Every creative being has a soul-deep passion, some kind of unique magic that is just waiting to be expressed.
I just made a cup of coffee without the cup. A great brown countertop and a smug looking Keurig machine didn’t photograph well so you’ll have to take my word for it. There’s no use weeping over spilled caffeine - I tossed some towels over it, firmly placed a cup beneath the spout, and asked the coffee gods to give me one more hit. Instead of collapsing into exhausted tears, I’m resorting to prayer.
Note that this coffee incident happened at noon during my first of two solid work days this week. There is no time to get on my knees or pull out a meditation cushion. All I can do is sit at the keyboard and say the prayer that a red-haired Celtic Mary Magdalen named Maeve has given us:
Help, I prayed, help.
(Help, help is one of the best prayers I know; you just have to be prepared for some bizarre responses.)
Another line from this fabulous Maeve creature: “A story is true if it’s well told.” That means that this character in Elizabeth’s Cunningham’s brilliantly told novels are a kind of truth we can tuck into our hearts and swirl into our coffee to get us through.
Ask for help and, somehow, the universe will send you what you need.
When I prayed and typed and clicked and sipped, I wasn’t exactly sure what sort of help I was asking for.
House cleaning. Toddler sleep training. Webinar advertising.
I’m willing to take help in any form it comes, really. Since you probably can’t come over to clean under the coffee pot and my kid won’t let anyone near her but me at 4 AM, I’ll ask you for help with the last one.
I’d be honored if you would share the news about Connect with Readers & Clients: Discover the Story Triangle webinar I am teaching on Tuesday, April 5 at 1 PM ET.
Will you please come too?
“I don't want to eke out my life like a resource in short supply. The only selfish life is a timid one. To hold back, to withdraw, to keep the best in reserve, both overvalues the self, and undervalues what the self is.” ― Jeanette Winterson, The Powerbook
A fresh green force thrums within me. It’s at once the rush of the ocean between two rocks and the ecstasy of spring in the narrow passage of a daffodil stem.
It is life. It is creation. It is the riotous movement of energy in a conscious, interconnected world. It is peace and wildness, a great force and wisest surrender.
There’s a hint of death and the inevitable cycle renewal in this celebration of aliveness too, but I’m not lingering on that right now.
This great movement and power, it terrifies me as much as it excites me. Despite my dreams and my ambitions and my yearning to leave a creative, benevolent mark on this world, I fear this great force. To give this much, to be capable of so much would disrupt the relatively quiet, predictable existence I have become so used to.
This vision of an internal sea and rising spring is just that: a visualization thrown against the screen of my mind. And yet, it’s also very real. Or, at least it can lead to very real things.
When I agree to allow that green swell of energy to be real enough to move me, life will expand and grow and change. It would be inconceivable that I could continue to eke out my life like a resource in short supply.
Alone, these musings paired with a Jeanette Winterson passage don’t have the force of story. If I’m lucky, I may offer up just enough poetry and inspiration to keep you interested, dear reader. In this noisy world of clickbait, the emphasis on “news you can use,” and ad copy structured to appeal to the bits of the brain that can be manipulated into action, I’m not counting on it. Especially because you come to me for stories of entrepreneurship and motherhood and writing advice, not abstract snapshots from my meditation cushion.
To really make you care, to make this into a story you can see and feel and find yourself inside, I would need to anchor you in something other than the rushing river of universal life force energy. You need to follow my journey, but how?
To feel like my story matters to you, perhaps you need to watch this vision interrupt my daily life. You need to see this experience loom larger than all my excuses about sleep deprivation and the incessant interruptions of children and the madness of trying to run a family and a business and a creative existence.
The story’s conflict might come when I realize I can no longer collapse into my limitations - not if I want to honor this magical energy and live abundantly. You could accompany me as I fight against my old ways of numbing myself - red wine, chocolate, and a good Netflix binge. The big climax may be an argument with my husband since we tend to escape to the couch together and it’s always hard on a marriage when one partner commits to transformation.
And the resolution of my story (hopefully!) comes in the form of a creative triumph and a deeper dedication to this brilliant life force.
That sort of story I outline above is more complicated to tell - at least if you want to make it a worthwhile read! And anyway, in my case, it would be fiction rather than memoir because I haven’t lived the story and earned the right to tell it all.
Then again, there’s a risk in waiting til there’s a beginning, middle, and end. The transcendent moment that started it all may start to fade. When I juxtapose the mundane details and the marital discord and the spiritual download, the whole thing may seem artificial and forced and even irrelevant.
Today, I’m describing this flash of insight because putting it on the page makes it real for me. I am publishing it because this #365StrongStories project gives me a platform to share something that’s personal and a little bit outside the lines of what I am “supposed” to write about as a writing coach.
