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Home Sweet Home

 

The perfect feng shui red door.

After all the unease and inner work it seemed to take me to “let go” of our old place, the surprise to me has been the ease with which the new house has become “home”. Not ease as in not having anything to fix or upgrade or change to suit us, but a kind of inner ease, feeling like this has always been ours.

Leo. Squishy, gentle, lazy, lovely.

11 months have passed since my last blog post…sorry about that if you are a follower of my writing! When I last wrote it was about losing our cat Charlie who went walkabout in October 2017, and never came back. After about six weeks we noticed Spirit Cat was out of sorts and off his food. After a vet check found nothing amiss, we assumed he was missing Charlie and so we found him a new buddy at the shelter, Leo, a mellow five-year-old.

At the time I was still struggling to be okay with the “in-betweenness” of not knowing when we’d get a purchaser for We Are One Farm, and whether, once we did, we’d still be able to buy the house in town we’d had an accepted offer on since the January before.

This is actually a wasp on the English Ivy flowers. Wasps apparently come for the afternoon shift and scare the other bees away.

Today I am looking out my office window into the shade of a gigantic black locust tree which is covered in an equally massive and dense English ivy, positively vibrating with bees of all kinds. Bumblebees and honey bees are darting in and out of the leaves and the whole thing is humming when I step outside the front door. They are collecting all the goodness, pollen, perhaps nectar, that is in the abundant tiny blossoms that are bursting out on the ivy. This tree is outside of our new home in town, smack in the middle of Bridgewater. We moved here on February 5th.

From all the breath-holding of the previous 11 months since we’d had our conditional offer accepted on the house in town (conditional on selling our place), we both heaved a great sigh as we finished loading our (somewhat) pared-down belongings into this 1947, Georgian-style traditional home. We were blessed with mild weather for February, no snow to impede the loading and unloading. Friends helped us out, along with local movers. We felt a little stunned after having accepted the offer on our house on Christmas Eve and moving within 6 weeks.

Our expansive hilltop with its sunset views and 38 acres of forest and open, sunny fields, has been replaced with a couple thousand square feet in a shady, root-filled and fenced back yard, tucked in between older single family homes and backed by a couple houses converted to multiple rental units. We are two blocks uphill from the main street in town which runs along the LaHave River. We can’t see the river but it is a stone’s throw away.

No more chicken coop, no workshop, garden sheds nor wood shed. No greenhouses nor vegetable garden. No fruit trees nor grape vines. No long driveway to plow nor lawn to mow (“Yay!” says my husband.) No lavender field or remnant thereof. No flower beds. No flower beds??

It was February, I wouldn’t be able to garden for a few months anyway, so we focused on refreshing the space by painting some rooms and getting rid of heavy draperies. We upgraded a few unglamorous things like some electrical grounding issues, installed a new sump pump, had a defunct wood furnace removed, and later had the brick chimney re-pointed. We bought an auxiliary heat source in the form of a propane stove for the living room, a gas kitchen range, and a diesel generator we found on sale, preparing for power outages in the increasingly windy winters. It all added up to more than we were planning, but these changes help us feel a little more safe and secure for the extreme weather that seems to be plaguing the planet more often.

We’d had one particular vision for the place when we first saw it, and that was to change out a giant picture window at the back of the dining room to a patio door and add a deck, so we could connect with the outdoors and have somewhere to sit and enjoy summer evenings. That work was done in May and June and has been an excellent investment. We have enjoyed more dinners alfresco this summer than we ever did in all our years at the farm, due to the lack of wind and bugs!

Bye-bye back porch…

The deck addition proved slightly more complex than planned however, when the builders found rot in the small enclosed mud porch, as they were about to tie-in the deck to the house. They followed the rot from the bottom of the back door to the roof of the porch and over to the opposite corner, where they also found carpenter ants! As the older wooden windows in the porch had lost their seals and were getting soft around the edges, needing replacement, and the roof of the porch was also getting spongey and needed work, we opted to remove the porch altogether and just extend the deck to the back of the kitchen.

What had seemed like bad news turned out for the best: the deck is slightly more spacious and functional, we got rid of hidden carpenter ants before they could invade the rest of the house, we got rid of a draughty old door into the unheated porch, and without the little porch roof that was also a balcony of sorts, we got rid of the draughty upstairs door and replaced it with a new window. So, there were extra unforeseen expenses and some siding to replace, but in the end it all looks better and is more energy efficient.

The other unexpected surprise caused me some grief for a while. For months I had been happily anticipating spring, when I would take all the ideas I had been collecting on Pinterest for my “small shady backyard” and put them into effect. My first disappointment came from the discovery of mounds of goutweed encroaching from both adjacent properties. There was a little in our backyard but it looked like the main issue would be continually beating it back from creeping under the fence from the neighbours.

Just a few of the pots of plants I’d saved and kept “potting up” into bigger ones as I waited to be able to plant. Pot-scaping was a possibility.

The next issue with the garden, however, caused me more grief. I had divided and saved plants from our old place months before we sold it, had overwintered them in the greenhouse and brought them here, imagining how I would tuck these beautiful lush beds in around the trees, just like I’d seen in the photos I’d collected.  Little did I know that gardening under trees was not just about dealing with shade-loving plants.

 

The dreaded dry shade. First attempts at whacking back a gigantic, overgrown rose bush. This is in Spring before the trees leafed out. There is however some afternoon sun.

I discovered there was a dreaded condition called “Dry Shade”. (“dun dun dun dunnnh!!!!”) Dry shade is when the trees not only block or filter the sunlight that gets to the beds, but also blocks a lot of water getting down to the ground. AND the trees’ feeder roots themselves fill the top 18 inches or so of the soil and often beyond the drip line of the branches, reaching upward for air and water. They can literally suck any flower beds dry, competing with your plants, sometimes coming up through your garden and choking them. The horror!!

And THEN I discovered in my research that trees do not generally like to have the grade raised around them. If you add too much soil or other material on top of tree roots, you can effectively smother them, causing a gradual die-off of the tree. So, in spite of the multitude of pictures on Pinterest showing lush raised beds surrounding tree trunks, just brimming with hosta, astilbe, heuchera, and ferns, many sources were warning me not to plant anything within the drip line of trees, not to add more than 2 inches of soil or compost or mulch, and definitely to add nothing that touched the bark at the base of the tree or over larger exposed roots.

I was heartbroken. What was I to do? And oh, that back patio I dreamed of beneath the two hemlocks at the back? Uh-unh. Nope. Hemlocks are particularly sensitive to ground compaction. What to do…what to do. I realized that perhaps this was why there was no garden as such in this backyard, just a few thorny bushes, including a massively overgrown rose bush, and pointy yucca plants that, it seems, have an incredible will to live, despite my best efforts. I am not a fan of pointy and thorny plants.

My meditation corner. Definitely nothing but tree roots and shade here, so a little bark mulch tidies the floor and potted hostas surround the benches I made from found rocks, formerly stepping stones.

Excavation for the deck. They say things always get worse before they get better… uh-huh..

The deck construction also added to my misery over the garden as it meant excavation for footings, with dirt and rocks and building materials being piled on this already problematic yard. All the remnants of that project had to be cleaned up before I could even see the blank canvas I had to work with.

I actually put some plants in the ground, that is, new ground, added above weed mat. Fingers crossed.

After a little cry I decided to consult a local landscaper who is all about natural ways of dealing with the landscape. After a look at the place she reassured me that some raised beds, not covering the whole area, and not up against the tree trunks, would not be a big problem. She advised we could use geotextile below some added garden soil to stave off the tree roots for a while to get plants established, and water well. Maybe give some compost or fertilizer to the trees themselves to help keep them from competing with the juicy piles of earth and fertilizer around the plants. And some selective thinning of the trees around our yard could help as one tree was being smothered by too many around it, and another was already dying off. An arborist consultation followed, now we are awaiting the “ok” from a neighbour about the tree on the property line that is dying and a potential hazard. So, if those two go, there will be slightly less root competition and less worry about smothering tree roots.

So, with renewed hope, and reinforced by a gardening blogger I found who has had long-term success in this kind of space, I have forged ahead, creating beds with the hope that they can survive the tree roots below, and preserving as much space as I can for the roots to get air and water by creating paths with gravel instead of paver stones.

A delicate balance between covering the soil and letting it breathe for the trees and praying the tree roots don’t strangle everything I’ve planted. The table in the back waits, perhaps, for a floor.

And, instead of a patio under the hemlocks on which to put our dining table, we’re thinking perhaps a low, ground-level platform, with only patio slabs around the edges, and geotextile underneath to keep plant growth from springing up through. Air and water can get to the ground through the slats in the wooden decking, and the earth will only be compacted in the few spots where the patio slabs are around the perimeter. I think it is do-able. Time will tell whether the plants and trees can co-exist, but we’ll keep an eye on it and tweak as necessary.

 

100 landscape blocks, 2 yards of gravel, 2 yards of garden soil, and numerous found rocks making a home for my plants.

Worst-case scenario, I have to go back to one friend’s suggestion of pot-scaping, keeping all my hardy perennials in large, deep planters that I can tip on their sides and store together under cover of brush in the winter. I was almost going to go with that plan but didn’t like the idea of having to move the huge and heavy pots, nor risk breakage of the plastic from the freezing and UV damage over time. But it’s an option if the challenges of this dry-shade zone are just too much for my plants.

Thanks Dad. This is soft and cool on my belly!

One thing we hadn’t planned on was having any grass. None was really growing there and that was fine with us, we didn’t want to mow anyway. But in our walks with Alfie down the street, she would always want to roll around on someone’s lawn. Edward decided she needed her own little patch of grass, so he installed some sod over some of the garden soil we’d bought, on top of weed mat to try to keep the tree roots at bay. Another experiment, but Alfie gave her stamp of approval immediately.

