adverse reaction to her anti-nausea medication, I heard a silent “NOW NOW NOW” in my head. We were in perfect agreement that it was time. I told her I would call the vet, but they weren’t open yet. She was a bit on edge till I actually made the call, and then she relaxed.

3. Remember that your companion animal’s health crisis is more important than work. Your animal has probably been a faithful companion to you during good times and bad, while work is, in reality, a series of hair-on-fire, yet ultimately pretty unimportant, emergencies. I have yet to have a manager who was an animal person during any of my animals’ health crises. That’s OK. Your manager may set your priorities at work, but you set your priorities for your life.

When I knew Cherry was sick last Monday, during the hours I was at work, I really cranked it out. The project didn’t suffer from my not being at work on Tuesday, and I made sure my manager had complete information about my status so he wouldn’t worry about it either.

4. Don’t worry about the money, and don’t delay getting medical treatment when it’s needed. I’ve been in the situation of having a critically ill dog and not knowing where the money was going to come from, as well as being in the same situation, and pretty sure the money in my checking and savings accounts would cover the bill. What’s important in this situation is not the money, but your own sincere belief that you did the best and right thing for your animal. The very last thing you want is guilt piled on top of grief. All vets are familiar with this situation; you just need to tell them upfront that you’re going to need a payment arrangement.

5. That said, know when to stop treatment. Briefly, the time to stop treatment is when it isn’t doing any good, and there’s no reasonable expectation that that will change.

6. Respect your animal’s agency in knowing when it’s time. My animals’ instincts have been spot on. In Cherry’s case, she understood that it was time, but I needed to understand what kind of health crisis she was having, and whether it could be averted or not.

7. I recommend asking your vet to make a house call. Now that I have experienced this, willingness to do this is an absolute requirement for me. Home is clearly a much better place to die than any clinical environment. When Honeycomb died at home, I was just coming out of a very difficult period of my life. She lit up the room where she died like the sun coming out with just a beautiful, beautiful presence that I wouldn’t have missed for anything. It’s not always possible for an animal to die at home, but when it is, I have always found it to be a blessing.

8. Afterwards, allow yourself to grieve–and to be comforted. A companion animal who dies is just as concerned about your wellbeing as a human companion in the same situation is. It’s so important to allow yourself to feel your grief–rather than resisting it–which allows it to pass through you, and not get stuck. It’s also important to be present to the comfort being offered you.

There are two kinds of people in the world–those who know what it is to have lost an animal they truly loved, and those who don’t. I recommend discussing your loss only with those who understand, and not with those who will unintentionally invalidate your loss.

I think it’s fair to say that many people fear and dread the deaths of their companion animals. Admittedly, it really sucks to be left behind with a hole in your household and life that cannot truly be filled. But it is a journey all of us with animals must take, and it’s far better to join the dance with grace than resist it.

Ultimately I see it as a tremendous and very intimate privilege to ease a companion animal’s journey to the other side.

This post is illustrated with the SoulCollage card I made today, Cherry at the threshold. You can see my reading of the card here.

SoulCollage® cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder

Rumi

Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder. –Rumi

On New Year’s Eve, I was asked if I’d made any New Year’s resolutions, and I mentioned this quote from Rumi that I’d recently seen and loved.

I think that mostly I’m a lamp, and sometimes a ladder or a lifeboat–but it’s difficult to accurately assess your own contribution, or anyone else’s, for that matter. It’s often impossible to know what impact we’re having, or will have. But it is possible to know whether I’m creating light, or darkness … that much I can tell.

I remember a coworker from years ago who told me she volunteered at a suicide prevention hotline. I’m not sure whether it occurred to me then, but it certainly does now, that she must have had a very particular reason for choosing that volunteer opportunity. She was a lifeboat.

We can, though, be lifeboats without ever knowing it. I’m reminded of an account in Michael Newton’s fascinating Destiny of Souls, which I’ve written about before. (Michael Newton’s story is somewhat similar to Brian Weiss‘s. He was a highly skeptical hypnotherapist who was into science, not new age stuff, when he accidentally regressed a subject to a time frame he didn’t even believe in–one prior to the subject’s current life. His work is different than Weiss’s in that he focuses fairly exclusively on the period between lives, from death to reincarnation.)

In the account I’m thinking of, when the subject completed his life, he learned that one of the most important accomplishments of his lifetime occurred when he stopped one day on the street to comfort a woman who was crying in despair. Had he been asked to list his accomplishments, that day wouldn’t have even crossed his mind–but on that day, he was a lifeboat.

How we interact with other people is key, but I believe being a lifeboat applies to all sentient beings, such as the many cats and dogs who cross our paths. I brake for squirrels and birds, and the life of every lizard in my garden is important. Caring for animals who need our help, even keeping an organic garden, is another way to be a lifeboat.

