Desert Wisdom

As we approach Thanksgiving here in the USA, we reflect on those for whom and that for which we are thankful. Every year, my mind immediately goes to the basics: faith, family, friends.  Words of gratitude shared, hearts warmed.

This year, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs comes to mind… for the basics - physiologic and safety needs - stand in danger of imbalance in ways I've NEVER experienced in my life. Truth be told (and at a time like this, I am best served by facing the truth), looming scarcity is scaring me... thankfully into an action plan. 

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That said, coming to terms with my financial reality shocks me. How did this happen?  How did I let this happen? Why did I let this happen???

Recognizing these as not enough/fear based questions, I remember to bring compassion alongside curiosity. I am still good. I am still important. I still matter. Though I cannot fathom the bigger picture, I choose to trust. I choose to find my way out of this barren desert with its lessons hard learned. I believe I am right where I'm meant to be, that all will work out. I can actually feel a sense of deep gratitude for my dire financial straits. 

Marie Forleo coined the phrase "everything is figureoutable" and I lean gratefully on that promise today. Next to that, my morning scripture reading comes from the Old Testament, from the chosen people, those who spent long years in the desert. Wisdom 2:23-3:9* speaks to me, calling out to be paraphrased, and I allow myself to be drawn into its somehow nourishing, desertesque mystery... 

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Desert Wisdom

God intends Abundance Art to thrive;

In the image of his own nature he manifested it through me.

 

Despite best intentions and efforts, the creative livelihood fizzles, desperate.

I feel the doubt and despair of bitter disappointment.

I am overwhelmed by it.

 

Then I remember… Abundance Art remains in the hand of God, 

and no torment shall touch it. I claim this truth.

My dream, my vision, my mission may seem, in the view of skeptics, dead;

this seeming failure thought finished business

and my passion in going forth in it utter foolishness.

 

But wait, I too am at peace.

For if up to now, if spendingselffundingretirementmoneygoneoverwhelmingdebt, indeed, be seen as ridiculous loss,

yet my hope remains full of promise;

 

Pruned muchly, I shall be greatly blessed,

because God tried me

and has found Abundance Art worthy of himself.

 

As gold in the furnace, he proved me,

and as sacrificial offerings he took every clouded dream to himself.

So that at the right time, Abundance Art shall shine brightly,

and shall dart about as sparks in the darkness.

 

Creativity, nourishment, love and healing shall reach nations and touch the hearts of peoples around the world,

and the Lord shall be my King forever.

I shall understand truth,

and Abundance Art shall abide with him in love.

 

Because grace, mercy and prosperity are with his holy ones,

and his abundant care is with me, always.

 *Paraphrased from Wisdom 2:23-3:9. Actual text follows (Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine):

God formed man to be imperishable;
the image of his own nature he made them.
But by the envy of the Devil, death entered the world,
and they who are in his possession experience it.

But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, 
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
For if before men, indeed, they be punished,
yet is their hope full of immortality;
Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them
and found them worthy of himself.
As gold in the furnace, he proved them,
and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.
In the time of their visitation they shall shine,
and shall dart about as sparks through stubble;
They shall judge nations and rule over peoples,
and the Lord shall be their King forever.
Those who trust in him shall understand truth,
and the faithful shall abide with him in love:
Because grace and mercy are with his holy ones,
and his care is with his elect.

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Helped By a Cheeky Little Monkey

Time to share a cheeky peek at my most recent trauma recovery therapy session.

Having completed almost seven years of weekly Somatic Experiencing™ (SE®) sessions with my incredible SE certified therapist, I now go for monthly what I call "maintenance" sessions. And I'm so glad, because stuff continues to come up.

They say we're never really finished, and it's true. I've been deeply disappointed and curious at the lack of sales in my creative business, finally arriving at an awareness that I was mentally/energetically putting up a "closed" sign even as I was marketing and redesigning website content to clear the path for my ideal clients and being two weeks shy of releasing my first Amazon book From Fear to Love How Creativity Saved My Life and Will Change Yours for the Better.

Finally, with the help of my therapist, I spoke the words that have evaded me for years.

I am afraid of being successful/happy because it will all be taken away from me.

It all comes down to abandonment, my very earliest wounding.

Being certified in play therapy as well, my therapist took me through a profoundly moving exercise. At her direction, I chose toys that represented this fear (the orange - oh how I don't like the color orange!- plush octopus, grasping my fear in its tentacles) and happiness (my competent protector lion with its courage and mighty roar, King Kong that had me smiling, and the tiny felt-covered monkey with brightly piercing and beguiling eyes).


 

Happy Trio :)


My therapist had me focus, agenda-free, on the octopus for about 30 seconds, paying attention to what showed up in my body. I then followed her moving finger with my eyes to the pictured characters, focusing, again agenda-free, for about 30 seconds, and again paying attention to what showed up in my body. Back and forth three times. Sort of a playful EMDR. Sort of...

Octopus: I curled away from it, arms protecting myself. Grief and sadness poured out in my tears. I hissed at it, stomped on it with my foot.

Happy trio: I smiled and giggled, leaning in towards them and placing the little monkey on King Kong's head. I cried soft little tears of longing.

After the transitions, I sat quietly, waiting to see how my body reacted. React it did, with random twitches, stretches, contractions... and without tears.

Wrapping up, my therapist told me that this would likely continue over the next few days. When I asked what "this" was, she replied that it was my disorganized nervous system seeking to organize. Made enough sense to me, given the vast realm of releasing and creating new neural pathways I've experienced under her care these last years.

Still, how amazing and quasi-mysterious it all remains to me, a registered nurse turned healthcare informatics consultant turned artist and writer, with a keen clinical perspective and fascination with the anatomical and physiological dynamics of SE.

And how wonderful that my deep sense of abandonment was softened a bit by the whimsical gaze of a cheeky little monkey.

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Proud to Be an HSP

"The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear." - Rumi

Do you consider yourself an extravert* or introvert? How about an HSP (highly sensitive person)?

After a lifetime of extraversion, I began drawing inward as I underwent extensive trauma recovery therapy. Having previously found energy in the company of others, I now sought solitude for safety and protection, renewal and replenishment. 

Had I become an introvert? I lightheartedly referred to myself as an inextrovert, unsure of and curious about just what I really was. It’s not that I needed a label. I just wanted to understand myself better.

Exploring this further found me participating in a brief study held by Jacquelyn Strickland, LPC, HSP, titled Myers Briggs – HSP Overlay. By filling out the assessment and participating in two in-depth interviews via conference call, I had my answer… as a guideline, not a rule book. Most importantly, the exercise helped me make sense of my character traits, which allowed me to more fully understand and embrace my growing authentic wholeness.

Turns out I am an ESFJ (Extraversion, Sensing, Feeling, Judgment), with HSP overlay. Translated in a nutshell, I belong to a rare breed: the highly sensitive extrovert. With my own unique blend of strengths and weaknesses.

Strengths:

  • Strong Practical Skills – check!
  • Strong Sense of Duty – check!
  • Very Loyal – check!
  • Sensitive and Warm – check!
  • Good at Connecting with Others – check!

 

Weaknesses:

  • Worried about Their Social Status – I may have in the past. Not an issue for me now.
  • Inflexible – I used to be. Nothing like over six years of trauma recovery to loosen me up!
  • Reluctant to Innovate or Improvise – I used to hate change, then I came to embrace it.
  • Vulnerable to Criticism – I used to be, and it can still niggle. In his book The Four Agreements, author Don Miguel Ruiz instructs the reader to not take anything personally, that whatever anyone says is a reflection of their own reality. He goes on to note that this one agreement can be life changing. It was. And is.
  • Often Too Needy – Yep, I saw myself there, though I’d rather remove the word “Too” as I never saw myself as a nagger or stalker(!). Now, I know to ask for support when I need it.
  • Too Selfless – Definitely. This was all connected with my trauma. Praise God, with the help of therapy and the book Boundaries by Henry Cloud, I SO got over that.

 

HSP Overlay

Until this experience, I was what’s called a socialized HSP, meaning that I had adapted throughout  my childhood, adolescence and adulthood to survive and often excel in the dynamics in which I was surrounded. The thing is, I often felt different, like I somehow didn't quite fit. A round peg in a square hole. The little girl that is me didn't have an authentic voice. She had a survival voice.

Allowing myself to transform into an authentic HSP, I learned the value and importance of giving myself the space and time to refresh and renew in solitude so that I could enjoy being in the company of others. My strong startle reflex and sensitivity to my environment, especially to loud or competing sounds and harsh light made sense.

Understanding myself has helped me prepare for and frame my experiences in such a way as to fully support myself. With great love and compassion. 

