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Stumbling Part 5 ~ Climbing Out of the Dark : 8 steps that helped me up.


(This was the basis of my talk for the Heart, Mind, Body & Soul Healing and Holistic Fair in Bridgewater, NS, May 2016.  In the actual talk there were ad libs and omissions, but this was my main content.)

My name is Mary Dixon. I work in a partnership with my husband Edward Howell called Co-Creative Healing Arts. Edward is a registered massage therapist and  Reiki master/teacher, and I work as a life coach and soul coach.

The soul coach part is based on the work of author and healer Denise Linn and I was personally certified by her to do a type of motivational & spiritual coaching called Soul Coaching® as well as past life journey work. The focus of Soul Coaching® is primarily helping people get in touch with their spirit, their soul, their own inner knowing, and really starting to appreciate their true nature as a little piece of the Divine. It is about really getting to know yourself by connecting with the greater wisdom within you, so that you can discover your authentic self and live your life in alignment with that.

As a “life coach” my work tends to be a little more oriented toward helping you create something, moving toward what you want to achieve in your life, your goals, especially for women probably around my age, mid ’40’s to mid-’60’s, but often some younger.…so not people fresh out of high school looking to plan a life, but in that transitional time of perhaps becoming an empty-nester, or career-changer, or retiring, or being divorced, or having some kind of wake-up call, like illness. A lot of people have issues of identity tied up with being a certain way or in a certain role for a long time and may feel stagnant or confused about who they are or what they want. So we look at what they’d like to create or what they wish to change about where they are now.

The two bodies of work intertwine and overlap because getting people moving toward their desired goals usually involves helping them get clarity first on who they really are and what they really want, what they value, and find ways of aligning their outer world with their inner world.

When people get stuck I sometimes use the kind of journey work I use in soul coaching, or even shamanic journeying while I drum for them in a sacred ceremony, to help people tap into that other layer of awareness, their Higher Self or Inner knowing or Divine Consciousness…their soul, however you are comfortable looking at that. We interweave that kind of work in the coaching process to help keep you in touch with your own truth.

So, I am going to talk to you today about what can happen when you don’t keep in touch with that inner truth, when you don’t hear the voice of your soul, those inner nudges poking at you. Or when you hear them and then you shut them down, tune them out, numb them, or you simply ignore and forget to do the work they are asking you to do.

There is a game occasionally played by some people in a couple of the coaching communities I belong to online, a game we played in one of the in-person intensives I attended in California a couple of years ago. It is called “What I don’t want you to know about me.” It is essentially an exercise in vulnerability, the premise being, you cannot take your clients any deeper than you are prepared to go yourself. That doesn’t mean we as coaches have to be perfect and totally enlightened and successful in all things in order to coach people, but we do have to be courageous enough to do the tough work on ourselves too, and also to let ourselves be seen as honestly as we can. Vulnerability builds courage, connection, and compassion, as well as trust in a relationship, as any of you who have listened to any of Brene Brown’s Ted talks would know or if you’ve read her book, “The Gifts of Imperfection.”

The first thing I don’t want you to know about me is that I am feeling a little vulnerable because my preparation for this talk has been totally last-minute… so I may stumble and have to read my notes to keep on track. I hope you will forgive me, I realize that it’s not very professional.

The second and major thing I don’t want you to know about me is the reason for this being so last-minute is that, in spite of having been a soul coach since 2008, and certified in NLP since 2009 and in Strategic Intervention coaching in 2014, I have probably had the most difficult dark night of the soul this past winter, and I think I am only just emerging from it now, as in this week. I have been a bit of a mess up until a few days ago and I kept thinking, “How the heck can I possibly have anything useful to share with these people at a healing fair when I am feeling like a total basket case??”

_MG_1544I was not only feeling depressed, with waves of self-destructive thinking, I was at the beginning of this week starting to feel real anxiety, which is not very familiar to me. Even depression was not so familiar, although I think many years ago I “avoided” it for a while by numbing my feelings with alcohol… That was before I got into coaching, spirituality, and a lot of self-examination.

With all I know and have learned and practiced, about how thought creates emotion, how we only really have “problems” when we believe our thoughts, or we focus on the wrong or negative thoughts, and use degenerative language and get stuck and mired in negativity; about how we can use our physiology and our focus and our language to get us out of a funk…. what I don’t want you to know about me is that I got well and truly stuck this past winter. And I was becoming afraid I wouldn’t be able to get out of a serious downward spiral. I had a public face I could still put on, but my emotions were so close to the edge I was tearful on an almost daily basis. I really felt like I was going nuts.

I am in the midst of menopause, so for all I know, hormonal swings may well have something to do with it, but I was also facing some big financial challenges, a lot of unexpected major expenses, like cancer surgery for my dog and major car repairs, and not enough work coming in, and it all fed into my feelings of inadequacy and confusion about what I was doing with my life and career. Something HAD to change.