So, that’s where we are for now, physically, at least! Just a bringing-up-to-date on the mundane level for this installment, for those interested in the difference between the old farm and the new town home. For fall and winter projects we have couple spare rooms upstairs left to paint, and maybe some wainscoting to install for the lower half of the kitchen walls, which have some lumpy old fake tile wall covering on them. The kitchen and bathroom are a little outdated but functional, and the reno budget is exhausted for now. I guess having come from our expansive piece of land, making the outdoors an enjoyable space to be was more important to me than fixing up the inside. I needed my connection with the plants and fresh air!

My forest connection I now satisfy with walks in the many nearby parks, some of which have lovely tall pines, and a feeling much like my “cathedral” back at the old place. Some have ponds or streams, another is right along the LaHave River, so I’ll share some of my favourite rambles in another post.

And as for how life in the middle of town is different, I will leave that to the next chapter. There are a number of things I occasionally miss from the farm and the other house itself, and many things I enjoy about this location.

Somewhat formal but lovely. Edward likes the lack of front walk to shovel in winter with the door opening onto the sidewalk!

But it has surprised me, as I mentioned above, how easily this place has felt like “home”… how, once moved, there was no pining to be back in the other house. As different as this house and land is in style and features, once some fresh paint was applied and our own things moved in, it just became ours, with a strange familiarity as if it had been ours for years already. I’m not sure how that happens. Is it just the process of deciding, and having cut off other options? Is it that I had been visualizing myself in this space for the preceding 11 months as part of my “manifestation” process?

Maybe a house sometimes calls you to it with some kind of resonance, and I was drawn to this one, even though from the outside, I would not normally have been attracted to this formal style. It was the price and the images of the interior, the way the light came through the windows actually, also the staircase and the nice dining room, that made me take a second look at the listing.

A once masculine-feeling study is now filled with my metaphysical do-dads, books on feng shui, shamanism, women’s empowerment, and my art supplies. This cupboard smelled of pipe tobacco when I first opened it. Now it smells of white sage and lavender.

It was funny, when we first walked in, I said, “this feels like a lawyer’s house.” I had been a lawyer once, maybe it reminded me of some of the homes I’d been in, and the one I’d had, in Cape Breton years ago. Sure enough, when we toured the basement, there on the wall were the names of the previous owners of the house, and the first one was a lawyer whose office had been on the next street over. In fact, his son became a lawyer too and is now a judge. So, maybe that’s part of the resonance, even though I abandoned that profession long ago after such a brief time.

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Home is where the critters are… peacefully co-existing now.

And maybe it is simply that the old adage is true, “home is where the heart is”. As long as we’re together, Edward, me, and the critters, we are home. Although I think I’ll always need a garden!

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Claiming every inch of potential garden space!

Charlie, 2007-2017?

Well, I guess it’s not looking too good for our Charlie Cat. As of this evening, it’s 6 days since we’ve seen him. His habit was to sleep inside all day and prowl most nights except in cold weather, usually jumping on the low roof outside our bedroom window anywhere from 2 to 5 times per night to scratch at the window and wake me up to let him in for a snack. Which I unfailingly did; often to the detriment of my physical and mental health. If I did not respond to his scratches there, it usually meant I would lie awake for over an hour as he continued, and then finally relent anyway.

I know you are supposed to keep your kitties inside, but he was a little terror if you didn’t let him out at night. First he’d pick at the door’s weather stripping until it was shredded. “pic, pic, pic…”. He’d often wait until we were in bed. Then he’d start an escalation of biffing things off my desk or a book case or the kitchen counter. We got good at hiding the smaller, especially breakable, stuff each night, but not always. Then if all that failed, he’d pick a fight with another cat, often it was elderly Coco (now deceased) who had no teeth or claws. He seemed to know that that was the final straw, and it would be , “Okay buster, out the door!!”

We’d adopted him as a 4 month-old scrawny kitten from the SPCA 10 years ago this fall, all gangly legs and a purr that had led his fosters to call him Rumble. I was looking for a brown tabby, but he picked Edward and made a point of being noticed. He was the first cat we adopted together; we each had brought a cat into our relationship, Edward’s Coco and my Sophie.

He wasn’t all that cuddly with us, he seemed to prefer the other cats for snuggling. Charlie used to get all cosy with Sophie Cat (also now deceased), and pile on top of her as she snoozed peacefully in her own cat basket, and once he was well nestled in and she was accommodating him, he’d suddenly start chomping on her neck. Growling would ensue, until she’d get fed up and leave the cat bed to him. “Mission accomplished,” said the thought balloon above his head.

Eventually he traded Sophie for his younger-brother-from-another-mother, Spirit, who started out a third of Charlie’s size and had since well-surpassed him in length and girth. He didn’t chomp on Spirit though, Spirit is gentle but not to be pushed around. No, Charlie used Spirit as a body warmer/pillow I think, cuddling up not on top of him, but beside. I doubt they hung out together outside; we kept Spirit from being an overnight prowler most of the time. Charlie probably wasn’t interested in having a companion on his routes. I could almost hear him saying, “Beat it!”

Charlie always brought his catches home, mostly voles, deer mice, shrews, often headless or all-consumed but for entrails. Yum. He has on occasion found a rat who had probably been hiding somewhere between the compost pile and he chicken coop, as well as a weasel or two. Should’ve left the weasels to deal with the rats.

Having spent the previous year pretty sleep-deprived and at the end of my rope due to this cat, I was happy that last winter he seemed to settle in and didn’t fuss about getting out at night. I thought, “Yay, he’s 10 now, maybe as a senior he’ll mellow-out and I can sleep again!” He even cuddled between us on the bed, although it seemed he really had his eye on Alfie Dog for snuggles rather than us. She, however, is wary of cats, having been smacked on the nose once too often I guess, so if Charles came her way she’d do an about-face and show him her butt. He proved, however, quite content to nestle his head into her fluffy tail and fall asleep.

He was great at relaxing. I could’ve learned a thing or two from him. Indeed, occasionally, very occasionally,  I was tempted to take a nap in the afternoon sun after seeing him stretched out on the window sill or on the ottoman in a sunbeam.

 

 

 

 

By the time the warmth of summer returned, he was back to his old tricks, and out he went at night. Over the years he’s only had two major mishaps that we recall: One was a bad bite on his back that caused an infection close to his spine. It required surgery and antibiotics to resolve.

The other was a close encounter of the skunk kind. I remember one night letting him in the upstairs bathroom window around 3:30 a.m., and stumbling downstairs after him to give him a bite to eat, only to start worrying about the smell in the house. In my stupor I said, “Edward, there’s some kind of gas leak or something, an awful smell like gas….or rotten onions… or something…!” This was before we had a propane stove. “Furnace oil doesn’t smell like gas,” he muttered from under the covers. “I don’t know, there’s something awful!” I maintained.

He got out of bed and shuffled down the stairs. Then he headed for the basement stairs to check and humour me, although now he was smelling it too. Charlie went to follow Edward to the basement. And as he passed me, it clicked. “It’s CHARLIE!! SKUNK!!!” and I grabbed him and threw him back outside! No way that was going to get all over our furniture and smell up the adjacent treatment room for Edward’s work.

Lucky to live in a factory town (well, Michelin) where shift work calls for a 24-hour grocery store, Edward headed off to Sobey’s to buy some peroxide and Dawn dish liquid, as well as fresh baking soda, the ingredients to the proven de-skunking recipe we were told about by my then sister-in-law. Charlie had taken off by the time Edward got back, but once we found him at the door at 7 a.m., we were ready for him. That stuff works. They say bathing a cat is a dangerous idea, but I think Charlie was so sick of the smell himself he cooperated nicely.

So, perhaps last Sunday was his final adventure. Hard to say with cats, sometimes you hear tales of them turning up after several months. They wouldn’t have written that song, “The Cat Came Back” were it not so. But, we are far from our neighbours; the closest have checked their sheds and around the house. Alfie and Edward and I have roamed our property calling, but there are 38 acres, mostly wooded. He could be anywhere, or nowhere.

And best guess is an owl, or perhaps even a coyote, got to him. We’ve seen large owls in the evening on occasion, in the trees near the chicken coop. And there is scat on the trail into the woods, possibly coyote.

So, we’ll keep an ear out, but as this has never happened before, I don’t hold out much hope.

Charlie The Brat, you were cute, and very occasionally snuggly when you wanted something. You definitely had personality (oh yes, I forgot to mention your special talent of whining while squinting your eyes at us, front feet turned outward in defiance, when we didn’t accede to your demands.) I suspect I will miss you, the house seems different already.

This past year has been really tough on the pets in this house with Angus’ cancer finally being too much just under a year ago, and little old kitties Rosie and Jack, succumbing to old age illnesses in the couple of months that followed. It’s been tough on us too, emotionally. Quieter and quieter, losing long-term companions. Re-homing the chickens for our move added to that sense of emptiness. I was sure Charles would be around for another 10 years to torment me. I occasionally wondered how I might build a padded room to put him in at night…or more likely, myself.

And there he was, gone.

Charles the Brat Cat, Squirt, Li’l Bugger. It hasn’t hit me yet, how much I’ll miss you, but I suspect it will one of these days when I find myself roaming the house in the middle of the night for no reason, feeling like something is missing. I love you, Charlie Winkle. Maybe you’ll magically come back. But if you don’t, I sure hope you didn’t suffer.

