1. Listen to my heart more & my brain less.
2. Give myself unconditional love & acceptance.
3. Say “Yes!” to the Universe.
1. Listen to my heart more & my brain less.
2. Give myself unconditional love & acceptance.
3. Say “Yes!” to the Universe.
It started as a dream. No, it started with an escalating restlessness, an adult version of “growing pains”; then came the dream…
I went up to the counter to buy a snake. The salesperson grabbed a large one, as wide around as my forearm & shoved it into a white plastic shopping bag. This took considerable effort as the snake coiled tightly around her arm, struggling against its confinement. I reluctantly took it & held the bag against my body as I walked to the car, the entire time thinking, “I just wanted a cute little garden variety snake, why am I bringing home this 6-8 foot long powerhouse that could strangle me or even eat my dogs?! They scare the hell out of me. Why am I doing this?” I felt both the weight of that snake as I walked & it’s restless movement inside.
I set the bag on the passenger car seat and stood there staring at it in amazement; the bag wasn’t even tied shut! I could see the snake’s head, the size of my open palm only narrower. Again, the doubts banged around in my brain like a ball in an old-fashioned pinball game. “I don’t have a tank and I wouldn’t want to give it a life trapped in a tank anyway. Snakes should be free to slither & roam. I don’t want to confine it. What am I thinking?”
As it writhed & heaved inside the bag, I decided the only thing to do was take it back to the store. Quickly, I snatched the open top of the bag, holding it at arm’s length away as I ran. As I handed the bag back to the salesperson, the snake lunged out of the bag with all its power. It stayed stiff the way my arm would if I pushed it out straight from my body, parallel to the ground. Here was the snake, half out of the bag– straight & strong– and half coiled in the bag, ready to push out at any moment.
I pushed the bag forward, in a way trying to contain the snake & trap it inside. It didn’t work. I knew then that this was not something to play with. Holding this snake humbled me. I should not have this if I don’t know how to take care of it & dare I say, “control” it. I felt remorseful because I know I take very good care of animals. I just didn’t think I could manage this.
I’ve been studying the work of Robert Moss, founder of Active Dreaming, and he suggests giving a dream a title upon waking, for the title is often a clue as to its meaning. I woke with the words “Kundalini Rising” in my head. I know what kundalini energy is (Shakti energy, the divine source of all energy, the Holy Spirit within) and I know the snake is a symbol of it. But what is “kundalini rising”? The term was vaguely familiar but I had to do a little research.
When interpreting a dream,various meanings may come to mind but you’ll know when it’s the true meaning by the way it stirs your soul. Honestly, it will just feel right. The description on kundalinicare.com resonated deeply within me. “… some form of sensitivity and yearning and a talent or quality that stands out to some degree. Such an individual is more aware of the subtle aspects of life and is unsatisfied enough to seek more from life. This may develop into an intense longing that urges the individual to find purpose, meaning, and spiritual life, if they are not unduly distracted into less satisfying temporary substitutes in the mean time.”
At this stage in my life, I recognize what’s happening. I am going through growing pains of a sort. I can either rebel against it, fighting change every step of the way (a technique I’ve tried with immense failure over the years) or I can honor it & go with the flow. Change is inevitable. In fact, I desire change right now so I need to embrace it. And more importantly, not get distracted by trivial concerns. Be still. Listen. And worst of all… BE PATIENT.
These feelings and the accompanying messages in my dreams & awake life signal a time of important growth. The snake represents my energy and as my boyfriend pointed out, even though I tried to contain it, the snake got out. Kundalini energy was released. This is a true calling. When dreams like this occur or when you experience coincidences (which are, by the way, NOT an accident but synchronicity at work), you must honor them and work with what’s happening as its for your highest good anyway. Notice I say “you” but actually mean “me”, too. I’m learning all of this by trial and error.
I’ve finally learned that an important aspect of profound change is saying “Yes” to new opportunities as they arise. We may know we are on a path but none of us can predict exactly where that path may lead. It’s our job to stay open to possibilities and accept whatever happens as necessary for our individual evolution.