You may know last year when I was here I did a presentation about a project I got into where I’d started doodling, being challenged to do daily doodles by my own coach because he’d seen something uniquely “me” in a drawing I’d posted on Facebook. 120 daily doodles later, people were following my posts, engaging with me on the topics they brought up, and asking about when “the book” was coming out. So I took up that challenge too, spent a couple months refining and redrawing many doodles, and creating new ones, writing some text, hiring a graphic designer, invested some money, and printed 200 copies of Mary Doodle ~ Stumbling Toward Enlightenment, which is a collection of some of the doodles focused on Mary’s self-help and spiritual path…trying to figure it all out.

So as I contemplated, in some desperation this week, what I was going to offer you lovely people today, I decided only yesterday, (upon the suggestion of a friend) to invite Mary Doodle in to help illustrate my talk.

(Btw, these doodles were done on a large flip chart…after midnight… and I apologize for the colour casts as I had to photograph them to reproduce them here. You can click on each image to see them full size.)

Maybe I want Mary Doodle to help me soften this talk, or lighten it up, because I don’t need this to be a total tale of woe. I am climbing out and I’m going to tell you how.

I preface this with this: I am not a therapist or psychologist or psychotherapist or counsellor. I am a coach, and I am not specifically trained in therapies to deal with depression or anxiety although I do know something about it. This story I offer you is only my personal experience, and it’s still unfolding, so don’t think it’s the be-all and end-all. If you are in a serious downward spiral, do please consult a doctor (it may be hormonal or chemical), and some kind of therapist or spiritual counsellor to talk it out. There is help available. Go get it.

No doubt I was not as far down the hole as I could go because I still got up every morning, got showered and dressed, cooked dinner, did the shopping, etc., etc., AND got some work done, including facilitating my winter coaching course, but the emotional swings were to me, crazy, and often overwhelming. My creativity ground to a halt as I thought I had to feel better in order to create. That is one thing I got backwards.

I’m going to try to fit this talk into a format easy to remember so I am going to try label all these ideas into words starting with “C”.  I may not have experienced these in the same order in my coming to awareness, but as I went through the process of developing this talk, some came to the forefront as really necessary, and would’ve been helpful to have attended to first.

1. The first one is COMPASSION or “Cultivate Compassion”.

_MG_1549Start with an awareness that almost everybody has something they are struggling with. Even if you do not see it, some of us are really good at hiding it from others. Some people hide it by retreating, not socializing, wearing masks, numbing feelings, or being very “busy”, but know that everyone has some struggle, maybe not all the time, but throughout our lives. It is part of the human journey. So, in having compassion for yourself, allow yourself to just be with the experience of your suffering for a bit. Accept that it is there and sit with it rather than rushing to numb it, fix it, or hide it. Ask the pain what it is trying to tell you.

Hold it as if it was your own child and tell it you are there for it, you love it and yourself, and that you will be there for yourself. It is only when you stop resisting and fighting with it that you can see it for what it is and love yourself as you would love another in the same struggle.

When you can love yourself and accept where you are and stop fighting, you move from fear, shame, and self-hatred, into love, and love is the only space into which creation flows and can happen. Our life is for us to create on some level. So you must surrender to a degree, and be kind and compassionate to yourself.

Trust that you are not alone and unique in your suffering. Don’t compare your suffering to others, just sit with it. That doesn’t mean chewing on it or analyzing it. It is a space of openness and acceptance where you say to yourself, “I see you, I love you, and I will be here loving you through this. When you are ready we will move forward.”

I find the work of Tara Brach very helpful, she has many online recordings and courses through Sounds True, as well as her books. She is a psychologist and lead teacher and founder of the Insight Meditation centre in Washington, DC.  One book is called Radical Acceptance and she has an audio program I bought from Sounds True called Radical Self-Acceptance ~ A Buddhist guide to Freeing Yourself From Shame. Very good stuff.

I recognized my need for that this winter and ordered it when I saw a sale on Sounds True and listened to it and some other videos of hers online. And I started to have some compassion for myself. I also did the loving kindness meditation which I found in the wonderful book which I also revisited: A Path With Heart, by Jack Kornfield.

May I be filled with loving kindness.

May I be well.

May I be peaceful and at ease.

May I be happy.

I sat or walked and said this to myself over and over. It is recommended to do it for 20 minutes at a time. You can also use it substituting “you” for “I” when you need to work on your compassion for others.


2.  CENTER yourself

_MG_1557And because I am trying to have all “C” words here I may be stretching this concept, but I will use “centering” to encompass a bunch of things. Essentially I am associating centering with the body, the physical self, how you are using it, holding it, treating it, and also where you are being physically. I am really referring to grounding.

When one is having anxiety or just a lot of worrying, it starts in the head…being all in the head, turning your thoughts around over and over and letting possible scenarios spin out of control.

That means you have come ungrounded. So how do you ground yourself? In the moment if you can sit, you can massage your feet, really hard, digging a thumb into your foot under the ball of your big toe. It brings the attention down out of the head and into the body quickly.