For example, on choosing a restaurant, I consider the acoustics, steering away from loud places, opting for quieter venues. Finding myself in a loud crowded space, I chose to refrain from trying to talk/shout above the noise. On internet conference calls, when background noises distract me silly, I kindly ask others to mute themselves. I pace myself in my commitments, saying "no" much more readily than in the past. I pay attention to how I feel, both emotionally and physically, and I give myself extra time between tasks, errands, appointments, etc. I go slow. Slowly. Slow.

 go slow, acrylic on paper, 2012

go slow, acrylic on paper, 2012

When I find myself in overwhelm, I take action to reduce it instead of ignoring and pushing through it. That might mean clearing my schedule of commitments, and opting for what truly nourishes me. 

Most significantly, I work with a business coach who, being a successful HSP Entrepreneur, caters specifically to the HSP. Spending time with her and other HSPs via a “Mastermind” group brings a sense of belonging, of peace. The peace of self-love, of total acceptance of and support for the whole of me. I'm home in my heart. Which helps me grow in my business.

I'm so thankful for the strength and fortitude with which I’ve been blessed through my healing journey. For the courage, patience and perseverance to trust, even when things go awry. Owning my sensitivity is a beautiful way of owning my own power as well, which in turn allows me to shift my thinking from fear-based to love-based. 

And that, in turn, opens my heart and my life, creating space for more blessings, more abundance. It brings me into alignment with my soul's highest self. Something we're all meant to know and experience.

Who or what are you? Are you on a path to your truest highest self?

 

*I always thought this word was spelled extrovert. As I was writing my book From Fear to Love How Creativity Saved My Life and Will Change Yours for the Better, I googled to determine the correct version. This result takes the cake: "Folklore has it that when Carl Jung was once asked which was the correct spelling—ExtrAvert or ExtrOvert—Jung's secretary wrote back something like, 'Dr. Jung says it's ExtrAverted, because ExtrOverted is just bad Latin.'"

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Real Me

As I work on my new book, From Fear to Love How Creativity Saved My Life and Will Change Yours for the Better, I'm intrigued by a memory from the summer of 2012, when I was living and working in Doha, Qatar in the Middle East. This is a memory I revisit everyday, one that fills me with hope and love and compassion. You'll see why and how in a moment. 

My painting "Real Me" started as a large (about 36"x48") venting bit of journaling and drawing, through which I expressed all of the feelings and thoughts I was experiencing at the time. Frustration at work, in my trauma recovery therapy, at the heat and relentless desert sun poured out onto the paper. 

Real Me Words, 2012. Want to read the words? You can zoom in by clicking on the image and using your device's feature to expand the image. Full disclosure - I use the f word... once.

After the catharsis of my writing, I gave some space and time to absorb and reflect. Then I set about painting over each section, the words taking on a new form, a visual expression. The colors, the manifestation of my real truth empowered me, delighted me. I could feel myself growing more connected to my truth, my essence. It was a most powerful experience.

To this day, “Real Me” remains perhaps my most authentic piece. Whenever I look at it, I know the story behind each aspect. It hangs in my bedroom, where I see it every morning on awakening and at night as I prepare to go to sleep. I have NEVER tired of it, and I continue to receive its truth,  nourishment, and healing. It, in turn, continues to save my life.

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Trauma Surprise and Resources

On the way to church yesterday, I shared with Dad my awareness of how difficult it is these days to get motivated to work on projects and chores in my house, life and work.

I reflected silently that I've been carrying an image of myself from years past in which I become almost like a tornado, tearing through my chores and errands, energized by the prospect of having my to-do list completed.

Continuing my inward thoughts, I'd been waiting for that tornado-that-is-me to manifest itself again. THEN I would get caught up on my backed-up piles of laundry, paperwork, dishes, outdoor chores, errands and lists of to do items for my business.

Returning to the conversation with my father, I also shared with him that I have slowly come to the realization that it will not likely be that way again. It's ok to content myself with baby steps, knowing that though it all may take longer, it will indeed all get done. That it will be ok.

As I spoke these words, a lump formed in my throat and my tears welled in my eyes. I had just named something both known and yet new aloud, aware of the letting go of something old and deeply entrenched. More time and space would be needed to process this in private, later.

Surprisingly sooner rather than later.

In church, the first Sunday of Lent brings with it the praying of the Confiteor, a confession.

Oh, how I struggle with the harsh words of this prayer:

I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault; therefore, I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin, all the Angels and Saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.  

Without meaning to sound holier than thou, here's how I look at life: I believe God loves me unconditionally, and I live my life doing my best loving him back.

Also, seven plus years of extensive and comprehensive trauma recovery and healing taught me what REAL compassion and love look like. First and foremost, for the little girl that is me. Then for all God's children and all his creation.

Me perfect? Absolutely not. Me a sinner? Yes, when I push God away or purposely ignore his call for help in my encounters with others. Even then, our extraordinarily compassionate God sees our hearts and understands when we're trying our best, even when our best is none too good.

And so, when it's time for the Confiteor, the heartfelt prayer I offer up is a version of my highest truth:

I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do. I ask you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.

This morning, as the congregation reached the words,

through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault,

a passionate voice deep within me - the little girl that is me - suddenly and silently shouted no! no! no! no! And I just started crying, the kind of crying that wanted OUT. I excused myself to my father, saying I needed to go sit in the car.

Once inside my car, my crying turned quickly to sobbing, coughing, keening, waling and shaking all over. These typical physical reactions in Somatic Experiencing revealed to me that something(s) had triggered a trauma activation, that the best thing I could do was give my body's wisdom space and time to process and release trapped energy safely. I opened the windows slightly to allow fresh air in and released energy out.

The no-words releasing included no-words praying, me tightly clutching a small hand carved and buffed wooden cross designed with curves to be hand held. Because of its small perfect knot defect, I named it Wholely Holey Holy Lord. I held on to it for dear life for comfort and strength, so thankful for my long-ago decision to keep it in my car.

And I reached out for help. I messaged my therapist. I drew a mandala (part of my trauma healing process) on my iPhone and sent it to her so she would have a better idea of what was going on inside of me, and she texted back feedback that strengthened me. We would talk in an hour. In the meantime, I pictured her sitting next to me, supporting me.

The imagination is an amazing healing resource.

I started to journal, another resource in my trauma healing toolkit. This article completes what began in the car. 

My father and my brother the father (a priest, my pastor, a real blessing) both showed up for me after mass with compassion. As I drove Dad home, we talked a bit about my experience, and when I dropped him off he asked not just for a hug, but for a big hug, telling me he loved me. It meant the world to me, that love and support coming from him. So much healing there...

Late in the evening, my brother and I spoke briefly, sharing a special connection.

Somatic Experiencing, depending on the intensity of the work can be very energy consuming. I knew I would require extra rest, allowing for the limp noodle feeling this morning. Resting and working in bed, the cool wind blowing through the open windows, nourished my healing body, soul, and the little girl that is me today.

I thank God for my healing over the years. Yes, there are still surprises, unexpected triggers and activations that come from seemingly out of nowhere. They don’t frighten me like they used to.

I have a magnificent toolkit of resources. 

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The Power of Telling My Truth

As artist, writer, and owner of my own creative entrepreneurial small business, I've learned more than I could have imagined these last few years. Blessed with supporters and consultants who helped me create a strong foundational structure, including my website, I love having a place to share my creativity.

This, my third and final career, was born out of an immense healing journey that has spanned the last almost ten years. Coming from a background of operating room/theatre nursing and clinical informatics, I would find and come to know and love my deepest truest self through trauma recovery and healing.

I would also discover my inner prolific artist. And my vision and mission: to live abundantly by nourishing the world with what nourished me. My passion would include sharing my story of trauma healing through art.

Painting, photography, drawing, illustrating, journaling, poetry, memoir and blogging all found their places on my website. The online store opened a year later. Then, contrary to my previous professional experiences and the expectation that once I built it they would come, nothing happened.

Well, barely nothing. I did make a few small sales, and began to grow my subscriber list. I received positive feedback from friends and family and online coaching communities. Then… comments that there was too much, it was confusing, they weren't sure where to go or what it was I was trying to say, share, accomplish.

Redesign was in order.  I was optimistic and intentional about this being the right path to take.

Upscale photographic metal prints of my Chandeliers from Russia collection would be featured on a separate website, designed with a contemporary, glossy theme.

I would remove all trauma related content from my original website, because it seemed a distraction from the art I wanted to sell.

The new design and redesign proceeded. I confess I felt like I was cutting a part of my own self/soul off as I pruned my original website of its trauma content. Still, I persisted, creating clean and clear cut design and messaging.

No sales. Even with 30%, 50% discount promotions.

I had worked so hard, followed the guidance of paid and unpaid consultants, grown a following on Instagram and Facebook, boosted and promoted, been liked and followed.