“Love to eat them mousies… mousies what I love to eat! Bite they little heads off, nibble on they tiny feet!” (from a cartoon by B. Kliban.)

 

 

 

If these rocks could talk…

A little over two years ago, June 2015 to be precise, this blog featured Playing With Rocks ~ Lessons in Balance, Presence, and Coaching. The written version was a paring down of a long rambling video I did of my stacked rock project along our woods trail. There was a long gap, about 10 months, before I blogged again, and did Rocks Revisited, where I again photographed my rock stacks that I had kept going (re-stacking as needed), and wrote some observations on the metaphors that struck me at the time.

Well, more than two years since the first writing on this I still have about 16 or more rock stacks along the trail, and some recent photos are included here, and for some reason I feel compelled to write about them again in relation to where I find myself now. As before, they have tumbled and been re-piled, especially this year in the spring, it seemed the frost just kept heaving them out of the ground, toppling them over and over again until the earth finally relaxed. Some rocks have been taken to other piles, some omitted, a few new ones brought in, as they never seem to quite go back together the same way no matter how present and calm I think I am.

I think about these rocks watching me as they are kind of like little people or sentinels lining the walk as far as Grandfather Hemlock. They feel like gatekeepers for the forest, somehow protective, standing guard. Their sense of stillness and solidity adds a kind of solemnity as sacred observers, bearing witness and holding the space for me to go through whatever I need to go through. The fact that they do occasionally topple over and need rebuilding reminds me that nothing is permanent, everything keeps changing, and I will always have to keep picking up some metaphorical rock or other and figure out how to re-build, scratching my knuckles and bruising my toes now and then. I have learned overall that that is a good thing. Maybe it’s a little message about resilience.

If these rocks could talk they’d say they’d been watching me go through a lot of highs and lows and changes in the past two years.

They’d say they have seen me cry, perhaps too often. There were the deep, painful sobs about my own feelings of inadequacy and shame and feelings of personal failure as I went through a period of what I think was a major depression. I had turned 55 and instead of “Freedom 55” I faced Fearful 55, fearful that I was never going to “make it”, having nowhere near accomplished the kind of things I thought I should have by then, especially financially, and facing fears about entering my “senior years” unprepared.

They were also watching as I kept on walking that trail and asking for guidance until I found some signs from Spirit (in my interpretation at least) that helped me to navigate a way through and out of that inner hell.

These rocks would also mention that they’d been privileged to witness some lovely beings join me in the woods at times for ceremony in a program I’d created to help them get in touch with their spirit and sense of the Divine in this sacred, natural space. I felt truly blessed to have this beautiful backdrop to our work together. They might’ve wondered, however, how I could relate to these woods in such a way as to feel that divine connection and somehow still fail to see the divinity within myself.

These rocks would mention that they’ll never forget the last half of 2016, when I spent as much time as possible on the trail with Angus Dog once his cancer had quickly recurred twice and we’d made the decision that there would be no further surgeries. I wanted to soak up every minute with my sweet buddy and let him run and chase squirrels and hares as long and as much as he was comfortable doing. His chases so frequently criss-crossed the area where the rocks are that it is likely he or the hares were to blame for at least some of them toppling. I made a video of walking in the woods with him last fall and put it on You Tube in case you are interested. My videos tend to be long, slow, rambles, so be prepared.

And later these rocks would have witnessed my considerable tears again as I prepared to let him go and the grief afterwards, as well as my sadness at also having to put down two of our dearest elderly cats, Jack and Rosie, within the following three months.

And in the past 6 months or so these rocks have witnessed my ups and downs as I come to terms with our putting this property up for sale and my grieving in advance as I intentionally disconnect (or have tried to) from this beautiful land we’ve been stewarding.

But these rocks also get to see my almost daily delight and wonder as I make time to appreciate and document the natural beauty with my camera, getting down on my elbows for mushrooms and baby toads, or looking up into the leafy canopy, especially in autumn, or abstracting the rippling reflections in the pond and puddles, or trying to connect and converse with dragonflies and snakes.

There is so much to appreciate in every walk. The colours keep morphing through the shiny matted browns of old leaves, rusty pine needles, and wet rocks in late spring, through the glowing chartreuse of new ferns unfurling, vibrant mosses cushioning boulders where squirrels leave a brown mess of spent pine cones, to the glowing canopy of fall reds and yellows like stained glass windows against a blue sky.

Leaves become mottled, ferns tanning like old leather until snow seals it all for months under a quiet, soft blanket. The sweet, earthy scents, the bird songs and squirrel chatter, the rustle of beech leaves that still dangle in winter, feed more senses. I notice the way the temperature abruptly changes in certain pockets along the path, and the way the sounds and mood can seem so different on rainy days compared to sunny ones.

The cathedral of pines at the back is my temple and refuge as well as my inspiration. The rock piles are mostly at the beginning of the trail, but somehow signal that this walk is a special one and to pay attention.

 

So, you might ask, since I am in the process of letting go of this place to sell, why do I keep re-stacking the rock piles? I have wondered myself if continuing to rebuild them is somehow keeping my energy attached to the land, and thereby repelling a sale.

My intention is certainly not to do so. My intention is to keep the guardians present in a way that welcomes whomever is coming next. When someone walks that woodland trail to explore the property I want them to also feel that sense of wonder and delight that I do here. I know they will find their own way to experience that, and it does not at all need these impermanent statues to do it. But I am hoping to send the message that this is a sacred place, it has been well-loved and appreciated, and that maybe they’ll get the picture that if they love and care for it too, it will support and provide a beautiful and healing sanctuary for them also.

So, with extreme gratitude for the time I have enjoyed here, I ask my stone friends to call in and welcome the new people who will steward this land, and to offer them joy and wonder and protection and grounding as they create a new life here.

And so it is.

 

The Place of In-Between Part 4 ~ Identity Shifts

The Place of In-Between Part 4 ~ Identity shifts

“The spiritual journey is one of constant transformation. In order to grow, you must give up the struggle to remain the same, and learn to embrace change at all times.” ~ Michael Singer, “The Untethered Soul”

 

I have been struggling with this installment in this “In-Between” series. I guess I’d hoped I’d be out of the in-between before I had to write it, but alas, no, we are still in limbo with regard to selling our home. Currently we have fingers, toes, legs, and arms crossed, and maybe eyes too, hoping recent repeat viewers will make an offer. And a few new viewings are scheduled this week.

Quite a while ago, I’d written about five pages of ramblings on my shifting sense of identity, and after a few rereads realized I was tired of reading it. And there’s the rub…and the nub…of all my musings on identity right there. It’s all just a story. Who am I? Who am I becoming? Who have I been? All just a story. But I am going to write this anyway, as it always helps me come to some clarity. You can be kind of a voyeur in my journal, and who knows, maybe there will be a nugget that’s useful for someone else here.

Through my studies in the coaching and self-development world I have learned a lot about how we create stories about who we are, and moreover, who we are not, or who we are not (we believe) capable of becoming. We create stories that limit us much more often than we create stories of our own possibility and desire.

When I started the second draft of this installment from scratch again a couple of weeks ago, I had basically thrown up my hands in surrender after a period of not feeling well, asking “What the heck am I doing? Who am I going to be without this place? What should I be doing?” I have been suffering off and on because I have identified with the stories I have told myself about who I am or was “supposed to be” in this life, about the ways I have failed to live up to the “supposed-to-be’s”, how I still haven’t got “it” figured out.

I have made myself suffer thinking that if I change career tacks yet again I will be humiliating myself, much as I had felt humiliated by an old school friend’s hurtful comment to me too many years ago, when I had left the law career and found myself waiting tables for a short period of time. She commented in front of a table full of people (some who knew me) how I had taken a step “down.”  At the time it was like a gut punch. A current, kind, and insightful friend has since kicked me (hard) in the butt about even bringing up that story yet again, when I hadn’t even realized I’d told him about it before. I guess that’s how hard I had held on to it. So I am loathe to share it here but for the fact that it might be helpful to someone else. Otherwise, I am dropping it, NOW. This is the LAST re-telling.

As I sat at the keyboard and glanced at the book I have been reading, The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer, I was reminded yet again of what foolish and disempowering stories I have been continuing to tell myself. The back cover asks, “Who are you really?”, and the insides explore ways we can start to let go of all the limitations imposed by all our mental storytelling.

I don’t think Singer’s work is new. It is, as many texts, just expressed in it’s unique way, and maybe I am finally hearing things a little better. I’ve read Byron Katie, Michael Neill, Ekhart Tolle, listened to lots of discussions of the Three Principles, read about mindfulness meditation and becoming aware of your thoughts, and just observing, not attaching to them. But it seems I still find myself in circumstances where I spiral down into my own stories and it takes a feeling of impending crisis or, lately, seeing the frustration on my dear husband’s face, and his worry about me, before I snap myself out of it. I have all the skills, I just forget, because I still do not have a practice built around them. And that is a fundamental part of my personal challenge in life. And, sometimes, we think we have figured out what all of our stories are, but still miss some of them, until we are called out on them by someone else.

When I set out to write about the identity shifts I am experiencing in this place of in-between, I started out on a ramble about all the things I have identified with in living on this property for the past 12 years, including the things we only thought of doing here but didn’t! How’s that for story-telling? Building identity around things that never happened!

But we are not what we do or what we have or what we earn. As Wayne Dyer had said, if we think that that’s who we really are, then when those things are gone or change then we are nothing. And that’s not the truth of our being.

My lavender field at its peak.

I’ve thought about how I became a gardener for the first time in my life once I moved here, to the extent of having a lavender farm for a few years, until I realized I didn’t want to produce products, and there were issues around viability and scale and whether it had to become a tourist operation for lavender farming to be feasible. But for the few years that I I did it, many folks started to know me as the Lavender Lady (not my business name, just how others identified me), since I did some farmers’ market selling and became known by some as a bit of an expert in growing the stuff here.