Being a ladder is, I think, a bit tricky. To me, it is saying, Here’s a possible next step, a higher vibration, love rather than fear, a way to lift yourself higher, to move forward. But in every case, the choice to see by the light of the lamp, to step into the lifeboat or onto the ladder, is not ours. People, even animals–who in my experience are often easier to reach–can and do refuse the light and the help at hand.

Even so and nonetheless–be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder.

There will be days when, to put it bluntly, it will seem that no one is interested in your light. There will be days when people overtly choose the darkness. That can be heartbreaking–but shedding light in darkness is its own reward.

If you persist, there will also come a day when you find out you’ve made a difference–that someone has seen by your light, stayed afloat, climbed a rung of your ladder. That is a truly wonderful day.

Whichever kind of day it is, each day of this new year, I want to be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder.

This post is illustrated by the SoulCollage card I made today.

SoulCollage® cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

So safe, and so loved

Safe

Last night, late in the evening, we had a thunderstorm–and my dog Gracie hates thunderstorms. She runs around barking at the storm, and she is not kidding; she gets an adrenaline rush and her heart beats faster. I completely get this. I know she lived outside for awhile before she came to me to be fostered–and never left. (She had been seized in a 5000-dog puppy mill raid. She had escaped the wire cages inside, and was living with other dogs outside. Virtually all the other dogs were bigger, as the mill specialized in Huskies and Beagles, and all the outside dogs were fed and watered from two bowls.)

I have read the advice not to comfort dogs during storms, and I believe it to be (and this is putting it mildly) utter nonsense. Gracie had nestled into a spot next to me on the soft quilt on my bed, but I decided to pick her up and hold her (she’s a very small Sheltie) while I reminded her that now, she is so safe, and so loved, and has nothing to fear from storms. She rested her head on my shoulder, and as the thunder continued in the distance, went to sleep and began to dream animal dreams.

As I held her, having recently reflected on the year now gone, I had a sense of being held myself, in the arms of the Universe, angels, guides, and ancestors. I think we are all, ultimately, so safe, and so loved.

This post is illustrated with the SoulCollage card I made today, So safe, so loved.

SoulCollage® cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

New born

Newborn

We kiss, and love takes flight …

We are vulnerable, as though we were just born–

yet we are wise.

There are many layers to what we will experience together–

all is not yet revealed.

At moments, we feel like fish out of water,

But often also free and joyful,

Ready to burst into song.

We are young–

even if we’re not–

because this is the beginning.

We’re springing up, blooming–

creating beauty and grace.

Those who’ve read this blog for awhile may notice that this is the first original poem I’ve ever posted. I wrote it last month at the SoulCollage gathering I attended. The exercise was to briefly read 15 cards (since I forgot my deck, I borrowed 14 of the Facilitator’s cards, and used the one I’d just made), and weave the resulting snippets into a poem. I was surprised to find that the first card I drew (seemingly at random) was made from an image on the cover of one of the magazines I’d brought with me to share the last time I attended the gathering. The first line of my poem comes from this card, and the last from the new card I made that day. Since I of course returned the cards when I finished, I wanted to make a card with a similar theme as the poem to have in my deck. The card you see is the result … I made it yesterday when I got together with a couple of other SoulCollagers. (Thanks for the image of the lambs, Kathy!)

Since this post has been linked from the SoulCollage Facebook page (thanks, Sue!), just wanted to add the additional detail that the exercise we did was First Impressions–A Free Flowing SoulCollage Reading created by Barb Horn. Stephanie Warfield facilitated the Open Studio and lent me her cards (thanks, Stephanie).

Open the doors of your heart

Doors

Open the doors of your heart.

The moment I heard this during meditation this past week, I knew it would be the theme of my next SoulCollage card.

Today I started looking through the many door images I’ve collected, pulling a few, but nothing really resonating yet. I realized I needed a background image, and that’s when I found these beautiful vintage elevator doors. This one resonated.

“Those are some serious doors,” I thought. Indeed they are. Certain kinds of upbringings come with inevitable consequences of one kind or another, in my view. I’ve written before about releasing bitterness; this image confronted me with another consequence: guardedness.

I know that the time has come to throw those doors open for good. I truly don’t need them anymore.

Kissed by the Universe

Alber

I suspect the Universe is always smiling on us, and pulling for us–but I’d be the first to admit, it doesn’t always feel that way. This past week, though, I felt like the Universe was not only smiling, but blew me a kiss.

A little over a week ago, I was experiencing a delay, and cast about in my mind for tasks I’d been putting off to a more convenient moment. I remembered that I hadn’t bought any clothes in more than 6 months, not even a pair of socks, and that I’d been noticing I needed some tops.