But no conversion to sales.

The one thing that kept me going (in addition to my firm conviction that this is my calling and it is meant to be) was that interaction with the world through my Instagram and Facebook posts, as well as my online coaching group. And the encouraging responses I received: Keep going. You got this. So inspiring. Thank you.

Also, I had begun work on my book From Fear to Love: One Woman's Courageous Journey Through Trauma Recovery, an energizing undertaking. And eventually I figured out what was really going on, learning a very important truth:

My story, my journey, my creativity all comprise a complete whole that cannot and should not be pulled apart. They are both meant to be explored. Together or separately. Sharing my trauma healing story, my truth, my ME, makes me feel complete.

With great love, I redesigned the redesign of my original website. I also redesigned the new website a bit to better fit who I am and how I want my beautiful chandelier photos to be experienced online. And I felt better, whole again.

And now we get to the heart of this little essay:

Less than one week after adding those images and poems, journal excerpts and trauma healing stories back to my website, I received an email from a reader, and here are some excerpts:

I just want to say thank you. I stumbled across you today and it couldn't have been more timely for me… your words on working through your own trauma gave me an unexpected sense of peace… Just a few minutes going through your posts has helped me breathe again through my anxieties and re-center myself on all of my abundant blessings. I can and will move forward- I will be better than okay!

I don't know if you have many people who stop to take a moment to acknowledge the good you're putting out in the world…. So thank you. Thank you for sharing your journey, and for your honesty and bravery in doing so. Thank you for putting good out into the world. And thank you for somehow being in the right place at the right moment for me. 

Talk about timing! I felt a profound sense of gratitude learning that the sharing of my story helped someone else. It strengthened my deep commitment to and belief in my calling to nourish the world. That it will all fall in place.

THAT is the power of telling my truth.

May you be blessed with knowing and loving your deepest self. And the courage to tell your truth.

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Ready for Joy

How do you start your day? Do you have a regular self care routine or do you rush about to get out the door?

I find myself most mornings these days spending a few minutes in the modules of the self paced online program Reinventing The Body, Resurrecting the Soul by Deepak Chopra. It mirrors his book by the same name.

Course participants read the module content, reflect on questions, and are encouraged to share their reactions and/or experiences in comments. Yesterday,  as I worked on content related to our physical and energetic bodies and emotions, I shared the following:

Emotional energy: as a recovering trauma survivor, I spent over six years working weekly with a therapist certified in Somatic Experiencing. From a state of freeze, totally cut off from my emotions and my body (physical and energetic), I transitioned over the years of healing to a completely different state of being. One in which I slowly and safely began to experience and learn to name my multitude of emotions, allowing space for all of them. My physical body was able to release the energy trapped by decades old trauma, finding its way out of freeze, discovering fight and flight. I met and fell in love with the little girl that is me, co-habitator of my soul.

As I continue in my journey, I live a deep abiding sense of love and compassion for that little girl that is me, and also for all of God's children and all his creation. On occasion, I encounter triggers and "the trick of trauma" which leads to times of anxiety and depression. When I recognize what'shappening, I draw on the resources I learned over the years.

Sometimes that means clearing my calendar for several days as I lovingly care for myself, remembering to reach out for support, and checking in frequently with the little girl that is me. It might include a call or visit to my therapist to help me untangle what has surfaced.

Throughout these years, and every single day, I choose life. My stubborn (and life saving) determination to see this through to the other side, along with the trust I place in God to carry me when I cannot walk, help me to choose life and love. Every single day. Sometimes every hour.

I've worked so hard, with great courage. I have gone places within that few have dared, facing deep darkness, experiencing my fear and replacing it with love.

The image of the phoenix, who rises anew from its own ashes expresses this beautifully. I am reminded of this every time I pull out my business card case. 

I always believed I am on a healing path.

And now I'm ready for joy.

 

Straightaway, another participant commented: Thank you. You note is felt and appreciated. I feel calmer and hopeful. I think my shoulders even dropped back to offer space for a full inhale & a bit of relief for my heart.

Oh! My sharing HELPED someone! I replied to him, telling him that now I felt better as well.

And then later another comment: Thank you so much for sharing Annette, you have brought comfort within my journey. To bringing Love, Joy and Peace to that beautiful little girl. I'm also learning and healing the depths of trauma and finding my way out of freeze. Great courage, Great Love. :) I also am ready to surrender into joy. Take care.

Oh! I helped someone else! More than that, I'm reminded that I'm not alone, contrary to what the trick of trauma would have me believe. There are people out there that really understand me. This. I am comforted and reassured. I am not alone. 

I think joy may be within my reach.

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From Fear to Love

Do you have any New Year's resolutions? What do you think of the idea that it doesn't have to be something you start on day one and stick to every day? What if it could be a sure and steady and sustained resolution that results in you (and perhaps your part of the world?) being in a better place at the end of the year than at the beginning.

That's my kind of resolution. Besides, being the go slow girl (and proud of it), it's what works for me.

And that takes patience.

The kind of patience I have with myself as I radically redesign my website. I recently blogged about this pruning, which you can read about here.

And now I get to share the other part. Which just happens to tie into one of my New Year's resolutions.  

First, as a quick reminder, this year I finished six and a half years of trauma recovery therapy with Candy, my at-the-time therapist, who has been certified in Somatic Experiencing for well over twenty years. The basic premise with this modality is that the body holds energy trapped during trauma (emotional overwhelm). The body (Somatic) and the central nervous system are able to very slowly (repeat very slowly) release that trapped energy (Experiencing) during therapy. That's it in a nano-nutshell. This short video that Candy and I created in summer of 2016 does a great job of introducing Trauma and Somatic Experiencing. FYI, gswoj stands for go slow woman on a journey.

The stuff I took off the website - poetry, memoir, mandalas, journal excerpts and illustrations - was created during my trauma recovery, and it's still very much around as an expression of my healing. Much of it will find its way into a book that Candy, now my life coach and collaborator, are co-authoring.

A book! One of my New Year's Resolutions!

Candy and I actually started on the book back in late 2014, when we agreed the overall structure, milestones, and story telling approach. We both felt a passion (I had a fire in my belly!) to get the word out about Somatic Experiencing as a very effective treatment modality for trauma recovery.

Do you ever feel like you're ready for something and you find out that life has different plans? This reminds me of the old joke: Want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans.

Sidetracked for almost two years with mysterious, repeated and prolonged medical and surgical circumstances, I kept trusting that what was going on with my body was part of a much larger healing path. Somatic, after all, basically means related to the body, and removal of 7 organs over that period of time was certainly a sort of releasing.

Thankfully, the fire in my belly was not removed.

Candy and I were able to resume our efforts recently. Today the framework, Introduction, and Chapter One are in the hands of my editor for review. Our working title is From Fear to Love: One Woman's Courageous Journey Through Trauma Recovery.

I am now patting myself on the back for meeting an important end of 2016 goal. Well done us!

When you undertake a project about which you are really pumped, how do you describe that to someone else?

Let me try: I'm thrilled and energized about how we're manifesting this book and who it will serve.

First, the framework includes three major sections I intuitively understood and named way back in 2008:

  • Discovery - learning what needs healing
  • Uncovery - getting to the bottom of my wounding
  • Recovery- integrating healing and new truths into my life

Within each section, each chapter has its own framework:

  • I tell my portion of the story in first person, present tense.
  • Candy tells her portion related to my story in first person past tense.
  • We include photos of my journal entries and illustrations and paintings as relevant.
  • We wrap up with a summary and resources (as well as at the end of the book).

Next, the answer to a very important question. Because we can talk and write all we want and if it isn't relevant and doesn't serve, what’s the point?

I believe with all my heart that this book will inspire, heal, empower and help these people and more:

  • Therapists who want to learn more about trauma and Somatic Experiencing in particular
  • Therapists who are already certified in Somatic Experiencing
  • MDs, PhDs and researchers who focus on neurobiophysiology and psychosomatic neurology
  • Behavioral science students, social workers, psych nurses, doctors, practitioners and other clinicians
  • Motivational and metaphysical speakers and writers
  • People who know they are trauma survivors and want some point of reference and/or direction
  • People who struggle with life and don't understand why
  • People who live with PTSD, anxiety and/or depression, who are or are not in therapy
  • People who are in CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and/or EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) who aren't getting better.
  • The families and loved ones of the people above

Anyone wondering why we are doing this?

The answer is simple. My heart and the fire in my belly keeps telling me to get the word out about Somatic Experiencing.

And it's ok if we work on it all year long.

Go slow and prosper!

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A Bit About Painting

Tonight I am really missing painting.