The house we hope to move to in town has, rather than 38 acres of land, a couple thousand square feet in a shaded backyard. No lawn, which is actually a bonus at this point, but a tiny canvas for my gardening urges. It will be a new challenge for sure, but I’m looking forward to seeing what I can create there, or wherever we end up. I need a bit of dirt to dig in and the chance to add beauty.

We created a lot of beauty, and also a healthy home for honeybees.

Also associated with this large land and gardens are the details and vistas I continue to capture with my camera, for which my Facebook friends seem to be an ever-receptive audience. I never realized a multitude of sunset and flower and bug images would continue to inspire others, but of course, they inspire me enough to shoot them, so why not others? So, there are a few folk who have expressed how they will “miss the farm” when we move, people whom I’ve never even met and who have only seen my images in social media. So there’s a little identity piece there, I have become the person who shares all those beautiful images of our land and gardens. But I think that is part of my “mission”, regardless of where I live, to find beauty and to share it. It just won’t be from the farm.

Some Polaroid transfer prints from a show many years ago. Can no longer make these as there is no more Polaroid or instant film of this type.

A couple months ago after Edward moved his massage practice back into an office in town, I reclaimed the commercial space here that had once been my gallery for my own coaching office. Also, for two occasions, I filled the walls with all my leftover framed photographs which have been languishing unseen in boxes for years since I closed Third Eye Gallery in 2011. I had an open house and sale, and I have to admit it was really fun and gratifying to see my work hung gallery-style again. It was wonderful to have a couple of my “collectors” return to buy pieces, as well as to see some friends from way back who had talked of buying a piece for years and never had, until then. And it was also great just to have friends show up to look at and enjoy my work without purchasing.

It helped me recognize what I am capable of, creating whole bodies of work, as I continue to doubt my own ability to create something significant or meaningful. When I saw the groupings of the leftovers from various shows I had mounted, I was reminded that I can indeed have periods of great focus, intensity, and hard work, as well as a vision I am proud of. It is especially tangible when you create visual art.

I was also reminded recently at an intuitive painting workshop I attended how much I loved being part of a community of other artists. The coaching world is more spread out it seems, people only getting together in person for educational seminars. In our county, many artists seem to be supportive and friendly, attending openings and events where they collaborate. It feels like it is more possible to be part of a local, in-person community of artists here than it is to be part of an in-person community of coaches, at least where I live.

So as much as I thought I was having a “last hurrah” with my photographic art and feeling that another layer of my created identity was being peeled away, I got an inkling that maybe I wasn’t quite done yet with that world. Am probably still done as a photographer-for-hire, (even though I had trouble purging all my tear sheets from my published work), but perhaps I could embrace the digital realm more fully after all, get some more training on image processing techniques, and find my way to producing a body of work again for a show or a book project. Or maybe I’ll finally learn to paint. And at least get better at the drawing I’ve been doing.

Another bit of the identity piece in this place of in-between has involved ruminating on my continuing or not as a life and soul coach. I found my way to that work a couple years after moving to this land, a by-product of my own spiritual self-development. A big part of that was spurred by moving here, by connecting with nature, and learning about shamanic practices.

I suspect that’s the way a lot of people come to coaching or other forms of alternative healing as a profession, they have some amazing, transformational experiences and then think, “Hey, I wanna do that!”  Then they jump into trainings and certification programs so that they can try to help others have the same kind of experiences and new awareness they’ve had.

Coach’s corner.

I did that. I coached myself through Denise Linn’s Soul Coaching® 28-day program with her wonderful book, started reading her newsletters and said “wow I want to go study with her!” So I did, and it was wonderful! She is an excellent teacher and mentor, and in hindsight, after training in NLP and certification by Robbins Madanes Training (as in, based partly in the work of Tony Robbins), I realized I’ve pretty much learned the best of what I have used with clients in my initial Soul Coaching® training.

One of my challenges, as I mentioned above, is that I have failed to create regular practices around the work that is most helpful. Coach, heal thyself. I suppose it’s like acting as your own lawyer (no, I wasn’t fool enough to try that even when I was a lawyer!). Coaches are supposed to have coaches, and I have done so for only brief periods. But it also sometimes feels like the only people who have coaches (outside of say, sports or acting) are other coaches. It is much easier to be objective and insightful about what’s going on with others than with ourselves, and having a coach can be very helpful in finding your blind spots as well as supporting your potential.

But my lack of consistency in practicing what I preached as a coach has led me over time to feeling out of alignment, and having what some might call a “chaotic vibration”, i.e. I was not always in a position to feel confident about the results I could offer someone because I wasn’t always walking the talk myself, either by having been coached regularly myself nor by always implementing the very practices that I knew would be helpful to my own well-being. I did, but often it took my heading towards an inner crisis before I smartened up. (See my earlier post on this site from last year “Climbing Out Of The Dark”)

One of the things I have noticed in my smartening-up in the past year, while considering this move and what dynamics will change, is that, even if I can coach, and have coached, and been helpful to people, I have struggled with whether I really want to be a coach. It is difficult to discern sometimes whether I don’t actually want to coach, and fell into it only because there were things I needed to learn for me, or if I am just disillusioned about it because business is very slow, and maybe I just need to learn to “market” better or get a business coach. There are, it seems, a lot of coaches trying to coach other coaches how to succeed in business as a coach. It feels like a red flag.

As time goes on, and my hubby explores revising our web site to reflect his own changes, including his part of the business moving to town and being in a different environment, I feel more and more that my partnership in Co-Creative Healing Arts is coming to an end. I think I’ve been flogging the dead horse so long perhaps only because I felt so invested, financially and time-wise, in all the courses and books, that I then felt I should keep going. That was where one of my stories came in. “You’ve invested so much” and “It would look foolish to quit.” “Shoulds” are not a great motivator, and those are just my own stories. To be self-employed, you really gotta love what you’re doing. I have loved my clients, but I’m thinking my coaching time is done.

I guess that means I may have to kill off , or perhaps “retire,” Mary Doodle Rural Life Coach, if her inspiration is no longer an actual,  rural life coach. I think I might have quietly retired her a long time ago actually. She may be reborn in some other form.

Art imitating life…

Maybe it is time for me to tie my legs to the chair and keep writing the words that I’ve said I wanted to write for so long, and practice creating the illustrative art I have dabbled in since childhood. Those things, especially the writing, feel easy to me. I love the process. I love creating something and putting it out there. And as much as we are supposed to be detached from the work after that, and ignore the critics (and there will always be critics), I do so love it when even one person responds and says, “Thank you, I needed to read that today,” or something like that. I have been told that maybe my writing is the way I am actually “coaching” people, maybe doing more good by sharing my personal insights on the page than by trying to be a kind of counselor or motivator.

Some say, when faced with a crisis of career direction, to look back at what you loved doing as a child. For me it was in fact always drawing and writing. I even created a “newspaper” for my family and friends when I was quite young. It was elegantly called “The Thing or Whatever” and included doodles and poems and news. I wish I still had a copy. I remember my brother Paul taking me to the Dorval Library to get a few copies made. I’m not sure if those were still on Gestetner machines or the (then) brand new photocopiers. It might as well have been on the Gutenberg Press, the way things have changed.

As a teen photographer, excellent student of English, and editor of my high school yearbook, I was heading to university on a small scholarship to journalism school. However I managed to be deterred in my naive youthfulness by a crusty old journalist-teacher  (not his fault) and my own fears that I was not really ready for that world. And I didn’t know yet how to type (yes…on a typewriter!) and felt I couldn’t keep up. And indeed for the world of hard news, I probably was not a good fit, just as I was not a fit for the often unhappy and stressful environment of a law practice, which was the alternate route I took a few years later.

But the love of writing stayed with me (I could write a very clear legal brief, I must say), as did the love of art and photography. So when I met my former husband, the photographer, I had the opportunity to pursue both. While I did have a bit of written work published from time to time, both articles and copy-writing-for-hire, photography eventually took over my focus, and it was a joy to work both commercially and as an artist.

I got derailed in the change over from film to the digital photographic medium at the very same time that I was immersing myself in personal development and spiritual self-discovery after that relationship had ended and another began. The soul-searching that led me to Soul Coaching® and life coaching became my focus. But as I suggested, and others have recently suggested to me, maybe that was only ever for my own benefit after all.

Harvest time at the “monastery.”

What I do know is that our intended move from this 38 acres of land to an almost yard-less place in the centre of town is not for me to lock myself away in a room all day tapping at my laptop or becoming a reclusive artist. As Edward and I have discussed about this move, we both feel it is our time to kind of “come down off the mountain” of our navel-gazing, semi-monastic life here, and become more personally engaged in community life, connecting not just with one-to-one clients in privacy but connecting with friends and people in community more closely. I am craving connection that neither individual clients nor facilitating workshops nor the internet can offer. Being in coach/teacher role, even in person, is not the same as being a friend or team member in a community or even an employee. My time working at farmers’ markets in the past when I was selling lavender and as a board member and later a wine vendor, have shown me I really love interaction in a more social context, although I also need recovery time alone.

It is not lost on us that we both believe we’ve been monks in past lives (long story for another day perhaps), and that our reunion here on this land was to live out and conclude part of that life experience. It’s like it was easing us into a greater connection with the world. We can each be very content with our own company for long stretches and spend a lot of time almost in silence in different corners of the house or garden. But I do get to a point where I am suddenly feeling desperate to have other people around. Our weekly trips to the farmers’ markets and local cafés, or occasionally inviting friends over for dinner, are currently an antidote to that sense of isolation, but not quite enough.