Depending on the nature of your work and the goal of your own blog, however, your own a storyless story might find a better home in a Facebook post or in an email to a friend.
That said, if you’ve got something tremendous bubbling up inside, don’t hoard it and save it until all the magic leeches out of it. Even if it feels merely curious, give it a chance to become something that matters.
Dare to birth your big, brave, “this one burns the old script” ideas. Otherwise, we're left to wander mostly comatose in the world of dull, safe, useful blog posts. The forces that keep us small and miserly will win.
Do remember: “The only selfish life is a timid one.”
My eyes were bright this morning. Something more energizing than coffee was doing its work and I felt fully present in the circle. I refused to give in to the fatigue that nips constantly at my heels. These chances to be a sovereign being, responsible for myself alone, supporting this group as a peer and a student are rarest gems to me and I wasn’t going to squander a moment. Finally, at the end of this day, however, the sleepiness drags at my eyes and my fingers and I cannot begin to do the experience any justice.
This healing work we do at the Sacred Center Mystery School defies story. It is designed to lift us out of the typical elements of the human condition - even the addiction to story that is a hallmark of our humanity.
As a storyteller, I have struggled with this paradox. Am I peddling narrative crack at my day job and then skipping off to healing school like a sweet little hypocrite trying to leave her stories behind?
In class, we strive to see and touch a dimension that’s beyond individual drama. We seek to fly above and dive below the swell of emotion that drowns out the voices of the divine and the beacons of greater Truth.
And yet, we gather in this counsel of advancing souls as beautifully imperfect people. We’re not trying to shed our humanness. Instead, we ask it to resonate through us, from cells to spirit. When we embrace who we are we’re free enough to evolve.
In such a space, we come together to own our stories, not to be owned by them. In such a place, there’s ample room for stories that empower and there’s all the time in the world to tell the stories that connect us all together.
It’s time for “class.” At home, that’s all that needs to be said about mama’s quarterly disappearing acts. “Healing class” suffices in most casual conversations, especially in professional circles where I’m known as a writer and a writing coach, not as an energy medicine practitioner.
Only amongst the tribe of fellow healers and seekers do I dare call it what it is - a Mystery School. Four times per year a community gathers to journey into the Greater Reality, to practice a sort of magic, and to heal the wounds that keep us from participating fully and joyfully in the adventure of life.
The Sacred Center Mystery School has been at the heart of my spiritual practice and my self-care routine since 2007. It’s my church and my spa and my therapy couch all mixed together and decorated with crystals and feathers and sacred tools called Chumpi stones.
Ask me what it is I do there, and I am not likely to get too specific. I suppose that is because it is a private practice as full of intimate details as another person’s devotion to prayer might be.
Then again, what more do I have to say considering I co-wrote the book on the subject? Though I don’t talk of it often, I worked with my teacher Eleanora Amendolara to write the guide to her signature healing system, Chumpi Illumination.
This work isn’t a secret, but it is an unfolding mystery. I go to the Sacred Center to resolve the conflicts in my life - that should make for lots of great stories, right? Not yet. Not yet.
For me, this place is the setting for stories stories that need to be held close and told in whispers. Their time may come, but not yet.
Thanks to taxes and a toddler, I’m working on three hours of sleep. It’s like being underwater and floating in the air and mired in mud and burning with delirium all at once.
When I put it that way, it almost sounds like a spiritual experience.
I’ve roamed across faiths and devotional practices for half my life. Finally, I’ve found myself in the hinterlands between the Catholicism of my childhood and the Mother Goddess dirt worship that I’ve picked up during the quest. Ultimately, my home is made at the crossroads. You might choose to see this as a symbol of the cross. But I’ve never found much solace or inspiration in that part of the Christ story. Give me a divine birth and miraculous healings, please. Give me the goddesses who guide the travelers’ way.
North, east, south, and west and the elements that resonate with each - that is where I always come back to. It’s the very essence of being alive as I understand it.
The earth is our very bones. The air is breath in our lungs. The fire is the spark of movement. And the water all the sweat, the tears, and the blood that wash us full of life.
In these years of mothering young children when I feel almost perpetually off balance with exhaustion and a poorly tended body and soul, I would tell you I’d lost track of these elemental marks of aliveness.
But as I drown and float and burn and feel so stuck, It seems that nothing could be further from the truth. Even when I’m sleepwalking through a Sunday, I’m held by these forces, by the energies that compel this world, these bodies, the collective spirit.
“Mists of Avalon? Haven’t read it. My sister’s college roommate went insane when she read that book. Drew all the characters names and connections on the walls around her bed and never finished the semester.” I don’t remember who said this to me, but I have shelved the conversation with all the other memories of the book I credit with changing my life.