Between writing and distributing a daily blog, helping my Dad with some health issues, preparing my new website for launch and just daily living stuff, I've not taken time to pick out a new canvas, paints and brush.

In fact, I'm missing it so much that after I finish this, I just might create a little something.

How do you manage to squeeze in the activities in your life that really fill and nourish you?

How about taking a moment now and just enjoy some of the images from my paintings gallery, with or without titles. Just soak up the color, the whimsy, the energy.

About a half hour ago, I was inspired to create a little video tour of my studio/office/prayer and meditation room. It just bubbled up in my thoughts, and the next thing I knew it was done. So now I want to share my creative space with you.

I wish you could sit here and have a cup of tea with me as we look around. And smell the exquisite incense.

Ahh, that was nice...

To think I might have missed this calling. Back in 2010, having spent 35 years in nursing and healthcare informatics consulting, I made the decision to quit my job and answer the little girl that is me who pleaded "Please listen to me! I really need this!"

So, I began exploring my creative side in 2011, on January 12th, my birthday.

Having no formal art education, I worked with Pamela Hawkins, a local artist and at the time art medicine woman. She taught me the style called process painting.

This meant beginning my paintings simply by discerning what colors appealed, how I wanted to move (i.e. in long broad strokes versus swirls or circles or both), and what brushes I felt like using, along with what size I wanted to create. One of the coolest things I learned was that I could always add more paper if the painting called for it.

I was hooked. I set up my own little studio space in my home, starting with tempera on paper. In sessions over the next few years, she provided a safe and nurturing place, along with all supplies, and I painted and painted and painted.

It was she who taught me that I am the painter, the paint, and the painting. 

I've since progressed to acrylic on canvas, all sizes, though am drawn more and more to larger sizes. I love how it feels to move my body back and forth as I'm creating. Then stepping back to see what has shown up on the canvas. I'm often surprised, and there's a wonderful sense when the painting says "I'm finished now."

When a friend saw one of my paintings, he asked, "That came from your head?" to which I replied, "No, it came from my heart."

The truth is, a bit of my heart, soul and love remains in each of my paintings.

Wouldn't it be cool to create something together, you and I? I'm offering Something for Your Soul for those on a healing path and/or celebrating an accomplishment.. 

Well, I gotta go now because I want to paint.

Do reach out to me if you're feeling the vibe to co-create now. Or to make a gift for someone.

Let's manifest something beautiful together!

PS - After I wrote the blog and before I posted the email to my subscriber list, I did a bit of painting: I was so wanting to just fill the canvas with Cobalt Blue. 

So I did. First, gather the supplies:

Then paint. And since cobalt blue has been on my mind, onto the canvas it goes, along with some teal and bronze and a bit of sky blue...

 The Beginning of Cobalt Blue by Annette Hadley

The Beginning of Cobalt Blue by Annette Hadley

I like how it unfolded tonight... evocative of I'm not sure what. I'll check in on it in the morning.

Sweet dreams and peace to all!

 

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Growing Up With My Dad… These Last Three Years

For those of you blessed with fathers, do you have memories of growing up?

Some great, some good… some not so good perhaps?

What kind of Father's Day cards appealed to you?

What was the best of times?


My best of times is now. My Dad is 90 years old. And we have just - in the last three years - really grown up together. I'm so thankful he has lived this long, and I treasure every moment we spend together as blessing.

Like today when he called, confused about one of his medications. Living just a few minutes away, I went over and helped him out.

It wasn’t always like that.

As I child, I knew he loved me, but I didn't actually feel love coming from him. He was often fun and playful. And strict. I was a bit afraid of him.

After my mom died in 1991, Dad and I grew closer. We grieved together and supported each other.

Then he remarried. And the short story here is that he made his new family the priority in his life.

I write this next bit with great compassionate love for myself and my Dad.

I felt abandoned. Cast aside. I WAS abandoned, cast aside, with the exception of a monthly breakfast and occasional family gatherings. It was a very difficult, awkward and prolonged time, and still I was determined to somehow find my way through it with love and respect.

The year 2010 would be one of great change for our family. Dad and his wife had to separate for health reasons, neither one being able to care for the other's needs. From being largely on the outside for the past eighteen years, my in-town siblings - Kathleen, Mark, Laura - and I were suddenly responsible for his care. How does one person single handedly care for an elderly loved one? We, working collaboratively, couldn't fathom. And the short story here is that we managed, including getting him comfortably settled in a senior independent living facility apartment.

Fast forward to 2013. I'm wrapping up my time in Doha, talking with Dad by phone and crying. Interestingly, he always really showed up for me when I lived abroad, connecting and caring. His support of me during my year in the Middle East helped me decide to return to KC rather than London.

A number of things have happened since my return from there over three years ago:

  • I resumed taking Dad to church every Sunday, after which we go out to eat.
  • I continued my trauma recovery therapy and healing, now processing decades-long suppressed anger and abandonment issues.
  • I continued to find and use my voice, my power.
  • I learned and began to practice healthy boundaries. Scary!
  • Dad had a series of surgeries: fractured left hip hardware, to total hip replacement, to revision total hip, each followed by hospital and weeks-long rehab facility recovery.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. It sure took a village to "raise" my father through these recent years. Thank you thank you thank you to Kathleen, Mark and Laura for all your love and sharing of the responsibilities. I think we make a GREAT team.

They also say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. I beg to differ.

I doggedly (pun definitely intended) spoke my truth, little by little, over time, to my father, standing up for myself when I felt hurt by his words. It was important for me to be authentic with him, not putting on the life-long happy face. Coming from a generation with a completely different experience, he at first didn't understand my attempts to explain trauma and recovery therapy and my anxiety and depression. Yet he would eventually respond to me in a way that told me he was listening. And processing what I was saying.

And guess what? As I changed, he changed. Our conversations changed. He stopped saying hurtful things to me. He said please and thank you and I love you. And come here, give me a hug.

And over time I began to feel loved. I always KNEW I was loved. But now the little girl that is me FELT and BELIEVED her daddy's love. How affirming!

Know what else changed? I started remembering happy times from childhood, and I lovingly saw how the years had reversed our roles.

  • He taught me how to tie my shoes.
  • I help him put his shoes on.
  • He taught me to ride my bike.
  • I help him with his walker and getting in/out of the car.
  • Sometimes he surprised us with donuts on Saturday morning.
  • Sometimes I surprise him with donuts on Saturday morning.
  • He took us to church on Sunday.
  • I take him to church on Sunday. And he tells me he loves to hear me sing. (!)
  • On the occasion when Dad would take our large young family out for breakfast, he would buy us each a mint patty when he paid the bill.
  • Weather permitting (yet another reason to love the cold), I keep a bag of York mint patties in my car, each of us enjoying one after our Sunday meal out.
  • Sometimes, when he traveled for work, he would bring home a tiny little something for us.
  • When I travel to different places, I bring home a magnet for his fridge.
  • He was cool enough to play our favorite rock station on the car radio for us.
  • I'm cool enough to play the baseball or football game station on my car radio for him.
  • When I had surgery in 1992 for recurrent herniated neck disc, I woke up in my hospital room to see Dad sitting next to me and holding my hand.
  • After his repeated surgeries, I sat next to him and held his hand… when he let me.

My father is a strong willed, determined, methodical, deeply faithful and loving man, with a passion for life. Through the time I spend with him, he is teaching me about growing old gracefully, not giving up. Savoring every bit life has to offer, looking at the bright side.

I am so my father's daughter. And so proud to be so.

Dad and his sibs.png

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On Journaling

What are you grateful for today?  Or could be a who? Or both? Hopefully lots of each.

When I journal tonight, the first thing on my gratitude list will be my newly unwrapped journal. Made by paperblanks, in the UK, which is where I first found and bought this particular style. I value it for its beautiful cover, its hand bound back, its luscious lined paper. No matter what page I am on, the journal lies flat. It welcomes me. Just as its fourteen predecessors have.

Do you journal? Have you ever? What has the experience been like for you?

Do you keep your old journals, perhaps in a hidden place with instructions for a loved one to destroy them on your death? Do you burn them, offering them as a sacred gift to the universe, a saying good-bye to the past? Do you throw them away?

I'm inclined to keep mine. In fact, I share excerpts on my website. Pam, my Abundance Art graphic designer aptly put it when she said "It's like you're inviting people into your life." Which I am. I feel called to do it.

Deeply, passionately called. Maybe my pain and healing can inspire and encourage someone else.

I first journaled over 25 years ago. March 10, 1991, less than two weeks after my mother died in her sleep at the age of 64. My first entry reads "Heart attack. 50% of all diabetic heart attacks are silent. Mom always was a quiet sort." I would journal sporadically, analyzing the correctness of my grief and anger as if there was a right or wrong way. Writing down excerpts from books I was reading, as if that would sort me out. I stopped after a year.