One of my many garden companions. He doesn’t say much.

We also think our time on this property has had to do with showing ourselves what powerful creators we can be when we focus our intention and attention, especially on the things we love. The landscaping we have created and the plants and food we’ve grown have become highlights of this place. And while we didn’t do the major renovations on our home ourselves, our vision for how they would evolve, and the use of feng shui in the space to make it welcoming and peaceful for others, has been a creative process as well. It was like having a huge blank canvas for over a decade upon which to play and create. It has been a lot of fun.

My heart aches some days to imagine not being surrounded by the sweeping vista of forest and garden and the amazing sunset views. And my connection to the woods and the small creatures that live here, from deer, eagles, and hares down to snakes, toads, and honeybees, will somehow have to be replaced by walks in the many parks in town, or excursions further afield exploring our beautiful province. I’ve learned I must connect to nature on a regular basis, both to ground myself and to find my connection to Spirit.

One of the beautiful, ever-changing views from our living room.

I am now trying to weave together the essence of what it is that I have loved here, and of what has been realized within me, that I can take with me, that does not depend on this specific environment. If it is not what I do or what I have that defines me, what is it about my experience in this place that has helped shape me or maybe helped reveal more of who I am at heart?

I have learned for sure that besides a nature-lover, I am a constant creator, whether it is renovating the house, building and rebuilding gardens, taking photographs, making great meals, arranging flowers from the garden, drawing, or writing. I know I am happiest and most in flow with a creative project. And moreover, I love projects that I can share with others, as we have done both by opening up this place as our work space, and with my creative work. As my coach Richard once paraphrased Seth Godin, talking about the need for creatives to “ship their work,” he used the line,  “Here, I made this for you. I hope it changes your life.” That’s how I want to live my life.

It’s time for a new chapter. We know ourselves only in relationship to each other, as Edward always says, so now perhaps is our time to try that out with more humans, rather than just with the plants, the environment, and each other. What will we be able to create with a bigger community? How much more can we become in those relationships? What story will I write for my own life now? I am looking forward to it, despite the uncertainty of when this property will sell and whether we’ll even get the house that we’d like.  As I let go of what was, and my stories around that which may have kept me stuck, I am learning to see the in-between with excitement, and an acceptance of the idea that it is not only okay to keep changing, it may be essential.

The Place of In-Between, Part  3 ~ Quiet.

 

(Written a week ago).

It is weirdly quiet in the house today. There’s a brisk wind outside I can just hear in the rumble of higher gusts, there’s the humming of the furnace and the refrigerator. And now as I write even those have paused.

I’m sitting at what has been Edward’s desk for the past 5 years, in the office addition of our home that first housed my photo gallery and most recently was Edward’s massage clinic. The room to the right of me has sunlight beaming in, with nothing to interrupt its path across the floor.

Spirit Cat has curled up in a waiting room chair, and Alfie Dog snoozes at my feet under the desk. In our house of dwindling critters (sadly, dear Rosie Cat had to be euthanized about two weeks ago due to kidney failure), only Charlie is not sharing this room with us today. He prefers the comfort and solitude of our bedroom upstairs most mornings.

There’s a lot missing from the clinic today… the bench at the entrance, one of the wicker chairs in the waiting room, the altar table and massage table and stool, as well as all the sheets, heating pads, tuning forks, salt lamp, lotions, pillows, and more, from the treatment room. And, of course, Edward.

Not to worry, no crisis here. He has simply started work today in his new office in town.

But it feels so strange, and a little lonely.

Not that operating a massage clinic at home, in a separate addition to the house, is all that noisy, but usually, at least once a day, a few hearty chuckles make it through the walls from Edward and/or his clients as they chat. He has such a down-to-earth, to-the-point manner that catches people off-guard sometimes, especially as he challenges them in a loving way, that the eruption of startled laughter is a frequent occurrence.

So, I’m missing the murmur of conversation and the odd guffaw on the other side of the walls today. And the brief encounters for a quick coffee and a snack during breaks. And the office phone, rerouted to his new space, no longer rings here.

It’s strange how just the difference of one person (well, I guess one person plus one client at a time) changes the feeling of the entire property for me. It shifts the routine too, since we are a one-car family, this means I will either spend the day here without a means of getting to town or I’ll drive him to work, which I did today. That probably makes things easier for me in a way, as then Alfie gets to come along for the ride and see where I have left her hero. She LOVES car rides. And she LOVES, no… ADORES Edward.

When’s dad coming home?

Were he to leave the house on his own as he often does to do errands and such, she pretty much pines at the doors until he returns, looking out one window or the other to see if she can be first to see him coming back up the driveway. I am, it seems, a mediocre substitute.

Somedays when he has gone to town for something and I am here and try to take her for a walk, she resists unless I leash her, preferring to wait at the top of the driveway, watching for him. Today, his first day at the new office, she got to see where he was dropped off, and while I did put her on the leash for our walk when we got home, there was no sign of resistance. I think she understood that he wouldn’t be back without our picking him up.

I know some of the quietude here is also due to our recent loss of sweet Rosie Posie. Not that this old kitty was noisy, but we had our routines too. A tiny, 17-year-old calico, she lately slept most of the time, day and night, but for a few daily habits. In the morning as we sat at the breakfast table she would get up from her kitty bed on the ottoman by the window and come over to make a small but sharp request for Edward’s attention. It’s difficult to reproduce her sound in writing, but it was more akin to a squawk than a meow.

She’d stand by his chair looking up at him, her wee white paws with heels together, toes slightly turned out, and make her plea, and he would scoop her up and pull an extra dining chair over beside him so she could sit by him and get a few scratches under the chin. She was not at all interested in his sausages like Jack had been (who’d been known to steal them right off your plate if you weren’t looking). But as soon as Edward finished his meal it was cuddle time, and this little bean-bag-like cat could be held mostly with one hand, with her paws up on his shoulder, and would purr and purr and rub against his face and waggle her tiny toes, kneading him or the air. Edward called her the “Gund” kitty, like the soft stuffed toys.

I know, it sounds like any other cat probably. But this was our Rosie, who would repeat the ritual quite often at dinner in the evenings too.

And because she’d had thyroid issues for the past year or two, part of my own routine was to pill her twice a day, which sometimes proved challenging as she was expert at popping them back up out of her mouth, tasty salmon “Pill Pocket” and all. I had spent about a year and a half medicating both Jack and Rosie, each twice a day, with what they needed for their respective ailments. And it seems I spent an inordinate amount of time every day hopping up from my desk to serve my feline masters  (don’t forget there were and still are Charlie and Spirit as well), as they seemed to all beg for either food or a door opening on their own individual schedules. I am obviously well-trained.

So, there’s that piece of the picture missing now too. And it feels a bit too close on the heels of Angus’ and Jack’s passing before Christmas, as well as the recent re-homing of our chickens. I notice the gradually diminishing feeling of liveliness and activity here on the farm. Edward has even removed so many of his junk piles now (you know, those reserves of lumber and fencing and other building and gardening materials that he might need someday) that it is becoming clear that no new projects will be initiated here.

If only I enjoyed the seemingly relentless wind these days, maybe I’d feel there was enough movement.

But as spring warmth and growth seem elusive, I am still feeling stuck in that in-between zone, between seasons, between lives almost….

Edward has started a new phase of his life by working again in town, with a new space, and new professional colleagues, and it seems to have energized him as well as his practice. And I am still here on the farm that is no longer a farm, (albeit only ever a “hobby” farm), trying to maintain a state of realtor-ready tidiness. We have even avoided starting seeds this year, anticipating, or hoping at least, that we will not still be on this property to see them through to harvest.

I find myself holding my breath a lot.

No chickens to fly the coop.

 

The Place of In-Between Part 2 ~ Tea and Certainty. And Biscuits.

Seems the “in-betweenness” of this time for me continues. As I start to write this it is the first day of spring, according to the astronomical calendar. The spring equinox, as well as the autumnal one, and the winter and summer solstices, is determined by the position of the sun relative to the earth in the astronomical calendar. At the equinoxes the sun passes directly over the equator giving us daylight and darkness of equal length. Can’t be much more in-between than that I suppose.

It also feels in-between because we’ve just had another snowfall, winter not yet releasing its grip. It wasn’t a huge one mind-you, but annoying nevertheless. It brought enough ice and freezing rain to cancel schools and necessitate snow plowing and shovelling once more.

I guess if we worked on the idea of the “meteorological” calendar, where seasons are determined by temperature cycles, we’d have already been into spring for three weeks by now (March, April, and May constituting spring in the northern hemisphere). Maybe that would feel even more confused as we like to equate spring with tulips and daffodils blooming and buds bursting on trees. I suppose in some parts of Canada this happens now (like in Victoria BC), but not on the east coast.

We in Nova Scotia feel like we’re between our idea of winter and spring, and some of us are getting impatient to move fully into the latter. For Edward and me, the idea of moving from winter into spring seems especially metaphorical too, as we have spent the winter preparing for a new beginning.

Too darn tidy to be our kitchen.

As I wrote in my previous post, I have been feeling a little anxious being in my own “place of in-between” with this moving of home that we are engaged in, still living in our house at We Are One Farm, but not feeling like it’s ours anymore as it is decluttered and staged for sale. We can’t relax fully into living here as we always have, fearing we’ll make too much mess to tidy up again for showings. So far we’ve had four potential buyers look at it, and one of those has already come for a second viewing. Plus a couple of agents came by to preview for an out-of-province client.