For me, I like to use the earth and nature to ground, so I did a lot of walking in the woods, more than my usual dog walks, and also connecting with the earth, on my knees or sitting and putting my hands on the ground. I stacked rocks in balancing piles, which required me to be very present and in the moment. I did a little gardening as soon as the weather allowed. I breathed the fresh air deeply into my lungs. Big, deep belly breaths are grounding as opposed to the shallow chest breathing we do when anxious, which can actually exacerbate our anxiety if we start to hyperventilate. They “bring you back to your center”.

Or there’s a meditation I often do with clients, imagining you’re an oak tree, sending your energy and anything you don’t need flowing down into the earth, like tree roots right out through your feet, anchoring you.  Then you envision your negativity being cleansed by the roots and rocks and sand. And then you draw the cleansed life force energies up again like water and minerals from the earth up through the tree roots, to enliven and energize you. This is an easy one to do for yourself.

Using your body in regular exercise, especially yoga where you have to be very attentive to postures and alignment, or chi gong or tai chi where you flow through a meditative sequence in a particular order, all of these get you reconnected to your body, help you pay attention to your breathing, and bring you out of your head by requiring you to be very present. These are just a few examples of centering.


3. CONNECT ….with people you love and trust and whom you know love and accept you.

_MG_1559Scientific studies have shown that people who have positive social networks, and this is in person, not online, (there is a difference), have generally better health, less cognitive decline (like dementia) and less depression. Although it is noted that if you hang out with other depressed people, that can actually reinforce and spread the low feelings. So, pick your friends wisely.

And let them know they don’t need to “fix” you, as some will, just to accept you and be constant.  Connection can help you discover that you are not alone in what you are going through, which can make it a little easier knowing others have survived similar experiences, and so will you.

Connection provides someone to hear you. Sometimes that’s all we need is feeling that we’re heard. It helps us to know we matter. And that people will be there for you even in tougher times.

And if you can find the energy for it, connecting socially lifts your spirits, maybe your friends will help you laugh. In the midst of my painful episode this winter I still made decisions to invite people to dinner because I know when I am cooking and preparing an evening for other people I am not thinking about myself, and when I am listening to the stories of other people, I am not thinking about myself. And if I am not thinking about myself I am not in my “problem”.

Which leads me to number 4, which is


_MG_1564When we contribute to something or someone outside of ourselves, by our own choice, when we come from a place of service or love, or “how can I help?”, we are coming from a place of love and not fear, and we are thinking of the other person or community, or the cause, and not ourselves and our problem.

In Human Needs Psychology created by Tony Robbins and Cloe Madanes, which was a big part of my Strategic Intervention coach training,  we have 6 basic human needs:

i) Certainty – There needs to be something certain in our lives, something we can count on…that’s why we create habits and routines. This is about our safety and security;

ii) Variety, or uncertainty –  because we need change, we get bored, we need stimulation;

iii) Love and/or Connection – relationships between people who care about each other, whether family, significant other, colleagues at work or friends, or a team etc… The social part I talked about before, it is a basic human need…

iv)Significance — the need to feel unique or special or that you matter;

Those are all considered needs of the “personality”.

Then there are two more needs…considered needs of the “spirit”:

v) Growth – Learning, changing , expanding our awareness. Tony Robbins says we either grow or we die.


vi) Contribution – Contributing to something greater than or outside of ourselves.

It is said that when we contribute, even if it is just making dinner or doing laundry for our family, adopting an animal, helping at the local fire hall, or teaching somebody something…or maybe writing a blog (like this) that others will read that may help someone, or holding the hand of a relative in the senior’s home or hospital, contributions such as these actually serve all the other human needs….we feel significant, like we matter, we connect with others, we have experiences that provide both certainty and variety, and we grow as we learn from such activities and from others.

So, contribute to someone or some cause other than your self, even if it seems small. It is about taking the focus off of your thoughts and directing them beyond yourself and how you can benefit others.

In my case, I knew I was coming to this healing fair and had offered to give a talk. When I took the focus off me and that I was giving a talk for my business and focused on how I might contribute, who I might serve, by offering some insight, the whole game changed. When it is not about me it becomes a no-brainer really…..I am out of my story of “Oh my god, what am I going to do, I’ll look like an idiot if I don’t have myself together!” and I look instead at, “Who might I help this week if I give this talk? Who out there needs to hear this from me right now?”

I know from writing my blog that even if there are few readers, whenever I share a story close to my heart about my own experience, I inevitably manage to touch someone who thanks me for that, that they needed to hear it. That one person matters a great deal to me. So maybe there will be one person that needed to hear (or read) this. So in creating this talk I focused on how I could contribute to that person.

Which in itself is creative…which leads me to number 5…



Create something ….anything…create breakfast…create a clean house…draw a doodle, or colour in one of those adult colouring books. Write a story or poem or essay on some topic. Knit a scarf. Take a photo of your dog or a flower and mess with it with some app. I stopped doodling this winter, except for a few times, because I got so up in my head about what I thought I “should” do, like marketing my business, I lost sight of what I wanted to do.…which was to create….writing and doodling, which actually gives me the energy to do some of the other stuff.  I managed to eke out a few drawings and blogs here and there, and every time it took me out of my head…even while writing…it took me into a flow that was not consumed by my worries about money or my dog with cancer or my struggles with entrepreneurship. When I create I am in flow, and when I am in flow I am at peace.