It would be eight years before I took up the practice again, this time a gratitude journal as I strove desperately to document happiness when deep inside I was broken. An unhealthy marriage had taken its toll on me.

I was so frozen for so long.

Ahhhh … a brief pluviophile respite! There on Feb 2, 2000, I wrote "The rain! The rain! The rain! Awesome thunder through the evening." Even back then, those drops of water and rumbly thunder were balm for my soul.

Now my journals are filled with emotions across the spectrum - no hiding from rage! - and lots of illustrations using water color pencils. Dialogues with myself as inner parent and inner child (a technique learned from Self Parenting by John K Pollard and Linda Nusbaum). And oh! How I love my inner child! I'm so glad I met her and fell in love with her along the way!

I had learned  to allow the wisdom of my body, including my brain, explore whatever shows up.

Guess what? Life shows up.

 IP = inner parent, IC = Inner child, TY with a circle around it means thank you for telling me that.

IP = inner parent, IC = Inner child, TY with a circle around it means thank you for telling me that.

I see now that in my early journaling, there was an unrealized fear that someone would read and judge. Oh, little girl! I'm so thankful we got over that! I'm proud of my outpouring of these last eight years, in the darkest of times, when hope peeked in, when I saw the light at the end of the tunnel only to have it snuffed out… for now, not forever. I'm living safely in the light now, saying hello to the darkness when it appears. I'm raw, honest, real.

There's a different energy, as I use the resources I've learned through years of trauma healing. The energy that's poured into the paper has started to flow through my body and into my life. My healing path continues.

What kind of path are you on? If you haven't journaled, does it feel like something you'd like to do? The only advice I want to offer is that you choose a journal that welcomes you in. Think comfort. For it just might become your refuge.

Come now into my journal, explore the words and images of my journey, including poems. Be inspired and encouraged in your own path. You can start here, where you'll find the Journal section with its own  introduction. If you prefer to dive right in, start with Wondrous Healing and navigate to other entries with the navigation bar at the bottom of each page. (see below, which is also a hyperlink - cool!)

Blessings to you in your life journey!

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From Fear to Love: One Woman's Inspiring Journey Through Trauma Recovery

We all have stories to share. Have you ever felt like telling yours?

I'm in the process of doing just that, in collaboration with my life coach and co-author. She also happens to be my therapist. My trauma recovery therapist. Since 2010.

When I moved to the Middle East in 2012, we continued our work together via Skype. I was blown away at how, as she put it, "energy is energy."

Wait, back up. Are you wondering what, why, how, about now?

I'm glad you asked. And I'm going to answer very simply.

What?

Trauma. Mine. Definition of trauma: not so much the "what" as the fact that it results in overwhelming emotional stimulus. And that the nervous system, our very body, holds unreleased energy from the experience. Bessel van der Kolk explains this in his book The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma.

Why?

Because on my return to KC from London in 2009, I didn't understand I was living with trauma. All I knew was that I was severely anxious, barely making it through each day. In a demanding job. That although I was working with a very qualified therapist, I wasn't getting better. In fact was getting worse. And because in early 2010, after having coffee with a friend (who also happened to be a therapist), I took her advice to make an appointment with a new therapist in town who specialized in anxiety disorders.

How?

Through the care of my incredibly talented and compassionate Somatic Experiencing certified therapist. Using the trauma recovery therapy modality of the same name, founded by Peter Levine, author of Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, over twenty years ago. My therapy lasted for six and a half years (yes, even the year I lived in the Middle East), and I now go for monthly maintenance sessions.

I'll add that this experience has been bar none the most difficult thing I have ever done. The darkest most frightening years of my life. I wanted to die. I really wanted to die. Instead, I chose life. I clung on during the stormiest experiences ever, and I survived. I journaled and illustrated my way through. I started painting and writing.

And in doing so, I developed a passion for getting the word out about how my life was saved by Somatic Experiencing. Turns out, so did my therapist.

So we, together, are writing a book. We have a basic framework created, with key milestones, and are working on the introductions/prologues and first chapter. Sharing our combined story, alternating back and forth. Mine in first person present tense, hers in first person past tense.

Our goal is by the end of the year to have it ready to promote to agents/publishers.

The title is not set in stone, nor the cover. What is solid however is the truth that through these years, I moved (and continue to move) from a fear based life to a love based life.

This book will help people.

Clinicians.

Clients.

Maybe you. Or someone you love.

Stay tuned. In the meantime, watch this short video to learn more about trauma and Somatic Experiencing. (By the way, gswoj is short for go slow: woman on a journey.)

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I Go Slowly and I Prosper

How timely, this topic popping into my head this morning.

Most of my adult life I worked hard and I worked long hours, as in 60ish hours a week for long stretches of time. It had to do with my mistaken belief that if I could just do enough, provide enough, produce enough, be GOOD enough, that I would matter, be of value. That I would feel seen and heard.

Rubbish.

Let me rephrase that. "Rubbish," she said, with great love and compassion for herself.

My own body finally said "Enough!" in 2009, as it manifested a severe anxiety disorder on my return to Kansas City after working and living in London for four years. You might want to disagree, saying the disorder was in my mind, not my body. Ahhh, but science has shown it's all connected.

My anxiety disorder was actually my body's manifestation of held trauma accumulated over my lifetime. To make a long story short, through six and a half years of Somatic Experiencing trauma recovery therapy, my body was able to, very slowly, release that trapped trauma energy and begin to heal.

It is said that your biography becomes your biology. Intriguing thought. I have found this to be true.

About the title: Go Slow and Prosper. How did this new way of thinking come about in my life? First and foremost, it showed up in therapy. Somatic Experiencing actually re-patterns the parasympathetic nervous system, creating new neural pathways over time. The key is that this must be done very slowly, through baby steps, because the nervous system doesn't particularly like change.

During my therapy sessions, Candy (my therapist), repeatedly reminded me to go slow:

  • Slow down
  • Let's take this slower
  • We have all the time we need
  • Baby steps
  • Ok, let's stop here and see what happens
  • Just see what happens
  • This will take some time
  • It's really important to go slow
  • Don't try to rush it
  • When you go slow, big shifts can happen
  • You've worked really hard today, make sure to go slow
  • Your body needs lots of rest

She was right. Totally right. It was hard for me to go slow; I wanted the quick fix. Unfortunately, there wasn't one for me, given the nature (length, depth, breadth over time) of my trauma. Over the years I would begin to cognitively understand and physically assimilate the truth, that for me, going slow helped protect me from overwhelm and re-traumatization.

Living in Doha in 2012, this awareness out pictured in my painting "go slow". It remains a constant loving reminder to this day.

It also allowed me to finally understand these truths: That I matter. I'm important. I'm good. I can be seen. There is more than enough for me. These may seem insignificant to some; for me, they were and are life altering.

Ok, so I choose to go slow, to limit the commitments and activities in my life, to allow more time to rest and renew. To be more mindful, in the moment. To settle and calm myself. With great love.

My decision to leave the well paid world of healthcare informatics consulting and begin a creative business factored in this awareness of going slow. As well as the awareness that I did not have to work long hours to be successful. I knew and I know this in my body. In my very being.

I set and continue to honor the intention that I am successful, living abundantly through nourishing the world with what nourishes me. I envision deposits into my Abundance Art checking account. I see my savings grow. I imagine how good it will feel to have more than enough to live comfortably, continue to travel the world, and be a good steward of my blessings. The very name of my business proclaims that abundance. I believe it. I receive it.

By the way, the phrase starving artist does not belong in my vocabulary. I'm following a path, laid divinely before me, unlimited in possibility, not limited by fear or feelings of not enough. Not anymore.

I go slowly and I prosper. Feels good. Feels great.

I've worked all morning. Go slow…

Time for the weekend to start.

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Love letter to my beloved: If I Could...

Beloved,

If I could, I would be at your side and hold you and just love you. I would not expect you to be good company. I would not expect you to make me anything to eat or drink. I would not expect you to provide a place to sleep or bathe.

I would not expect anything of you.

I would just want to be next to you. My love for you would diffuse through my skin, across the air, and into your being. It would find your heart, your soul, your wounds, and it would bathe them in light and peace, gentle as can be, for you are oh so fragile right now.

I would share with you that although I do not live or know your pain, I do know the pain of being an unnoticed child, an unhappy, childless wife, a sufferer of chronic pain and great fear and grieving, and a crier of tears that have no end.

I would help you know that the body doesn't really care why, it just wants to heal. Desperately.

If it could, my pain and sorrow would whisper very quietly to your pain and sorrow that it cares.

If I could, I would take your pain away, your sorrow, for even a moment, that you might know well being, feel whole again. I would make the medicine you take so effective you would feel so much better TODAY.