We keep mopping the floor and shining the windows, and putting every-darn-thing away as soon as we’re done with it (not such a bad thing really), while we ask the Universe to send us the right person at the right price at the right time to come and buy this property. We’re ready to move out of limbo and on to something more …certain.

Although Edward and I know where we want to be living when we sell this place, it could all fall through if the timing’s not right. We can’t control when the right buyer will appear, so it creates uncertainty not only of when we leave here but about whether we will be able to get the new home we currently have in our sights.

I am also feeling a little uncertain these days about what the change will be like for me work-wise. I wonder whether I will still feel the pull to do journey work and soul coaching without the particular environment we have both found and created here in this home. The outdoors is not a necessary part of this, indeed I can work with people over the phone or Skype if need be. But there is something about this place that has created a healing base grounded in the natural beauty and spaciousness. And it is far enough from neighbours that we can beat drums or have ceremonial fires when we want to. So at this point, I am not sure how that will change things for me, even though I know I can create a sense of sacred space wherever I go.

Another change will be not having Edward working from home as he has done for the past six years. Even though his new office will not be far from our desired house, it will feel really strange not to have him around all day, popping in for a cup of coffee or a chat, or attending to some chore around the house when there’s a big gap between clients. Plus he’s my best pal and I simply love his presence, even if we are quietly going about our own business most of the time.

I’m not sure how Alfie Dog is going to take it either, she likes to snooze under his desk for a little while most days. She’s more his dog than mine. Perhaps it will just make our time together that much more special.

A dozen muffins, two stressed people, a dangerous combination.

As this process of deciding to sell and move and declutter has all been happening during the winter months, it has coincided with what I might call “biscuit-making season.” A couple of years ago when the winter snowfall was extreme, I started making baking powder biscuits or scones or muffins as a reward every time Edward came in from plowing our long driveway on the old Massey Ferguson farm tractor. It’s hard, cold work on that old machine with no cab to protect him from the weather. I baked for moral support, because after all, he’d be chilled and hungry when he came in. Nothing like a mug of tea or coffee and a warm, buttered biscuit or muffin after being out in the snow. Plus we both grew up with mothers who showed some of their love and affection by baking treats.

The biscuit making became a ritual that continued through the next winter into this one, but took on a new twist. There haven’t been so many snow-plowing days this season but my expertise in perfecting a couple of recipes has expanded greatly, along, I think, with my waistline. Instead of just baking on snow days, I have realized I’ve been baking on a LOT of days, particularly days when I’m feeling that sense of uncertainty or anxiousness about our current situation.

I mean, how can anyone resist this? Apple oatmeal muffin with cinnamon streusel topping.

At first I pegged this as just an unhealthy addiction, using carbs to give me a little boost of serotonin, food as drugs, not just for the pleasure of the flavour but actually getting a chemical soothing. In fact, I have given up alcohol (red wine being my usual go-to) until we can celebrate a signed purchase and sale agreement on the house, so I thought maybe I was just substituting one type of carbohydrate for another with the biscuit eating.

And of course there was that psychological early programming equating sweet baked treats with love… even if I was giving it to myself.

But I had an “aha” moment a couple of weeks ago about another way in which my new baking habit was giving me comfort. Once I had perfected a few favourite recipes, a couple versions of scones and one for a muffin, I found myself reclaiming some certainty. They started coming out beautifully, every time. I knew exactly what to do, any variations were within specific parameters (would it be currants and cranberries or blueberries? lemon or orange rind?) Baking a batch of biscuits or muffins gave me something specific and focused to do, and I got predictably great results. And I could make them any time I wanted to! I felt …in control.

Blueberry-lemon buckwheat scones. Moist in the middle with a sugary crust. Perfection.

Realizing that I could control this one small part of my day with total success helped soften the knot in my stomach, (while softening my belly in ways less appreciated…. is it a muffin top now or a biscuit belly? Or maybe it’s biscuit butt?) I have realized I do need to find a healthier means to attain this feeling.

Or, maybe not. I mean, maybe, despite certainty being one of our basic human needs, according to Tony Robbins’ Human Needs Psychology, perhaps I don’t actually need to feel more certain about my life right now. In fact Robbins and others have said that the quality of our lives is in direct proportion to the amount of uncertainty we can live with.

After reading my previous blog post, my Nia dance teacher Kathleen sent me a link to a piece of writing by Danaan Perry called “The Parable of the Trapeze”, from his book Warriors of the Heart. In it he likens his life to swinging happily along on his trapeze bar until, at some point, he sees another trapeze bar swinging towards him, and he realizes it’s for him. But of course in order for him to grab it, he has to let go of the one he’s hanging onto. And there is where his version of the place of in-between comes. It’s that scary, uncertain, transition zone of “no thing” where you have to let go of control…frightening for sure, but it’s where one feels most alive, and where growth happens.

(You can read the parable at the link above or listen to this great video/audio version Kathleen also sent me.)

So maybe I don’t necessarily need to find a healthier way (or any way) to be “comfortable” with uncertainty. Maybe I need to learn to just surrender and open up to the faith that’s required to get across that gap from one trapeze bar to the next, even as it feels uncomfortable. Maybe I can simply appreciate the stimulation of being a little on edge for a while. Oh yes, I can hear it now….”life begins at the edge of your comfort zone…”  Honestly, I didn’t think my ruminating about biscuits and uncertainty would bring me all the way around to that worn-out aphorism. But it fits.

And like Danaan Perry, I have been here before, many times in fact, often in much more challenging ways than I am now. I’ve wondered whether I’ll catch the new trapeze bar, whether it’s the “right” one, or whether there will even be one to catch if I let go of the old one. And like him, “I have always made it.” And if you happen to find yourself in a similar state of in-betweenness, I’ll make a bet you’ve been there before too, in one way or another. And I expect you’ll make it too.

And because I have no trapeze pictures in my personal collection, we’ll go back to the winter-spring metaphor. Spring always comes around again, eventually, the snow goes, sun shines, plants grow, and all is well again.

The Place of In-Between

I’m sitting at my desk in the corner of our open-concept main floor at home, letting my eyes scan the room. I have a view of just about everything on this floor except the bathroom around the corner, and the end of the kitchen island, stove, and sink which are on the other side of the big central chimney and wood stove. I have a view of the entrance door, the staircase to our bedroom and loft, half of the kitchen and hallway, a little sitting area near the patio doors to the deck, the dining area (can’t really call it a “room” without walls in between), and the living area/sofa etc. And were it still daylight, I’d have views of the treed countryside to the north and west, and garden to the south, though big, bright windows.

From this corner I have sat and written and read and pondered and Face-booked and coached and doodled and edited photos, for almost 6 years since we built the addition that expanded this space. Before that I worked from a room in the smaller addition on the east side of the house that was built three years earlier to house my photography gallery and studio, and which is now my husband’s massage clinic.

As I look around in the silence of the evening, hearing just a slight crackle from the waning fire in the wood stove and some clickety-clicks from Edward’s keyboard in his office, I have a kind of unease in my belly and my chest, stemming, I think, from a weird new sense of un-familiarity with this place. The same furniture is still here, the same paint colour, the same rustic logs and wood panelling, the same art remains hanging where it’s been for years.

A couple things have changed, some external, some internal. It’s not just the shine on the refinished staircase that we’ve finally dealt with after 12 years in this house, though that’s part of it. The whole place has been significantly de-cluttered and polished over the past two-and-a-half months. It’s cleaner and shinier than I’ve ever seen it. Scratches have been touched up, some woodwork has been re-sanded and finished. The kitchen counter has been cleared off but for a few necessary items. Books on the once-crowded shelves have been pared down to create a sense of spaciousness.

There is of course the lingering absence in our house and hearts of dear Angus Dog and Jack the Cat, who both left this earth before Christmas. And certainly there is less fur and such to clean up after. But that’s not it.

We’ve been cleaning-up, refinishing, even renovating the bathrooms, as well as decluttering and purging possessions, in order to list our house for sale. Yes, we are selling We Are One Farm.

As guides to selling one’s home advise, we have “de-personalized” it a little by packing up family photos. We could have gone further, could have painted the terra cotta dining room taupe or some other “neutral,” and hidden some of our art, or our bits of “woowoo” paraphernalia, like the too many Buddhas, singing bowls, and crystals, and my feng shui “cures” like the money frog and bamboo flute chimes, placed here and there, but I’m willing to take the risk that they won’t be off-putting to someone of a different mindset.

We’ve done a good job of purging, and we’re still not finished. A few things are stuffed in a  rented storage locker for now, things we thought we’d still need later. But I am starting to wonder…if we don’t need them now, will we ever?

We’ve given building supplies from the workshop to a friend who can use them; some of my fine art photos and odds and ends to my nieces; household goods and books to the hospital charity shop; sold a few flea-markety items online; gave away my late mother’s vintage dresses, dad’s top hat, and my wetsuit to a local theatre group for costumes. Put my vest and robe and “tabs” from my former barrister’s uniform, which I’d dragged along with me on several moves since I left the practice in 1991, in the kitchen garbage. I was too busy to have a ceremonial fire for it. The attachment was long gone.

Edward has trucked all sort of useless remains from construction and garden projects to the dump and recyclers. Old car and tractor tires have been recycled through tire shops. Old built-ins that we’d torn out of this house during earlier renovations we offered up to the magic of the roadside vortex. What was put out in the morning had vanished by evening. A miracle.

I have thrown out hundreds of old slides and prints, and various old file folders of taxes, bank statements, early writing submissions, and more. I gave away hundreds of dollars worth of darkroom tools and accessories to a grandmother whose son was teaching his own boy how to take pinhole photos and planned to build a darkroom.