When I create I am “expressing” myself. What does express mean? From the Latin ex meaning “out” and pressare, “to press”… I am pressing out or squeezing out … “out” being the operative word I think. I am pushing something out of myself when I express or create. So expression is getting out of oneself…like connecting and contributing, it is no longer all about me, even if my ideas ARE about me or from me…I am putting it out there in the world and suddenly I am no longer stuck.

In the last two days I created this talk and these drawings. I felt fabulous, albeit a little nervous as I was cutting it close! I wanted to create something helpful to you today.

6. CALL  …upon your Spiritual Helpers

_MG_1573Whether you envision “Beings” outside of yourself like angels, or God, or your power animal or ancestors in spirit, or if that doesn’t resonate, you can call on your own inner wisdom, your “Inner Wise One” (if you want to personify it), or check in with your “gut feelings” or your intuition….there is a deeper guidance available, not just from your friends and therapists and coaches and spiritual counsellors. Sometimes you may need the assistance of those people to help you access that inner wisdom or your Higher Self, but sometimes what gets us stuck in a downward spiral is that we have forgotten to call upon that special wisdom, what you might call the deeper knowing of your soul.

There is a place behind our conscious thought, that has all the answers we need to our dilemmas and fears, if only we knew how to tap in and connect with that. Some folks can find it through prayer, asking God, Creator, great Spirit, The Universe, for guidance.

Some can do it through meditation, by being still and present. However I think that meditation for a depressed person can run the risk of allowing too much mental chatter to overwhelm us. It can be painful to just sit if the usual negative mind chatter keeps flowing through our heads. It might actually make things worse, unless one can be in a place of acceptance, and just observe the thoughts without attaching to them. But simply being still and asking for guidance, and “listening” can be helpful.

Sometimes keeping a journal is helpful. What I have been doing on my own this winter is a combination. I have gone to my office and created a sacred space, with a small altar of certain objects to support my intention…my intention to get clear and helpful guidance. I light a candle to invite in Spirit. And I ask my questions and write the answers in my journal. Sometimes it takes a few minutes of writing random thoughts like, “I know if I keep writing I will eventually hear you so I’ll just keep going…. are you there?…” and then eventually a flow starts.

Sometimes I ask questions and draw from a  deck of oracle cards. Sometimes a journey with shamanic practitioners or a soul coach (my shameless plug) can help a great deal. We have the wisdom within us.…we need to hear it. And then we need to trust it and take action on it.

Just this week on my walks in the woods I had an encounter with a snake. Three times in less than 24 hours it appeared in the path, a large snake about two feet long. It looked like the same one each time, although not in the exact same location. When I stopped by him he stopped, and let me talk to him. I photographed him and even picked him up. So I went to remind myself about Snake medicine as a totem animal. It is partly about transmutation…transmuting poison into healing. So I immediately thought of my talk and realized I have to turn my pain into healing by creating a story that can help others.

Part of my problem this winter is I did not trust the wisdom I had already received, even when repetitively reassuring, that told me to create and to be patient, that all was well and would get better. So I stopped creating for a while, and fell back down the spiral staircase.

Leading me to # 7.


_MG_1578Make a choice, based on the wisdom. Stop second-guessing it! Nothing is permanent!! We think it has to be the “right” decision. Nothing is permanent. We can change our minds, it is ok. Get rid of “shoulds” and do what you want to do. But staying in what my hubby calls “the paralysis of analysis” is crippling. It’s like that line about worrying: “Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere. “

Well, not choosing to act, not making a decision on anything, is exhausting and crippling. I was caught in “should I do this or should I do that??” and didn’t listen to the guidance. If I had just started creating something, anything, my blogs, more doodles, sooner, I could have shortened my suffering. I had to make a choice.

Thank god I had this talk to give. I am deadline-driven. And once I made the choice this week “should I do the talk or cancel?”…and chose to follow my commitment to do it, (wouldn’t really have been a “commitment” if I hadn’t) especially at this late date, then everything went into motion.

I Chose to go ahead and write the talk, I started to Create this talk in order to Contribute to others. I got Centered by extra walks in the woods, where I Called on my spirit helpers following prompts in the cards and from the animal spirits of the forest and through prayer and asking for help.  Connecting with friends in the winter probably helped me get through better than if I had not, even though they didn’t know what was going on with me, and connecting with my husband by finally telling him how I really felt, helped too. And now I am Connecting with you by sharing.  And as I learned and utilized loving kindness practices, I developed Compassion for myself, and became able to accept my challenging thoughts and feelings with an open heart and less judgment. I stopped beating myself up.