If I could, I would send an honor guard into your life, and they would honor your anger, and they would bring shovels to dig up the rage and bags to put it in and take it away. And then they would honor you again for being a survivor.

If I could, I would send a spirit of curiosity into your world, a curiosity that suspends judgment, that just looks at what is without labeling it good or bad. And that curiosity would also reveal compassion for the little girl that is you, a most precious and beloved child of God.

And if she could, the little girl that is me would come and take the little girl that is you by the hand, and they would go to their favorite secret hiding place. And they would whisper stories to each other about when they were growing up and what they were taught to believe about life and themselves.

Like how they were supposed to be happy, and not get emotional or be bad, and keep their sad and angry feelings to themselves. And that what they needed and wanted was not really that important and instead they should always help others.

And then the little girl that is me would also tell stories of how she has learned that it is normal to feel both happiness and sadness and especially anger. And that she now knows that she really matters, and that she is good. And important. And how learning that made her cry oh so many tears of relief.

If I could, I would give you a delicious cup of comforting tea, filled with love and courage and hope and patience. This tea would send gentle thoughts and ideas into your dreams... thoughts and ideas that would paint a beautiful image of freedom from fear, from anxiety, from pain and sorrow.

If it could, my own healed spirit would fly into your very heart, soul, and spirit. It would lovingly and gently reveal the depth of healing that is possible, that your soul might know promise.

If I could, I would surround you with all the love and support and resources you need to find your way. You are lost right now, I understand. And in a space so dark it is like a black hole. I would lift the power of darkness just enough for the tiniest glimmer of hope to open. A hope that would ignite just a tiny spark of what ifs…

  • What if I'm not alone?
  • What if I could feel better?
  • What if I were not a lost cause?
  • What if this was for now, not forever?
  • What if there is some one who really understands?
  • What if there is some thing out there that might bring life into my life?

Know this: you are beloved... before, now, and always. Not because of what you've done or what you may or may not do in the future.

You are beloved because you are you.

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A Bit of Heaven in 2011

With all the reminiscing about Costa Rica this week, it came to me that I want to share the year 2011 with you. A unique year, mostly a personal sabbatical to more fully immerse myself in my trauma recovery and explore my creative side. And travel. Oh boy, and travel. Other things happened in my life that year, such that each month developed its own character. Having begun the year painting, by year's end I had decided to paint a mandala filled with mandalas, one for each month.

It's helpful to know that, back in 2009, when my world was crashing around me, I came up with an acknowledgement and intention:

  • Not so fine in 2009.
  • Alive again in 2010.
  • A bit of heaven in 2011.

The years 2009 and 2010 are stories for another time... suffice to say there was a LOT of darkness, fear, and anxiety in my life, and by late summer of 2010 I realized I really needed to step away from work to dedicate time to healing. I was blessed to have enough savings to do so. And I had begun working weekly that year with a therapist who specialized in anxiety disorders, which, in my case, turned out to be the result of very early life and pervasive developmental trauma. Which was triggered by my return to the US in July 2009 after living and working in London for four years. Welcome home...not!

The hopeful bit here is that my therapist was certified in and practiced Somatic Experiencing methodology, which actually retrains the nervous system away from old patterns into new healthy patterns. With twenty years of experience behind her, she was exactly what I needed.

And so the year 2011 began:

 January

January

January brought a silent retreat, my first experience with process painting (I'll write about this some day), a trip with friend Linda to visit friend Jeanette who lived north of Chicago, where I had my first walk ever across a frozen lake. We spent a day in Chicago, the city of my birth, having lunch with my aunt and uncle, popping over to Navy Pier and Millennium Park, with Lake Michigan ever in view. We also spent a bit of time on the Magnificent Mile, and took the El back to near my uncle's home, where our car was parked. My friends indulged me by stopping in at the corner tavern for a beer. This was the area of my roots, where my parents grew up, met, fell in love, married, started a family.

As always, I felt the energy of the city.

 February

February

February was spent in Costa Rica, which you can read about here.

 March

March

In March, I visited my stepdaughter Annie in Phoenix. We took a side trip up to the Grand Canyon, which I'd never seen  in person. I loved learning about the geological history of the place. Imagine the impact of a trickle of water that became a river that created this grand canyon, With its now (for me) identifiable layer upon layer of sediment turned stone.

I took some time on my own, hiking down to a spot where I sat and soaked up the beauty of this immense space. I'd brought my journal and water color pencils and lingered, capturing my experience as best as I could.

I recall the silence, pure silence. The sun on my face, the stunning beauty of my surroundings.

God is good, nature is incredible.

 April

April

April. Oh, April! I could write a book about you! From the US to London to Jordan to Israel back to Jordan back to London (on the day of Will and Kate's wedding!) then back to the US, this was the trip of trips. I actually created a spreadsheet to help me pack, because:

  • I was visiting in London before and after my other travels, and it was forecasted to be cold. 
  • I was trekking in Jordan for a week - to Petra - and I had a standard trekking "kit" that had to fit in a certain camping bag and backpack/rucksack. I would leave my large suitcase in London.
  • I was touring in Israel for 9 days immediately after the trek, and the clothes for that time also had to fit in my camping bag. Thankfully the weather in Israel at that time of year is typically mild, and I would also be able to wear some of my trekking clothes. After I thoroughly laundered them.

There's so much to share about this trip that I won't even try right now. Except to say that on the very last morning in Jordan, I developed traveler's sickness. Not too bad at first, and I was able to go with my bestie Anjana that evening into London and to Buckingham Palace. There were hundreds of people around, still celebrating the wedding festivities, and the mood was so happy and light. I keep London newspapers from that day as keepsakes.

Unfortunately, by the day of my return to the US, I felt so sick that I could barely move. My heart goes out to ANYONE who has ever had to travel ill. At the stopover in Chicago I was able to buy Pepto Bismal and Dramamine, which eased my discomfort just enough for the last leg home. Some days later I began to feel better. 

Just in time to succumb to severe reverse culture shock.

 May

May

I spent most of the month of May reeling from the reverse culture shock, thankful to return to weekly trauma recovery therapy. Devoid of energy, I filled the pool in my backyard, blew up my raft, and floated the time away, easing slowly back into the reality of being back in the US.

Originally, when I started my sabbatical, I thought I would give myself six months, Somewhere in April I released that expectation. I was glad I did, because the end of May brought an unexpected and significant change. My father, married now for almost eighteen years to his second wife (my mother having died in 1991), had to separate from her due to health issues they each suffered, leaving them unable to care for each other. Just like that my in-town siblings and I became responsible for him and his many needs.

Short story - a major adjustment all around, with temporary accomodations for Dad at my sister's house.  

 June

June

Early in the year, I had talked with my younger sister Maureen about what she wanted to do for her 50th birthday. Turned out that we both had the same thing in mind: an Alaskan cruise with all six sisters. And since she lived near Seattle, WA, it was fairly uncomplicated to arrange. And so, in early June, Kathleen, MarySue, myself, Maureen, Terez and Laura all gathered at Maureen's and we celebrated her birthday in style.

On a side note, Maureen had recently recovered from her last of many reconstructive surgeries after removal of an acoustic neuroma in 2006. She lived with chronic tinnitus, dis-equilibrium, left sided deafness, left eyelid and facial paralysis (partially corrected with the reconstructive surgeries). We hoped this would be a celebration also of her healing. But while the "outside" was sorted, her emotional and mental well being suffered, neglected. We would learn more about this on the cruise.

Leaving Terez and Laura in Seattle, the rest of us boarded the ship and enjoyed each other's company and the amenities and outstanding natural beauty of the cruise. Kathleen and I experienced sea sickness, and her skin color was actually almost green before she gave in and used medicine. Curiously, Maureen did not suffer from it... we joked that her dis-equilibrium countered the rolling of the ship.

We chose various excursions, during which  Maureen and I watched a sperm whale dive out of and back into the water, an maneuver called breaching. Later, on another excursion, Kathleen and I would be delighted watching killer whales breach again and again.

The month ended with me back home, deeply concerned for my beloved sister Maureen, wondering what I could do to help her. As well as continuing in my own healing journey and helping find Dad a permanent place to live.

 July

July

July - wow, how do I explain this?

Easy part first. Thunderstorms - my very favorite weather.

Hard part second. I had been referred for adjunctive therapy with a very qualified local hypnotherapist (note the inclusion of the word therapist, so not just a hypnotist). In my first session I had the most unique experience of my life. Enough said. For now. In two subsequent sessions, we made what we agreed was great progress, even doing what is called breath work.

What I didn't understand at the time is that it was actually way too much way too soon.