Marion Zimmer Bradley’s sweeping Arthurian epic with all its feminism and paganism and didactic wonder rewrote my relationship with religion. It the long process of questioning, abandoning, reconciling, and finally building my own mature relationship with the Catholicism of my childhood.
It was a big deal for me. But I didn’t flunk out of high school because I thought I was Morgaine.
And yet, I do get lost in stories. I know my addiction is stronger than most, but every person craves and creates stories. These days, it’s not just writers, but also psychological researchers, marketers, and neuroscientists who talk about how stories are at the core of our humanity.
Is it strange to rearrange one’s spiritual beliefs based on a book? It feels a little embarrassing to admit I’m so vulnerable to story.
Oh, wait, isn’t that exactly what all religions with a written tradition rely upon? Myths, legends, oral tradition captured on paper generations later that eventually become the backbone of an entire faith? I’m in good company (and some not so good company). It’s just part of being human.
“Roots down. Down into the belly of mother earth.” Brows drawn low. Mouth folded into a perfect prune of indignation. I long to push aside her tangled hair and smooth those deep grooves in her her forehead, but I don’t dare. Those lines etch my own face. It’s agony to see them taking shape on a six year-old.
“Again,” I say, stunned by the calm in my voice. “Again. We do roots down. And we reach into the belly of the earth where all the quiet energy is.”
It seems to take several lifetimes to get her to rise and plant her feet into bathroom tiles.
(This is why I do all this healing training. This is what all that damn meditation is for. This time, I swear to myself, I will not lose my shit.)
“Now, branches up.” At this point, little sister has joined the fun. At least someone is reaching their arms to the sky with me! “Come on, big girl. Reach up to the stars and ask the angels to help you.”
We get there. It happens. She reaches up her arms and she’s almost ready to smile.
It’s time to find all the love in her acorn heart when…
I’m not even sure what happened next. This was only yesterday, and I all remember was a second flash flood of tears washed away our carefully planted tree. It doesn’t matter. The Moira tree was back on the floor and I was wondering if it was ethical to give her a blanket and let her cry herself to sleep curled up next to the bathtub.
But then I remembered what all this spiritual practice is really for. It’s for helping you spot miracles when you’re ready to spit nails.
A ladybug. A ladybug on the sole of my slipper.
Through her tears, Moira noticed it. She smiled at the sweet summer spirit that was taking refuge with us through the long winter.
Legend has it that ladybugs were sent by Mother Mary to save the fields from plagues of aphids. At our house, ladybugs are sent by my mother who passed in 2010.
For at least a few moments every day, I mourn that I don't have a mom to help me figure out how to mother. The grace comes in the moments when I see how wrong I am. Helping my daughter navigate all those big feelings... it's not all up to me. There is literally support coming out of the woodwork.
The story has it that on this Twelfth Night of Christmas a trio of wisemen reached the end of their starlit path and offered gifts to a baby with a great big destiny.
Of course, back then, the only one who was counting Christ’s days was the young woman who marvelled that it had been twelve days since she looked into her little boy’s eyes for the very first time.
This is the Feast of the Epiphany. For those of us who will not celebrate with a mass or observe any of the Christian customs wrapped up in this visit from the Magi, it can simply be a day of revelation.
What have the first six days of the year revealed? What’s become clear now that the gifts have been given, the calories consumed, the credit card statements received?
I’m looking back to the myth for inspiration and counting to twelve with Mary. I am recovering the wonder of holding a twelve day old baby when every sigh was a message from the divine. I’m reclaiming the stillness you experience when you witness a new life unfolding.
And, because it's a day to receive gifts, I'm politely asking the universe to remind me of all the bliss of cradling a newborn without any of the sleeplessness or the spit up!
Someone is sitting on my journal, so I'm writing this in my head. The babysitters are doing everything they can to amuse my daughter with their sweetly inappropriate ironies, but she's not having it. It's a great honor to be someone's safest place, but when I'm supposed to be someplace else, it's like being conscripted into impersonating a piece of furniture.
My lap, my journal, and I long to be alone together on the lumpy floral couch halfway between the nursery and the Sunday School classroom.
But wait... I've left that solitary existence behind.
I'm a wife and a mother, of course, so it's hard to even be solitary in the shower. But now we're thinking of joining a congregation - something I never thought I'd do - it's absurd to think I'd find time to myself in the midst of a Sunday morning community.
I'd left the church that claimed me from birth and wandered happily in the land of the faithfully unaffiliated. Moving now with this Unitarian Universalist Fellowship isn't the path to the gods I was supposed to take either.