Finally, and I realize this has been a lot to ponder, but all of these were important for me and worked together in this instance to get me through the door today to give this presentation:

8. COUNT …   Count your blessings.

_MG_1581Everybody says this, a gratitude practice is essential. Because our minds can’t hold two opposing thoughts at the same time. Just like we cannot hold onto fear when we are actively loving, neither can we hold onto thoughts about what’s missing in our lives when we are grateful for what we do have. The more we focus on gratitude, no matter how small the gifts seem, the more we let go of our sense of lack, of not enough, of ourselves not being enough, and of our pain. Keeping a journal next to the bed is easy, jotting down some good things about the day, what you are grateful for, immediately before you fall asleep and again upon waking, is a great practice for setting up a powerful frame of mind.

Right now I am grateful for my brain, which as much as it can spin thoughts in an unhelpful direction, it can also create drawings and photos and writing and talks and dinner parties. I am grateful for my dog getting through his cancer surgery and for the lovely doctors and vet techs that have helped us with him. I am grateful for all the education I have had that lets me put this all into perspective. I am grateful for this wonderful event to share ideas and healing help with so many people. I am grateful to my husband for being a rock that can withstand my stormy waves. And I am grateful to you for listening to my story. I created this for you, I hope it is helpful. It has helped me. Thank you.

Stumbling Part Four ~ Signs, Snakes, and Shedding Skin.

Stumbling Part 4 ~ Of Snakes, Signs, and Shedding Skin.
This past winter I was depressed. Pretty seriously depressed I think, although I was in denial to the degree that I refused to use the “D” word until only recently, and did not seek any medical or psychological help outside of my own resources. And, I might add, the determinedly loving and grounded presence of my wonderful husband. Not sure what I would’ve done without him.

I had refused to use the word “depressed” or “depression” because I have this idea that if I label it, or label myself as “depressed”, then I own it, and it makes it not only more “real,” but I risk identifying with it. I didn’t want to become that.

In hindsight, as a coach, if I’d had a client presenting as I did, I would’ve been urging them to get some other professional help, as well as working with me on breaking the habits of thought and physiology that contribute to depression and creating something to lift their focus. But for myself… the same reason you shouldn’t be your own lawyer or therapist… we lose objectivity about ourselves, and it is difficult to see the way out alone when you are in such a dark place.

Despite all I know, all my studies in coaching, and readings in self-development, I found myself in tears almost daily, for a few months, not for the whole day, but in waves. Sometimes I was just feeling hyper-sensitive to the state of the world and various incidents I would hear about on the news. But mostly it was a result of a downward spiral of negative self-talk, basically carrying a huge load of shame around for not being the “success” I’d imagined I “should’ve” been by now, having passed my 55th birthday in December.

I’d had a vision for how my life was supposed to look, and although I’d really abandoned it years ago, I was nevertheless regretting not being “there”. My coaching practice was not where I’d hoped it would be by now, I had a frustrating lack of income, and periodic regrets about not being more conventional and sticking to some job that would’ve offered a pension and all those things I’d imagined in my 20’s as I finished law school.

I looked at one of my older brothers, recently retired, government pension from a life-long career… he’s happy, fit, traveling, exercising, having fun. Why did I have to be the “creative” in the family who couldn’t stick to one thing long enough to make something prosperous of it? And who were all these coaches on Facebook or sending me emails (to which I’d foolishly subscribed), telling me about their system for making “Six Figures?” Not that I really believe them, but I couldn’t help but think I should’ve been “more”.


Ah yes, I know, I know. I had once drawn a Mary Doodle cartoon with the Theodore Roosevelt quote: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Indeed it is. The constant reminders of how I wasn’t as successful as so-and-so and of what a “successful” life is “supposed” to look like (a materialistic point of view), took their toll on my confidence and self-worth.

The revelation I’d had in the fall as well, that I wasn’t really congruent in terms of who I was, what my true interests were, and how I was presenting as a coach, also threw me off-kilter. I had discovered that in my quest to look more mainstream in terms of how I coached and what my focus was, I had abandoned a lot of the things that drew me toward coaching in the first place, which was the SOULful part of Soul Coaching®, the guided journey work, the work with cards, signs, and spirit guides, the creation of altars and sacred space.

I was confused about what I had to offer. I hadn’t been following my spirit’s calling because I guess I couldn’t really believe that I could do that kind of inner, soulful work with people that I wanted to, ie. that not enough people wanted that. I thought my coaching practice had to look a little more like some therapeutic psychological model, which isn’t necessarily “coaching” anyway.

To compound my frustration and fears, we had some big financial challenges this winter, unexpected expenses that kept mounting for treating our elderly cats, several surgeries for our dog Angus’ cancer, and a huge expense for our aging automobile. Combined with a downturn in business for both of us, this added to my feelings that I was not enough, that I needed to be contributing much more to our household.

My denial that I was capital “D” Depressed was supported by the fact that I at least was determined to get out of bed, showered, and dressed every day. I still went to town for groceries, wrote a few blogs and newsletters, managed to run my winter coaching class, had some dinner guests over and talked and laughed, walked the dogs, and did the laundry. I was functional, but very, very tired. And I cried… a lot, mostly out of sight of my husband.