 August

August

I spent the month of August mostly in shock, severe depression and anxiety, longing to be back in London where I had been so happy. And also in therapy, often twice a week. My Somatic Experiencing therapist had been on holiday while I was seeing the hypnotherapist, and when she learned that we'd done breath work, she explained that my nervous system was not ready for it.

The end result was actually a re-traumatization. Well, shit...

 September

September

September would bring a much needed respite. My friend Sheila (from our Costa Rican adventure), invited me to visit her in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. We timed the trip for peak foliage. However, due to the weather conditions there, the color green still predominated. On the bright side, she had a house on Lake Winnipesaukee, and we spent several lovely days and nights there. It was warm enough to lie out in the sun and swim in the crystal clear COLD water - so refreshing for my body and soul. One evening we sat out, watching the sunset, lingering as the sky turned more beautiful by the moment, reflecting perfectly in the still water. 

We also traveled into Vermont and up into Maine so I could have my first Maine lobster (actually two firsts - Maine, and lobster). Check that off my list of things to do. 

 October

October

October found me on retreat again at Shantivanum (Sanskrit for Forest of Peace). Beautiful wooded farmland, rolling hills, regular prayer and meditation times and homemade vegetarian fare deeply nourished both my body and my soul. I painted, journaled, slept, hiked, slept, slept, slept. 

And decided I was ready to go back to work.

 November

November

I have always been blessed in my work life, essentially being recruited at every turning point into something different that would add to the foundation laid by previous job experiences. And so in November, I began contracting with a consulting firm, traveling most weeks to the client site. Figuring by this time that I would not be moving back to London in the foreseeable future, I adopted a sweet ten year old black cat named Shadow. Shy and affectionate at the same time, she was good company to have around when I was home, and she managed ok by herself when I wasn't.

That's the great thing about cats.

 December

December

December, still traveling, getting worn out, developing bronchitis. I was so determined to have a Christmas tree, that when I bought one, I also bought a new Christmas tree stand, and asked the guys to place the tree in the stand for me. I hauled it like that into my house, and filled the stand with water. That might have been the year that the only decorations on the tree were the lights. It was still beautiful, and it smelled so good. The year ended with me on a two week holiday, thankful that as a contractor I was not limited by the company's vacation policy.

It also ended with me learning that I would likely be moving to the Middle East in a few months for a one year contract.

Surprise!

And so, having pre-proclaimed "A Bit of Heaven in 2011" and definitely having experienced lots of bits of heaven, I also encountered a good number of hellish experiences. But isn't life like that sometimes? We may be doing fine and suddenly without warning be knocked sideways with unexpected news, illness, etc. By the same token, we may experience unexpected grace, blessings, growth.

When all was said and done, 2011 certainly went down as one of the most remarkable years of my life.

I learned much, I suffered much, I learned more, I healed some more.

And I got ready for 2012.

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Prayer of Anger, Act of Love

As some of you know, I lived and worked in the Middle East for a year, continuing my weekly trauma recovery sessions with my therapist via Skype. I had an experience during that year that opened up my healing in a whole new way.

I had settled down to pray/meditate, my prayer rug and zafu beneath me, incense burning, candle lit, the Franciscan Crucifix before me along with my bible and prayer book and journal. However, I was so angry at the time I could not muster a single prayer like thought.

I sat waiting, frustrated. And angry. And then wisdom opened up and said: Paint your Anger.

So I did. I poured out the intensity and immensity of my anger in big bold lines. Red! A color I rarely used called out again and again and I listened. Black! Darkness manifested, showed up, and I let it out. By the time I ran out of time, my Prayer of Anger was in good form. Certainly not finished. That would come later.

My heart felt lighter. I experienced self love for listening to my inner wisdom, perhaps the voice of the very universe, God.

As I came back to the painting over the next days, I continued to use those sweeping strokes. Such a releasing experience! And then purple showed up. And yellow. and even white. I played with the idea of the power at the core of my essence, and that showed up in the center, well actually the off center. The core. And more texture showed up, highlighting the intensity of the outward movement. 

I felt so proud, so filled with love and life when I finally realized I was done.

 Prayer of Anger, acrylic on paper, painted in Doha, Qatar in 2012 

Prayer of Anger, acrylic on paper, painted in Doha, Qatar in 2012 

What I didn't know then was how much this painting would lift me up in the years ahead as I continued my trauma recovery therapy. On my return to the midwest USA, I had it dry mounted on pressed foam board to hang properly on my wall. A year or so later I had it framed as a birthday present to myself. 

Oh! It came alive in an even more powerful way! Hanging in my dining room, it's a constant reminder of so many healing thoughts:

  • I can be big
  • I have power
  • I have a voice
  • I have real talent
  • I can be seen and heard
  • There is more than enough room for me
  • The world is hungry for what I have to offer

And most recently:

  • I can use my big healing talented power to help others heal.
  • I WANT to use my big healing talented power to help others heal.
  • And so I created an offering called A Piece of Hope and Healing.
  • I custom paint unique pieces of hope and healing for those who are on a healing journey.
  • Here's the amazing part. I, as the paint, the painter, and the painting, give a part of my healed self with each painting I create. Which means wherever my art goes, so goes my forever nourishment. 

You can learn more about it here.

You know what revelation came to me just this morning?

It is only by acknowledging and expressing our anger that we can find our truest most integrated authentic loving self. 

Here's to self love.

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My Scary Power, My Beautiful Power

Several years ago, in my trauma recovery therapy, I was asked to repeat the words "I own my own power," I couldn't do it. I could not say the words. I did cry however, knowing there was much beneath the surface. This led to my "homework" assignment for the week: to reflect on why was I afraid to own my own power.

The truth came to me with great clarity.

Because of things that had happened in my life as a child, I believed that I was responsible for others. Specifically, I have memories of my beloved and overwhelmed mother coming into the basement where several of my preschool aged siblings and I were playing and making a mess (LIKE NORMAL KIDS DO). My mom, frustrated and without her own resources, would yell at us to clean up the mess. Then she would shout "You kids are going to put me in the hospital some day!" Confused, I didn't understand. She didn't look sick. What did she mean?

Years later, she experienced what was at the time called a nervous breakdown and was admitted to a psychiatric unit for about a month. I was seventeen by then, and it hit me with great certainty that what she had predicted had in fact happened. I had put her in the hospital with my rebellious and disrespectful behavior.

I felt SO RESPONSIBLE for what had happened. From that, I believed that my power was a dangerous thing, a scary power. If it could cast my mother into the hospital, I'd better wield it very carefully. This is why I stayed in an unhealthy marriage for over 20 years. I felt responsible for my husband's happiness, and overexerted myself in pursuit of that. I compensated, enabled, etc, all the while losing my physical and spiritual health bit by bit. My faith life, family, friends, and work kept me afloat until I understood I was not meant to live like this.

The marriage ended in 2003. But I continued to carry the subconscious burden of responsibility for a long time. Once this was out on the table, my therapist and I worked to develop a sense of true power based on love, not subconscious lies.

Things began to change.

For example, when I was living and working in Doha, Qatar in 2012, it was not uncommon to take a taxi to work. On one occasion, I sensed the tension and negative energy of my driver as he sped up and cut off another taxi driver. Shortly after, we were stopped side by side at an intersection. My driver and the other driver shouted at each other, and my anxiety skyrocketed. I calmed myself with the affirmation "I declare peace and harmony dwell in and around me." I asked my driver to please stop.

Then I caught the eye of the other driver. He looked Nepalese, and instinctively I held his glance as I pressed my hands together in Namaste, bowing to him. Looking sheepish, he returned the greeting and kept his eyes on me. I then pressed my hand to my heart for a moment, and resumed Namaste, watching him and sending thoughts of "please stop, please be peaceful." Again he responded with a bowing of his head, his hands in Namaste, and finally a kind smile. And he stopped engaging with my angry driver.

I felt my energy shift, my anxiety drop, and a sense of love fill the space around me. And I knew, I noticed, that I had just used my own power. It was and is beautiful and passionate and alive and makes a difference in the world. 

How are you using your power? Remember that you own it. Don't give it away.

Nobody can take your power away from you without your permission.

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Pura Vida!

In 2011,  I spent the month of February in the beautiful country of Costa Rica. My first three weeks dedicated to volunteering and cultural immersion in and near Cartago, I spent the final week with my roomie and new friend Sheila exploring the rest of the country.

I learned several things right off the bat:

  • The country's cultural motto is "Pura Vida!"-  literally "pure life!" and the people are very proud to proclaim this.
  • While a Spanish speaking country, the way they respond to being thanked is not the traditional Mexican phrase "de nada" - meaning "it's nothing." Rather, they say "con mucho gusto" - meaning "with great pleasure." They really take pride in this as well, as it lifts up the dialogue between people to a higher, more respectful, purer communication.
  • The country does not have an army. They choose peace, even being right next to other countries with drug war lords and rebel activity.
  • Last and certainly not least… drum roll… the water in the entire country is safe to drink! Woo hoo! How wonderful to not have to worry about this.