I surfed over to a discount site, and checked out the work of my favorite designer, Alber Elbaz of Lanvin, the oldest fashion house still operating today–founded by a woman, Jeanne Lanvin, and owned by a woman today, Shaw-Lan Wang. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw a beautiful teal silk dress I’d pinned on Pinterest last summer, just one left, in my size, at a very deep discount!

Lanvin dress

Reader, I ordered it. It arrived last night, and it fits beautifully. Alber Elbaz has said he thinks about what a woman wants to hide, and what it is she loves about herself–and may I say very few people involved with the clothes I try on seem to do that!–and that thought process shows when I put on this dress. Take just one feature, the sleeves, for example … the bottom of the sleeve is like a bell sleeve, but at the top, the fabric is origami-folded and stitched down to show the shoulders, but still feels like a sleeve, so comfortable. It reveals without feeling revealing. It’s unlike anything I’ve worn or seen, and I think it’s pure genius.

And that is why I feel kissed by the Universe.

The practical among you may be noting that a dress is not a top, and of course, you’re quite right. I was looking for a dressy one as well as a casual one, and this dress will serve some of the same purposes as the dressy top I had in mind. (This dress was also made as a blouse, but one has to be open to receiving a kiss from the Universe in the form of a blouse with a skirt attached!) I’ve also ordered a sweater that I haven’t received yet.

And I think that when you enjoy something, and when you bring a good energy to it, it shows in the product. I mean, I think that we create what we are. Basically, when we are sad, we create sad, when we are happy, we create happy, and when we are miserable, we create miserable. And it shows, and it feels. It feels on the body. –Alber Elbaz

Illustrating this post is the SoulCollage card I made this past weekend at an Open Studio I attended (which is just getting together with others to make SoulCollage cards), in honor of my new dress. This card has several images of Alber at various ages, and the rest is his work at Lanvin–clothes, sketches, costume jewelry.

Alber Elbaz is a man who I believe loves and respects women–something I feel we could use a lot more of in the people who make the clothes that announce who we are to the world.

May the Universe blow you a kiss of your very own this week!

How to receive inner guidance

lighthouse 2

You will be guided into port, out of the storm.

During a recent meditation, this sentence popped into my head. Whenever I feel as though there’s something I have to tackle alone, I find it comforting to think of the support system I have that’s invisible to me–angels, guides, ancestors, my higher self–all looking out for me, wanting the best for me.

A few days later I had lunch with a relative, who was telling me that she’d connected the dots between an optional medication and a deal-breaker side effect, and had stopped taking it. I mentioned how I like to consult my gut instinct when making decisions, and she said that she had had misgivings, but overrode them because she was determined to take the medication anyway due to other factors. I said something along the lines of, “Yeah, you gotta stop that.”

I know, because I used to approach life in just that way … and it turns out that when you’re bullheaded, when you ignore your gut, when you don’t ask questions, when you barely listen to anyone (let alone your true self), when your ego is firmly in the driver’s seat, when you go so far as to override your conscience because you’re stubbornly determined to do what you want to do no matter what, life just doesn’t go terribly well. You end up doing the wrong things. You end up doing things you regret. You end up at dead ends rather than on your right path … you end up stuck and unhappy, mired in inertia. (And of course, there are worse things than inertia–you could be headed off a cliff.) This approach is not the secret to a happy life. I know this very well.

All of this got me thinking about the usefulness of inner guidance. I truly believe that the beginning of wisdom is beginning to listen–to your higher self, to your gut instinct, to guidance, to your conscience. And to listen, you must be still. Cultivating stillness frees us from the tyranny of thought and ego, and allows us to make contact with the touchstone of truth and wisdom whenever it’s needed. And if you’re anything like me, that need is pretty constant.

Especially when I’m at work, I like to check in with my inner guidance a number of times a day. Is this the right way to respond? I might ask before sending an e-mail. Am I missing something here?

Very often when I make mistakes, I realize that I had a background awareness of something being amiss that I chose to ignore. The more I listen, the more I investigate, the more questions I ask, the fewer mistakes I make, and the less I do that I later regret doing. I don’t have many significant regrets, but I do have some, so it’s a little late to have a regret-free life. But I believe that by listening, by not rushing headlong, by taking decisions deliberately, many regrets can be avoided. In fact, it’s possible to come to the end of the day, or week, and hopefully a lifetime, and be able to say, I did well.

But first you have to be still enough so you can hear. For me, meditation has been the key to becoming still, and creating gaps in the flow of thoughts through my mind that allow wisdom and guidance to enter. To my mind, one of the most significant benefits of meditation is this space it opens up, allowing us to make better decisions in each moment, which in turn facilitates our being our best selves.

It also really helps to stop sweating the small stuff. If you’re worried about your imperfect nose, or static cling, or whatever completely insignificant “problem” du jour the advertising industry would like to create major concern about in order to move product, all of that is taking up mindspace that could simply be clear. Getting older really seems to help–and thank God for that!