And I had some really dark thoughts that scared me._MG_1672

And I would spiral downward because then I would think, “See?? What kind of coach am I that I feel this way?” And then my shame would feed on itself and take me even lower.

Maybe menopause had a big part to play, messing with my hormones with all the attendant mood swings. But nobody knew about my sadness except my hubby, and he didn’t see the full extent of my pain. Eventually, when it became too much, I was able to simply tell him, and being able to be totally upfront about how I was feeling helped me through the worst of it. He didn’t treat me like I was the crazy person I felt I was. He was a rock. He knew the only way out was through it, and was willing to hang in there with me all the way.

But there were other things too that started shifting everything for me, or, I like to think, that I started to shift.

In May we were scheduled to have a booth at the local mind, body, spirit fair, and in my enthusiasm before I went south into my “spiral of despair”, I had committed to giving a talk at said fair. As the date approached, I started experiencing anxiety, not only regarding my own concern about my mental state, but about the fact that I, a life coach, was supposed to give a talk teaching or inspiring others when I was still in the throes of my own deep pain and confusion. Who the heck was I to offer any help on happier living when I had fallen into this hole?

Indeed that’s one of the biggest hang-ups of many coaches…the “Who am I to coach anyone…?” question. Coaching isn’t the same as advising or mentoring (although that may be a part of it), but it helps to be congruent in your life about what you offer in your work. I certainly wouldn’t offer to mentor or teach anyone about running a profitable business! But often we do “teach what we most need to learn” (that’s a broad “we,” not coaches in particular), and sometimes it is something we already know very well but have simply gotten off course and need to find our way back. We don’t have to be “perfect” on all levels of our life to be an effective coach to others. But we do need to be always aware and doing our own work in order to stay in alignment with who we are and what we project and offer.

_MG_2486According to my journal, on Mother’s Day, a week before the fair, I took the dogs on our usual walk to my sacred stone circle at the back of our woods. I had started the return toward home but then went back again to the circle, feeling suddenly quite overwhelmed with tears, feeling bad about myself once more. I think I spent an hour or so there, asking for guidance, praying. Worried that Edward would wonder what had happened to me, I finally pulled myself together and headed home.

On the way I stopped by the pond, walked around the small stone circle I have there, saw a turtle slip into the water, then re-stacked some of my rock piles along the trail.

Suddenly something moved in the grass in front of me. I stopped. It stopped. It was a handsome garter snake, about two feet long. Luckily the dogs seemed not to notice him. I said, “Oh! Hello!” He just stayed there at the edge of the path, flicking his red tongue at me as I talked to him. I had my gardening gloves on, so I took a chance and gently picked him up to have a closer look. Not wanting to stress him I put him back down quickly. I had rarely seen a snake on the trail and certainly not one that had stopped and allowed me that close._MG_0059

The next day on the dog walk I saw him again on my way down. At least, I think it was the same snake, he looked the same kind and size, although further down the trail. Alfie had noticed him first and before the dogs could get too close I tied her and Angus to a tree. This time I had my camera with me, and again the snake stopped and let me get really close. I got down on my knees and elbows to take some photos, then thanked him as we continued on.

However on the way back, although he had slithered off the trail several feet when I had taken the pictures, there he was, back again in the middle of the path. This time Angus saw him first and pounced as I shouted at him “NO!” Snake slid safely away._MG_0057

Heading home I realized I had encountered him three times in 24 hours. It can be considered a “sign” from Spirit if you have such an unusual experience or see a particular animal three times. When we do shamanic journeys we are told that the animal we encounter three times in our first journey is likely our power animal, especially if they acknowledge us or stand out in some way.

The fact that he actually stopped and I was able to pick him up and later photograph him, seemed pretty significant to me, and I thought perhaps I was receiving a new power animal.

In the book for the “Medicine Cards” oracle deck by Jamie Sams and David Carson (St. Martin’s Press), Snake medicine is “Transmutation”. Transmutation is basically the changing of one thing into another, something bad to good, as in alchemy, turning lead into gold. In the medicine of some indigenous peoples it is about turning poison into healing.

“The transmutation of the life-death-rebirth cycle is exemplified by the shedding of snake’s skin. It is the energy of wholeness, cosmic consciousness, and the ability to experience anything willingly and without resistance. It is the knowledge that all things are equal in creation, and that those things which might be experienced as poison can be eaten, ingested, integrated, and transmuted if one has the proper state of mind. [……]

“If you have chosen this symbol, there is a need within you to transmute some thought, action, or desire so that wholeness may be achieved. This is heavy magic, but remember, magic is no more than a change in consciousness. [.…]”

“Look at the idea that you may fear changing your present state of affairs because this may entail a short passage into discomfort […..] In order to glide beyond the place which has become safe but nonproductive, become Snake. Release the outer skin of your present identity….”_MG_1290

In light of my encounter with snake and these words, I asked myself, “What is my poison and how can I turn that into healing?” In my habit of second-guessing, snake’s medicine was not quite enough for me. I decided I had also to consult some other oracle cards for guidance on what to do about my upcoming talk. I consulted the “Soul Lessons and Soul Purpose” card deck by Sonia Choquette (Hay House) and got the cards “Become a clear channel” and “Bust out of your cocoon”.