I still have thousands of old slides and negatives to deal with, but that will have to be a gradual project. A big box of images even got shipped across the country to my ex-husband. Sometimes it takes a long time to deal with our “stuff”. I still need to have a big sale of some of my remaining fine art photos, and I’d love to find a home (in return for some cash) for my studio lighting gear from a few years ago.

Then last week, perhaps one of the hardest parts of the Big Letting-Go of 2017, we re-homed our flock of 11 hens and our gentle rooster, Baby Roo, (who’s not a baby anymore). A sweet young family was kind enough to take most of them to add to their flock, and placed Roo and a couple of his girls with another friend of theirs. They are in good hands, for which we are most grateful, considering they are no longer spring chickens.

There were more than a few tears shed by both Edward and me over that good-bye. We’d had chickens for over 8 years and a daily routine had developed around them. Edward and Alfie Dog (and formerly Angus too) would stroll down to the coop first thing each morning, to water and feed them, and let them out to forage, weather permitting. And then the dogs and I would stop by to collect any eggs on our way back from our daily walk in the woods later in the day. And then one or other of us would shut them in at dusk, often stopping outside to appreciate the sunset at the end of another beautiful day. I would occasionally try to herd a wayward girl or two into the coop to speed things up, often a futile effort of playing silly beggars ‘round and ‘round the shed. Edward knew enough to just calmly wait ’til dark if they weren’t cooperating earlier.

There was a distinctive sense of life force in having a flock of chickens free-ranging on the lawn most days, doing their little two-step and bow, while scratching in the soil for grubs. And there was a jarring stillness outside in the days following delivery to their gentle new homestead down the shore. Something was definitely missing. IS missing.

And inside our house a sense of life force also seems strangely missing, in spite of still having Alfie and three cats and numerous plants occupying the space with us.

In order to “stage” the house for potential buyers to view, which has just commenced with our listing this past week, not only have we de-personalized by packing away family photos, but we also make sure all towels are clean and white, desks cleared off, counter tops cleared, toothbrushes and personal effects in the vanity out of sight. Our bathrooms and bedrooms look like they are in a B&B. The whole house does, but perhaps even more sparsely appointed. For a viewing we have to vacate the premises (unless Edward has clients in his clinic), and Alfie comes with us, leaving only the cats at home. We try to hide most evidence that a dog even lives here.

And there are fresh flowers on the dining table. And even in the bathroom. Who does that? People who are trying to sell their houses, that’s who. It’s lovely. But weird, except in summer when they are abundant in my own garden.

The only time our house is anywhere near this clean and tidy is when relatives from away come to stay, but even then, they don’t usually get the run of our room upstairs or the basement. There had to be a space to toss stuff out of sight. Not any more, the whole place is on display.

We have tried to make this property become somewhere that other people, as yet unknown to us, could imagine themselves living. There is still quite a lot of our own personality expressed here through colour, art, books, and our particular renovation choices. But it is becoming less and less…ours.

And then perhaps what has really shifted, besides the departure of the hens and of so much stuff, is the energy. Yep, the energy…of intention.

With my having studied feng shui and space-clearing, and Edward being a practitioner of various energy healing techniques, we are pretty attuned to what energies we are creating or projecting through our intention.  Not to say we (or is that just I ?) always project what would best serve us (that’s the “royal” us)… but we do both know better.

In this case, I have been working very intentionally throughout this purging process to let go of this house and land and “free” it for a new owner. Both Edward and I have done some small ceremonies of sorts to speak our intentions into the world…about releasing our connections to this land and house, releasing our desire to continue living here, and stating our intentions to move on, intending that the right people will find this property soon. And also expressing our deep gratitude for what this place has meant to us.

Creating a vision like this important. Making space, not only physically, but emotionally and mentally, for something new to enter our lives, usually requires letting go of something. It seems obvious that one has to sell one place to get another (for most folks), but this letting-go goes deeper. For us to be able to buy our new home we have to really be in a place of releasing the old one in our hearts. And to attract someone new to come and buy ours, we also have to release our attachment to being here. We have to make space for them to move in.

We have tried to intentionally withdraw our energetic connection to this place, to the extensive gardens we have built, rebuilt, and tended over these last 12 years; to the boules court where we have entertained friends with our signature “Provence party” every July filled with food and friendly competition and great conversations; to the patio we built together when I first moved in and where we were later married in 2008 surrounded by an intimate group of friends. There are so many wonderful memories associated with this space.

It was on this property I first told Edward I loved him. It is where I adopted my first and second dogs, the first of whom we also sadly buried here last fall.  Here is where I learned about shamanism and had the first of many profound experiences that awakened me to a spiritual connection I had not known before.

This is where I created my first photographic art gallery, later started practice as a soul coach, life coach, and Reiki practitioner.

And on a romantic whim, this is the place where I also planted over 500 lavender plants to create my small farm for a while, eventually participating for a couple of summers as a vendor at local farmers’ markets, where I built a lasting connection with some amazing people.

This is also the place where I truly connected to the earth and nature, not only developing a passion for gardening, but for appreciating the wonder of the sparkling night sky, the variety of sunsets and clouds, the awareness and joy of watching weather systems approaching and passing by. And this is where I especially learned to appreciate the comforting sanctuary of the trail through our woods with it’s rusty carpet of pine needles, the leathery shades of moist leaves in the fall, the delight in spring wildflowers, and the silent embrace of the tall trees at the back of the land. I even learned to love and appreciate a variety of frogs, toads, and snakes that became like spirit guides from time to time.

These past 12 years have been a transformative journey for me on this beautiful property, both totally grounding, getting me more in my body than ever, and at the same time, being spiritually uplifted.

As I have set out to withdraw my energetic attachment here to make space for someone new to take over, and for us to find the new home that we need, I have removed some of the hidden crystals I had placed in my sacred circle, the simple stone medicine wheel where I prayed and quested at the end of the woods trail. I also removed some of the special stones and crystals from the rock labyrinth we made last summer. This won’t change it for anyone else but me as it is more symbolic than anything. Crystals or no crystals, there is still much magic to be experienced here. It is all about intention in the end.

As I finish this post we have just received news that the folks who had viewed our home on the weekend will be back for a second look in the morning, with a chance for a warmer walk through the woods, weather permitting. We’ve decided to grab a bite in town rather than disturb my pristine kitchen both this evening and in the morning. I had to open the windows on this cold day to remove evidence of the fried sausages Edward cooked for breakfast. I understand that real estate purchasers are highly conscious of smells.

We are in that place of in-between. The property is still ours on paper, but whether the folks tomorrow make an offer or not, energetically this no longer feels like our home. The unfamiliarity I wrote about at the beginning is that sense that we don’t really own this anymore. We’ve lost the freedom to mess it up. We no longer view it with our own eyes but attempt to see it with the eyes of a potential purchaser, scrutinizing details that we were able to live with for years but lately have repaired or renovated judging it otherwise unsuitable for others.

When I walk Alfie to the back of the trail now I no longer feel like lingering to pray or just observe. I sobbed big, deep sobs from my belly a few weeks ago in the sacred circle when I retrieved my crystals, the reality of the shift catching me off guard. This is not “ours” anymore…. if it ever was. Edward always called us “stewards” of the land. I guess he already understood that it it is all a temporary state of being, and nothing is ever truly owned. I expect I’m not quite done with the tears, but in this state of in-between-ness, I am getting anxious to go.

A dog, death, and dragonflies.

Back in mid-April I wrote here about our dog Angus (“A dog, love, and living in the now”) .

At the time I was uneasily anticipating going to the veterinary clinic to take Angus back, as I had discovered a new cancerous lump since his second surgery to remove one in January. As of my April blog we’d thought, due to its fairly quick regrowth, that we would not do any further surgery. But two weeks later decided in consultation with our vet, to give it another go, as it was still fairly small. She operated on May 3rd.

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The post-surgical patient.

It was much more extensive this time, with a large incision to remove the lump and more tissue around it to give it better margins, and then a second, longer incision down his inner thigh to create a flap of skin sufficient to cover the other incision where so much was removed. He came home groggy with meds and rows of staples and a couple small tubes protruding slightly for the incisions to drain. My poor sweet boy.

In only a few days this remarkable senior pooch was eager to get back to the woods to chase rabbits. The pain meds must have been really good! We had to restrain him however, and limit him to brief, gentle walks for a couple of weeks until he could heal and have the staples removed. But soon enough, as we approached summer, he was off and running again. We’d hoped that enough had been removed to stave off regrowth for much longer this time, and were happy that it was apparently not a cancer that was metastasizing to other organs, it was at least fairly localized as far as they could tell.

Periodically I would run a hand gently over his belly to scan for lumps as he slept, splayed out on his back, legs wide apart, toes in the air. It seemed all clear. But by the summer solstice our hearts had fallen. One day I was towelling him off after a romp in the woods, and as I patted underneath his groin area as he was standing I was horrified to find a substantial lump under his skin, hanging down, much bigger than the initial lump that had ulcerated. “It” was back, and growing quickly in only about 6 or 7 weeks.

We visited our vet again and, all of us so disappointed, resolved we would let it be. It seemed unlikely cutting this one out would’ve solved the problem, and it was too much for Angus’s comfort and quality of life, and for us too, for him to be having surgeries every 6 or 8 weeks.

We took home some pain meds to keep him comfortable and enjoyed the glorious hot summer.

Most of the time he seemed fine, although after his daily runs through the bush he’d go straight up to our bed when we’d get home and crash for a few hours. Normally he had spent more time beside or under my desk, or on the sofa. It was an unusually hot summer, mind you, and perhaps some of his fatigue was due to that fact, as Angus tended to mind the heat.