Oh yes, and one other thing I found quite curious. Costa Rica does not use traditional address naming conventions. Instead, they describe where a building is in relationship to other buildings or landmarks. For example, A Chamber of Tourism has the address Costado Este de la Municipalidad de Cartago, altos de Tienda Arenas. Translated, it becomes Costado East of the Municipality of Cartago, highs of Tienda Arenas. You just have to know the name of where you're going and the SatNav will take it from there. A picture being worth a thousand words, here's the address of where I was located:

I volunteered through Cross Cultural Solutions. CCS's model is to establish a local office in the country, and have that group interface with the organizations in need of assistance. Plus, they place an emphasis not just on volunteering, but cultural immersion as well, so volunteers come away with a valuable understanding of the country, its history, its language, social norms and culture. Very well organized, providing room and board in a "Home Base" safe location, and I highly recommend them. In fact, I would go on to volunteer with them for six weeks in India (their very first location) two years later.

Anyway, during my first three weeks, (weekdays), we spent the mornings at our volunteer assignments, the afternoon with free time and/or a cultural immersion activity (Spanish lessons, salsa dancing lessons, outings to natural landmarks and into San Jose, etc), evenings relaxing and/or preparing activities for our assignment the next day. 

Weekends were filled with trips to the west coast, excursions in the rain forest, relaxation at a nearby resort. Adventures included zip-lining, parasailing, and rappelling. Take a peek at where we rappelled:

Yep. We kept busy. We had fun. We worked hard. And we grew in relationship. With each other, with the local staff, and with those at our assignments.

I was assigned to help at a child day care center. From little bitty babies to 5 year olds, age appropriate programs along with eating times and play times gave structure to the morning. I helped out wherever I was needed, which might mean clamoring with the older kids through elaborate playground sets (oh my aching back!), or helping one of the teachers with class, or feeding and holding babies and younger kids. Often I would prepare a game or craft activity to fill free time. 

The first week I was a fish out of water. Unaccustomed to being around little ones, my energy quickly waned. Knowing very little Spanish, I felt inadequate. I realized how wise it was that we only volunteered half a day. No way I would have made a whole day.

The second week, I had picked up some Spanish and communicated a bit better with both the kids (¡siéntate! - sit down!) and the staff (¿Cómo puedo ayudar? - how can I help?). I learned the kids names, and they recognized me, waving with a smile, running up to hug me. I became proficient at feeding several little ones at the same time, interacting with them and making it fun. Left to their own devices they would linger, and there was a time table to be kept!

The third week, I felt at home, connected with both the kids and the staff. I took photos and videos and put them on a cd, and the kids got to watch themselves playing. They loved it. I cried the day I left, sad for me as I would miss them, sad also that the kids had to say good-bye to volunteers over and over again.

As is the tradition with CCS in Cartago, volunteers are invited to paint a message on the Home Base wall, along with a stamp of our hand. Rather than place the palm of my hand on the wall, I decided to place both hands together in the Namaste position and stamp that on the wall. Out from that grew whimsical leaves and vines and colorful flowers that reflected my experience of my time there.

In the last week, Sheila and I headed to the east coast, which, though officially Caribbean, tends to be more stormy and rainy. This did not dampen our spirits, and we enjoyed body surfing in six foot waves. Heading back west, we spent a few days near Arenal Fortuna, the active volcano, and experienced a local naturally hot (as in heated by the volcano) water park. Even the water in the pool at our hotel was hot… little did I know that I was experiencing a foretaste of middle east waters.

  Arenal Volcano, as seen from our hotel room

Arenal Volcano, as seen from our hotel room

Wrapping up our last night in San Jose, we headed north to the USA the following morning, me in first class, Sheila back in economy. (I had originally booked for three weeks, then extended to the fourth. And lo and behold a first class ticket was not much more than what I'd have to pay simply to change my travel date. Cool!). 

An amazing month behind me, our flight not yet taking off, I reflected on my blessings. Once in the air, I sent one of my five (they were quite small) mimosas back to Sheila, and took a photo of my breakfast to show her later. I ate every last bite. The movie The King's Speech was played for us. I felt like the luckiest woman on earth.

I hold the  the team at CCS and teachers (I still follow some of them on Facebook) of Shaday school in my heart and thoughts. And the kids, realizing the most of them have grown to school age, new ones taking their place. Peace and Pure Vida to you all. 

After my return home, my experience in Costa Rica would find expression in my painting "Costa Rica Beach" which hangs beautifully framed where I can see it in my kitchen, drawing me and others into its energy and beauty. It's a composite of several east coast experiences: one a three hour walk along the beach, two, the waves crashing against the rocks another day, and three the amazing sky on yet another day. This painting is my constant reminder of my time in that beautiful country., and brings me joy every time I look at it.

 Costa Rica Beach

Costa Rica Beach

Your can find prints and notecards of this beautiful painting for sale on my website store.

And consider international volunteering as a way to get out and explore other cultures. Good for your soul, good for the world.

Pura Vida!

 

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go slow: woman on a journey

Since July 2010, I have been drawing mandalas as a way to express my inner emotions. This has been in the context of ongoing trauma recovery therapy and healing and is explained in more detail here. Today, I share my experiences and photos of the various exhibits, because this is part of fulfilling my mission and vision to nourish the world with what nourishes me. 

An important concept to understand about the exhibit is that the title - "go slow: woman on a journey" is also meant to guide the visitor's approach to the exhibit. Go slow. (Ok, slowly is grammatically correct, but slow it is, because that's what came from my heart). This exhibit is a journey through time and a journey into my story. And if you go slow enough, it can be a journey into your story. For that reason, it is important to design a journey like path rather than a straight line of mandalas. The very act of taking steps around the corner to see what's next evokes reflection and journey-making.

My first exhibit was part of the KC Crossroads First Friday in June 2015 - one year to the date I registered my new business with the state of Kansas - and contained 12 mandalas mounted on tall angled white boards. I promoted the event with Facebook posts and rack cards distributed to local businesses. The exhibit was on the fourth floor of a historic building, and people coming in were saying that they were told, on the way up, by people on the way down, to keep going, that it was worth it. Later, I was told repeatedly by friends and visitors they were really affected by the images and the associated commentary. One man in particular told me that "Release" (below) touched his heart in a way it had not been touched in a long time. He ended up over time ordering two print reproductions, proclaiming on receipt of them that they looked just like he remembered and they still had the power to touch his heart. How gratifying! How very very gratifying. I even played with the notion that I am worth climbing four flights of stairs. Wow.

Release

My second exhibit was June 14th through July 9th 2016 at Images Art Gallery, where I am a member, as part of my being a featured artist for the month. This meant that my artwork displayed prominently at the front of the gallery. My paintings, prints and notecards filled the wall and window space, and "go slow: woman on a journey" occupied free standing space adjacent to that. Discovery and Uncovery were mounted on black angled grid panels, and Recovery on additional wall space. I was able to double the number of mandalas included in the exhibit from the previous year, which was a real blessing. I promoted the exhibit primarily through my Abundance Art Instagram and Facebook accounts and purchasing posts on HerLife Magazine. As well, this year I provided two new components: a printed introduction to the exhibit, as well as a means for visitors to order prints at the gallery. People took advantage of both. I also made myself present on several occasions to talk with visitors. One woman told me she totally "got it" and went on to say that she too was a trauma survivor. I think it felt good for both of us to be understood and be reminded that we are not alone.

From July 12th through July 22th, my third exhibit, really a continuation of the second, showed at Images Art Gallery. I very much appreciated the board's approval for this unprecedented extension, our hope being that it would bring additional visibility to the gallery, The exhibit was redesigned and mounted entirely on angled black grid panels. The journey through Discovery, Uncovery and Recovery involves walking back and forth around the panels, in a style similar to 2015.

As part of promoting this exhibit I purchased an eblast ad from HerLife Magazine, and as a member of InterUrbanArtHouse I submitted a feature for inclusion in their July newsletter. 

Unfortunately, long story short, the exhibit had to be taken down urgently due to ceiling leak issues. Like life, our journeys don't go how we plan them. Thankfully no damaged occurred, and the mandalas and panels are safely packaged and stored for their next outing. In the meantime, you can still visit the exhibit here on my website.

So that's the story of the exhibit that grew from pain and hope come together, sparked by an inspired title long before it became a reality, and mixed with lots of love and support and healing. May each of you find inspiration and encouragement for your own life journeys.

How curious and delightful that my mandala exhibit began on a tiled floor mandala.

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