The guidebook for these said the “clear channel” card was about clearing “mental debris, confusion, psychic clutter” to “be a clear channel for myself and Divine Spirit”. And the one about “busting out” said one phase of my life was ending and a new one beginning (a message I’d received several time over the course of the winter).

It continued, “Do you feel on the verge of exciting new possibilities but not sure where they’ll come from? Seems like life as you know it is crumbling? It’s okay — you’re breaking free from past karma and releasing your spirit to a greater tomorrow […..] You’re on the threshold of spreading your spiritual wings in a brand new direction of understanding and embracing your full potential […..] release what no longer attracts you. Drop what’s in your hand to reach for something greater. You’re reaching spiritual adulthood. All that’s ending is an old, stagnant self that no longer serves your spirit, so turn your fear into action.”

Hmmm..sounds remarkably like the shedding of snake’s skin…my old identity…and transmutation…turning fear into action.

Once again the signs and messages coincided, and my takeaway was that my “safe but nonproductive” work as I’d been offering it was something to release…to shed like a snake skin or bust out of the cocoon of that phase of my life, where I’d been trying to be someone I was not again, and to become a clear channel for Spirit. I had to have a change in consciousness, maybe an uncomfortable phase, in order to let go of a past identity that wasn’t serving my spirit.

The transmutation? Turning the fear (of being unconventional as a more soul and spirit-focused coach) into action. I knew I had to take action and create something.

And how would I turn the “poison into healing” right now? By telling my story about this very situation, about how I could turn it around from being depressed and despairing and offer up creative action to heal both myself and others in a similar situation.

So I started writing my speech for the healing fair…on the Friday, the day before my talk. And as I created, my mood improved and more clarity emerged about what I was doing, and that inspired the writing. The action of keeping my commitment to the fair and making something that could help others, became for me a magical process…. heavy magic, as the cards said, creating a change in consciousness.

One other thing had happened. On the Thursday I ran into a friend at the farmers’ market, where I had just started a part-time job selling wine for a local vineyard. It was great for me to get out into the community doing something fun, talking to lots of people, selling a great product, and also bringing in a little additional revenue to the household. Just the commitment to doing that weekly also helped me turn things around and made me feel useful and outward-focused.

My friend mentioned something to me about a comment I had made on her Facebook post…it had made me think about my struggles of the winter, and when she inquired about my comment I started to tear-up, and told her about what had been going on with me. I also told her of my need to get a presentation together for the fair and what I was thinking about writing. She suggested I incorporate some of my “Mary Doodle” doodles in my talk to illustrate it, especially since I had done a presentation about the creation of Mary Doodle the previous year.

I thought if I could make the time, I would draw on a big flip chart to illustrate each of the main points in the talk, which was becoming how I got myself out of my dark hole. But my friend Karen said, “But you have to do one of the despairing, depressed you too.” Mary Doodle’s misery. That could be challenging.

After writing my speech on the Friday I stayed up until 2:30 a.m. doodling….including a drawing of Mary Doodle with her darkest thoughts._MG_0171

The next day in the noisy conference room I managed to keep the rapt attention of around 10 or 12 people who’d stopped by for my talk, including at least 4 who stood at the back of my audience for the whole 45-minute presentation. I received some great feedback. By sharing my story and my perspective on getting out of that situation, I turned my poison into my own healing, and possibly some healing for those in attendance.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I have also begun attracting clients and potential clients, who resonate with the kind of spirit-based work I really love to do. In fact, as a result of a client I met at that healing fair and another who called me based on my last blog entry here, I have created a new program for the two of them, and hopefully for others in the future, which is in progress now. It is an experiential journey over eight sessions intended to be an introduction to the ideas and many of the processes which have been personally helpful to me in connecting with Spirit and with my Soul or Higher Self. It was exactly what they were looking for.

The fact that both of these people could only fit in their first appointments with me on the very same day in back-to-back sessions was a delightful synchronicity that helped confirm for me I was on the right track in getting back to offering the work that is closest to my heart.

But my story of Snake doesn’t end there!

_MG_9219We have a large garden we created several years ago which had been our “Medicine Wheel” garden. It is 32 feet in diameter on the inside of the circle, ringed with lavender plants (originally there were 32 lavender plants). Inside the circle we planted beds in 4 quadrants to represent the colours of the Four Directions as conceived of by certain native American tribes, and we had paths running north/south and east/west, as well as a kind of zigzag path through the beds. It was lovely at its peak, but due to it’s location in a very dry spot far from our water hoses, it became a real chore to maintain. The lavender did well but the other plants suffered and I gave up and let it get weedy.

But we still had a vision for that spot as some kind of healing space. So finally last month Edward scooped out the interior plants with the tractor, leaving the lavender ring, and we found a design for a small three-circuit labyrinth. We decided we would fill the centre with gravel and mark the pathway with larger rocks, keeping it simple to maintain.