As summer gave way to fall and our other dog Alfie was clinging to the air-conditioned comfort of Edward’s office in the adjacent addition, it was just Angus and me for most of our woods walks. I noticed the bunny chases were fewer, and he spent more time close to me on the trail, no longer focused on his own agenda, but stopping and looking back at me if I paused, as if to say, “C’mon Mom.”  I was paying more and more attention to him too, “lovin’ him up” , enjoying all the kisses and snuggles I could.

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“C’mon Mom!”

When I was younger I had never imagined I would like “dog smell”, but I had grown to love Angus’s, and would inhale him as I nuzzled his velvety ears and head. I think I probably mentioned in my other blog too about how I loved his big toes, how amazing I thought they were to be able to carry him all over the crazy terrain of the forest, full of rocks and stumps and fallen trees, some mucky swamps, and lots of thorny blackberry brambles, and that he could return home, pads smooth, mostly clean, and uninjured.

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Wonderful toes.

And as much as I wanted to enjoy the silence of our woods on our walks, where I’d often go to my sacred circle to pray or give thanks or ask for guidance, I grew to love the enthusiasm of both Angus and Alfie in their never-ending frenzy over squirrels, with not a hope in hell of ever catching one.

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Squirrel!!!

As I am always “looking for signs” in nature in answer to my questions, I take note of unusual encounters with birds, bugs, and other creatures. Dragonflies and damselflies (I confess I am not sure which are which) are a special delight, having many symbolic associations with illusion, transformation, changing habits, and being a bridge between emotion (associated with the element of water) and spirit (associated with air). _mg_2700So I spent many hours over the summer photographing them around the pond. I would call to them as we neared, and most days in late summer I’d see one or two red or reddish-brown ones (which I now know to be cherry-faced meadowhawks), sometimes a skinny bright blue one called a bluet (a type of damselfly),

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and occasionally a large black one with black and white wings (a 12-spotted skimmer!)

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Angus Dog had spent lots of time patiently waiting for me near the culvert where the pond flows under the trail, as I tried to get close-ups of these creatures, using my macro lens to get a view of their amazing faces with giant eyeballs. The red ones were the most cooperative and became my “friends”, posing at the tip of long grasses or shrubs, or landing on a rock. I got so I could coach them onto my hands too. I enjoyed their funny faces and the stained-glass quality of their delicate wings.

The huge black and blue-patterned ones I believe are called “Canada Darners” continued to elude me. They would zoom by as if to tease, and then dart away and hover over the water, moving from place to place and never landing on a stem or stone for me to capture an image. Always in constant motion. The closest I got was a zoomed-in crop of one hovering over the water, missing the beautiful details of his colouring.

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As Angus’ tumour grew and his gait became more awkward, adjusting to it’s size, he paused to wait for me more and more and stayed pretty near for our walks. I enjoyed the closer contact with him, but it was bittersweet knowing our time was getting short and at some point we’d have to make the dreadful decision to euthanize him before he was in too much pain as our vet had advised.

And I also felt bad noticing he wasn’t always doing his usual circuit back to the house. Normally once he got back to the pond he would go off trail to the left, through the trees, trying to stir up a hare in a particular spot…often succeeding. Then it would be “yip! yip! yip! yip!” and we could follow his location by ear as he traversed the bush, crisscrossing the trail. Sometimes I would just stop and wait quietly and hear a slight noise as the hare would emerge leaping across the path, Angus, and sometimes Alfie, in hot pursuit…but often ending up going in the opposite direction!

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“I almost had him this time!”

Hare always had the last laugh, and Angus would return home tongue dragging, but he seemed happy enough. He always looked like “I almost got him this time!!” rather than defeated.

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The one that got away…

The time finally came, just over two weeks ago now, when we felt it was “time”, as yet another lump had emerged in a spot on his leg. Thanks to an opioid painkiller, Angus still could enjoy a short run and a good plate-licking, which made it more difficult, but we didn’t want him to be suffering or get injured, and then have to make a decision in a crisis. The vet advised, in her wisdom, it was the humane thing to do.

Of course, on the appointed day, November 1, we took him and Alfie for one last woods walk together. He stayed with us to the end of the trail, and then, returning to the pond, he took off on his rabbit run. We waited…and waited…and called, “Anguuuus! Angg-guuuuus! Come!!” No response. No yips. I had to head back to the house because the vet was going to call when ready to leave the clinic for our house. About a half hour later, Angus returned, tongue dragging. Five minutes later the vet called. On her way.

As I do to honour significant events, I burned some sage and asked for the space and us and Angus to be blessed. I created an altar on the coffee table beside the sofa where he would lie. I had some healing crystals on a bed of autumn leaves and pinecones collected from our special spot in the woods. Rose quartz for love and compassion, amethyst for healing and connection with spirit, selenite which clears negativity, and a tiger’s eye for courage. I lit a candle as a symbol of the spirit or light within each of us. And put out a little plaque I have of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of nature and animals.

It felt too awkward to ask the vet and her assistant to listen to some readings I had selected, I think they wanted to just do the business without getting too involved. But it was difficult for all of us, we were all in tears by the end. So after she left I read aloud some poems and prayers. We needed to honour Angus in this way.

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Alfie. Wondering where Angus is.

The next day we took a walk together with Alfie into the woods.

I glanced at Edward as we walked down toward the pond and blurted, “you look suddenly more handsome than ever”. He looked perplexed, saying half jokingly “must be these red eyes of mine,” which he had from tears shed for Angus. He said, “I looked at my face in the mirror this morning and had never seen myself look so vulnerable.” “That’s it, “ I replied, “the vulnerability…. that’s why I think you’re more handsome…it’s removed a barrier.”

Having Angus as a pet had opened my husband up to being able to play again. He’d not had a dog since he was a boy on the family farm, where dogs were more for guarding livestock than as pets, and slept out in the cattle barn, even in those 30 below Alberta winters. When I first wanted to get a dog the response was, “Okay but he’ll sleep outside”. I held that I wouldn’t get one if he was kept outdoors. By the first night Angus was in our bedroom.

On this first day post-Angus we arrived at the pond, and five dragonflies (the cherry-faced meadowhawks) descended upon us, at the usual spot where I’d photographed them this summer, although normally I’ll only see one or two at a time. This time they showed up like a “flock” all fluttering right around us as if to greet us officially. These were the ones I’d seen most often and spent hours photographing.

I was so delighted to see them again as I thought they’d be gone for the year, being the 2nd of November. They hadn’t been around in the past few weeks as it was colder and grey. But the sun came out that day and it was quite warm, and there they were.

A couple meadowhawks landed on my back and shoulders, perhaps attracted to the neon green of the jacket I had on. Then one landed on Edward’s jean jacket, over his heart, he noted, and I snapped some photos.

_mg_3815“Pick him up” I said, and he coached it onto his hand, as I had been able to do many times before. I put my finger in front of another one who climbed on, and I snapped again.

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On the way back to the house we went up to our labyrinth and Edward stood by an apple tree nearby while I walked the three-circuit path. I asked in my head for a sign from Angus that all was well, that he was there in spirit. I had hoped to find a feather, as a friend had told me to look for one in her card reading that morning. We did see both a eagle and a hawk when we were at the pond, but they were so high and heading away as to not seem significant.

I knew that five dragonflies flying around us had seemed a pretty good sign as it was. As I’d mentioned, Angus spent more than a few hours over the previous weeks waiting patiently for me to shoot “just one more”.

As I walked the labyrinth Edward was startled to “hear” beside him what he described as a kind of snort, like Angus would make when looking in holes for mice. He thought it must’ve been Alfie, but she was too far away to have made a snort he could hear.

Just as he told me that I said, “Well, I asked for a sign from Angus that he was here, and one of those big black dragonflies that I can never photograph flew through the labyrinth and away!” And then I held my hand to my ear and laughed aloud as I heard the clear message from Angus, “That’s your hare!”  alluding to the hare he always chased but could never, ever catch.

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My handsome boy.

Thank you dear Angus. That’s perfect. May there always be a hare for you to chase in the afterlife, and a dragonfly for me to chase in this one. After all, it is about the journey, not the destination, right?

As for the symbology of dragonflies, here’s what one site I found said, that actually mentioned red ones in particular like the ones that surrounded us at the pond:

(On a page about Transformation:)

“…. Dragonfly is the metaphor for our own transformations out of the depths of our emotional dramas into a place of freedom. A place we could equate to going when we depart this world. Thus, the red dragonfly may emerge around death with the soothing message that this transformation will carry us to freedom and eternal love.

[…] Native Americans perceived dragonflies as the “souls of the dead” so a dragonfly visitation around a loved one’s death could well signify the loved one’s soul taking form in the spirit of dragonfly. It offers the assurance their soul is free.

When we consider the color red and its meaning, particularly in relation to it as the color of the Root chakra, we find the significance to be deeply linked to the Earth. The Root chakra is associated with our basic survival needs, resources, stability, security and all manner of grounding spirit energy into both the body and the Earth. The color red is affiliated with our passions and strong emotions around heat, fire, anger and love. Thus, the color red represents a strong connection to this material world and our emotional experiences along our life journey. When we depart this world, we let go of all our earthly and emotional attachments. To witness a red dragonfly around death is a comforting reminder that in our letting go of material and emotional trappings, we are being set free.” (From: http://anniehorkan.com/red-dragonfly-symbolism-transformation-death )

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Freedom.

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

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(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

4. CONTRIBUTE

_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.

and

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…

5. CREATE

_MG_1568

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.

7. CHOOSE

_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”.

doodle29042015a

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.

_MG_1037

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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