In that clear, still space, I like to listen, to ask my question, to tune in. If I’m not sure of the right fork in the road (literally or figuratively, actually), I like to ask myself whatever the question is, and then quietly wait for the answer. If I’m still not sure–sometimes at this point I have conflicting thoughts–then I save the question for meditation later. After meditating for awhile, which creates a truly clear space for an answer to arise, I ask the question again.

Unfortunately, sometimes negative self-talk can get in the way of hearing the voice of wisdom, the voice of love. That’s where discernment comes in. This is my mantra whenever I feel that what I’m hearing may be the voice of fear, or the voice of ego …

I ask that all input be filtered through my higher self, including my own.

Of course, sometimes our inner guidance is delivering an authentic message of fear–This person cannot be trusted. You’re in danger. Get out of here now.

I don’t second-guess a message like this. There’s no harm in being somewhere else, or in taking a different elevator. And you never know when listening to your gut could save your life. Friends tell me that a mutual acquaintance makes the hair on the back of their necks stand up, gives them the creeps. I don’t get that from him–but I don’t question for a moment that they do, or try to change their minds.

For me, this is why it’s such a good idea to get generalized fears and prejudices out of your mind and heart–so that you can hear and feel clearly a specific fear when it arises. You may not be able to explain it; you probably won’t be. But it’s well worth listening to.

I like to look someone in the eyes to see if I can trust him or her, at least for the next few minutes. I do this when I see a homeless person with a sign (I keep energy bars in the car for this purpose). It’s also great for all types of interviews.

Of course, the need for true fear is rare. Far more often, all is well, and listening to the voice of love is all we truly need. As long as we’re in touch with the voice of wisdom, love, and truth, I really believe that each of us is the very best person to determine what’s truly right for us.

Do you perhaps have a burning question right now? Is there something you really need to know? Don’t be afraid to wrestle with the angel if you need to. But most of the time, in my experience, getting still and asking the question will yield the answer you need.

You are the ultimate arbiter of what’s right for you. Seek within.

The Versatile Blogger award

Versatile

Thanks to Lisa van Reeuwyk of bloomlisa and Blazing Light of Glory for nominating me for the Versatile Blogger award! She shares my interest in totem animals, card reading, and spirituality, and is always a bright, optimistic, loving, encouraging voice–and who doesn’t want more of that? I remember seeing someone’s “seven interesting things” post around the time I started blogging in earnest, and thinking this looked like a fun award. So thank you, Lisa–I accept with pleasure.

So here are the requisite seven interesting things about me …

  1. I have no cavities, so I love going to the dentist. My dental hygienist has a great sense of humor–we laugh and laugh, no laughing gas required. No one has a better time at the dentist than I do.
  2. The thing people seem to find most surprising about me is that I don’t watch TV.
  3. It wasn’t too many years after Molly Ringwald moved to Paris that people stopped telling me I looked like her. I love Molly, but I don’t mind not looking like any celebrity at all. (I found being compared to Molly a vast, vast improvement over being told I looked like Laura from Little House on the Prairie as a child.)
  4. Before I knew William Morris had said anything about it, I believed that everything useful should be beautiful, and increasingly, I want the beautiful things I own to be useful as well. There will never be a blue safety check in my life (even as a child, they grated on me–Why so ugly?!). Though I rarely write a check now, I get compliments when I do on my pretty Art Deco ones.
  5. Once I’ve gone to the trouble to find beautiful, useful things, I want them to last. I’m on my third car, and my second cell phone. Planned obsolescence is lost on me.
  6. I am known for my shoes. It’s not an Imelda Marcos situation, but each pair–leopard, polka dots, red patent–makes a statement. Even my gardening clogs are purple. Once a chiropractor prescribed orthopedic inserts for me (another case of the cure being worse than the disease). I mentioned that they wouldn’t work with the vast majority of my shoes; he said I would no doubt start buying shoes they did work with. My mother said, “I don’t think he understands how you feel about shoes.” She was right.
  7. Someone who visited my house not long ago remarked that I had an “antiques fetish.” I protested, pointing out many new items. “Ah, but even your new stuff looks old!” Perhaps it does … perhaps it does.

I’d like to pass this award on to the following versatile bloggers I enjoy …

  • Michelle Hedgecock posts about her art, SoulCollage, animals, nature, clutter clearing–and her experience of all of them. She has a beautiful, loving voice, and isn’t afraid to put herself out there.
  • Dee Mallon posts about her lovely quilting and other textile art, crafting, museum exhibits, makers, travel, gardening, family, photography, SoulCollage, and no doubt more that I’m forgetting! Just about every one of her posts is versatile.

Thanks for all you’re sharing with me, and the world!

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