A couple days before the gravel was to be delivered I went into a garden shed nearby to get something. The next morning Edward asked, “Were you in the garden shed yesterday?” “Yes, why?” “You killed a snake. I found a snake dead with the door closed on him.”

“Oh no!!” I cried, “Not Snake!!”

I felt terrible to have killed a snake which I felt had just become my new power animal and who’s medicine had helped me so much. I wondered what meaning do I make of this?

Edward said he had just put the snake to the side of the shed so I went down to find it. It was the same kind of garter snake I’d found in the woods. His form and skin was still intact.He was quite beautiful, with a little green tinge that the other snake did not have.

I asked myself, if Snake medicine is to turn poison into healing, how can I turn this situation around? Perhaps Snake is a sacrifice to bring healing to the labyrinth. We want it to be a healing space after all.

So I immediately chose to bless the space with an empowering meaning. I scooped a small hole in the earth in the very centre of the labyrinth-to-be. I picked daisies and some artemesia and lavender to make a bed for the snake and coiled him gently on top. I surrounded him with some stones, some amethyst, for healing and connection to Spirit, some red granite for grounding the energy, red jasper for grounding, healing, and emotional stability, and some clear quartz underneath him to amplify the healing energy of my intentions and of the other crystals._MG_0858

I brought some sage for smudge from my office and burned it and smudged the snake, asking forgiveness for killing it, giving thanks to Snake for his medicine, and asking that the gift of transmutation and healing be brought to the labyrinth. I then proceeded to walk around in back and forth rings as if the labyrinth paths were already there, offering the smoke to bless and purify the space and make it a place of healing for all.

Then I covered the snake with some handfuls of sand, pulled the weed mat over it, and placed a smooth flat rock on top of him and a wild pink rose on top of that, for love._MG_0865

The next day the gravel was delivered.

The day after we‘d leveled the gravel I was gathering more rocks from the edges of our property and piling them at the entrance to the circle to use to mark the path. One pile had already been there for a couple of days, but I started laying them out using the ones I had just dumped out of the wheelbarrow.

_MG_1039When I’d used up that pile I started to pick rocks from the one at the other side of the entrance. As I lifted a rock a large garter snake slithered out from the pile and onto the lavender bed surrounding the circle. Angus was with me looking quizzically and I told him to “Stay!”

The snake moved around a large rock at the entrance to the inside of the lavender bed (I was on the outside of it) and stopped, raised his head above the earth to see us and flicked his red tongue. I was so excited! In my meaning-making mind I chose to see this as a sign that Snake was indeed blessing the labyrinth with his presence. I thanked him for showing up while I laid the path, and as I spoke I moved gently over to my right to get a little closer and knelt in the centre of the entrance, with the snake to my left now. Unbelievably, Angus did not pounce.

And then, the snake turned right around and moved across the entrance, curling itself against my bare knees as it moved across the path to disappear under a plant to my right. I was delighted to have contact!

I guess there must be a few good-sized garter snakes around here this summer, enjoying the heat. Edward says he’s seen some others in the pile of old lumber not far from the labyrinth, and there’s been at least one in the greenhouse which was curled up in a plant pot for a while. He also found a snake skin that had been shed there. So I pop into the greenhouses myself to have a peek now and then, to see if I can spot one. The other day I also found a snake skin near the entrance of the large greenhouse and minutes later found another in the small greenhouse, right where I’d seen a snake the day before. Seemed as if he’d used a pile of bird netting as a tool to help pull off his skin, as it was trapped inside the net.


Once completed, I noticed that the labyrinth itself is somewhat snake-like…not a proper coil or spiral, but having snake-like curves. As I walk it daily, and have witnessed the immediate insights it has already provided for my clients who’ve walked it also, I feel the healing is happening, for me and for others. I will write another post soon with the main content of the talk I did at the fair and the accompanying doodles, to describe the eight steps that seemed influential in my pulling myself out of my downward spiral.

But for now I would say that ultimately it was a matter not only of those steps, which included creating and contributing to others as well as reconnecting with my spiritual guidance. But it was also a real letting go, of my fear of being seen and judged for who I really am. I did shed my skin…and not just the skin of the person who was depressed and had struggled greatly despite all my training and advantages. I also shed the skin of the person who was fearful of being seen as embracing the metaphysical, the mysteries of things like signs and synchronicities, one who creates my own ceremonies and rituals to celebrate and honour my intentions, my gratitude, and prayers, and who makes meaning that ultimately is proving to empower myself and others.

I used to think that becoming one’s authentic self was like peeling the layers of an onion, always another layer to reveal what’s inside. While not a bad analogy, as you peel those layers, the onion gets smaller. But if you become like Snake, you shed your skin as you grow, you become more and more of yourself, and cast off what no longer fits. I think I like that version better. My authentic self is not some static thing that was once covered up and is being revealed. It is constantly evolving, growing, and changing, repeatedly bursting out of a skin that’s too tight, like Snake._MG_1059

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