“Refill the Well” was the focus of the 2nd Red Tent Event that I held in York Pennsylvania this past June. Women, across several generations, came together to experience techniques & share their wisdom regarding ways to take care of ourselves so we have more to give– refilling our wells. I believe that nourishing & nurturing ourselves isn’t selfish or self-centered; it’s self-preservation.
Each Red Tent Event that I host strives to be a balance between quiet time to reconnect with one’s highest self through meditation, journaling, or art as well as social time to connect with other women in a safe, sacred space.
Part of the social piece is a Sacred Wisdom Council. We gathered together in a circle to share our experiences on the topic of self-care, each of us walking away with at least one new idea. Among the suggestions were…
1) Visualize a sacred space within yourself. Here you can dance, connect with ancestors or other spirit guides, and tap into your own intuition.
2) Write your thoughts and feelings in a journal. For some, this daily practice is enlightening and often points the way to solutions. It also lightens the heart & spirit by putting concerns on paper rather than dwelling on them.
3) Take time to be in nature. I shared that I occasionally set “intentional” walks with my dogs. One morning, I may decide to focus on the sounds around me; another morning, I might focus on the sights in the neighborhood. This practice keeps me grounded & present. It feeds my soul.
4) Try yoga. It connects body, mind, & spirit through a variety of postures. Some find this calming while others find it energizing. All that tried it expressed it’s benefits in their lives.
5) Schedule an appointment with a Reiki practitioner. Reiki is the exchange of universal life force energy through light touch or a hands-above-the-body approach. As you can see from the picture below, I set up my Reiki table behind some red curtains so that each person could experience it for herself.
Magic happens when we stay present in the moment.
Without any prompting, women seemed moved by the moment & offered their gifts to one another. One woman gave bodywork consultations, another gave individualized yoga training, and another gave Tarot readings! The beauty of the Red Tent lies in the beauty of each woman who enters with her own unique blend of experience, wisdom, & talent. By sharing these gifts with one another, we lift each other up in loving arms of support & encouragement. Throughout the day, we were each teacher & student, safe to be our authentic selves. The cornucopia of positive energy & acceptance overflowed.
I’m looking forward to our next event in September, when the focus will be “In Celebration”, celebrating what is unique to each of us & honoring our beauty inside and out. Details can be found on this website under “Events” or on my Facebook page. Also, we are now registered on http://www.redtentmovie.com/red_tents_near_you.html .
This piece is dedicated to artists, songwriters, poets, & all others who create from a deep place within their soul.
For, I believe, creation is a sacred act performed in collaboration with the Divine force that inspires & co-creates with us.
I hope you see yourself in this portrait.
I enter the passageway, regal yet humble, confident yet scared- bare feet purposefully connecting to the cool rock beneath them. Moss cushions one footstep while jagged rocks poke savagely at the next. No right or wrong… just being.
There is drumming but no drummer. The heartbeat of the earth itself. The heartbeat of this cavernous temple.
Long skirt, bare arms- warm there, cool here. I continue to be pulled in deeper & deeper. The drumbeat-heartbeat echoes in my ears, pounding in my brain until thoughts are blessedly mute. There’s just the pounding rhythm.
Small torches give life to shadows that dance on the walls. Spirits are here. I am the priestess, the High Priestess, of this temple, standing in the power of connecting and belonging. A larger light beckons from deeper within. I walk up to the shallow copper bowl on its pedestal, coals glowing inside. Such heat blows the hair back from my face, drying my lips & eyes. I shut them both & raise my hands to either side of the bowl, moving them first closer to the heat then into the coolness before settling comfortably in the warm middle space.
I peer down into the embers, where more spirits dance. Such power- an energy that dances in me, too. What is the message? “This cannot be rushed. Demands & impatience have no place here. Look & listen.”
I genuflect, hands before my face, palms pressed together in prayer position. I touch them to my core- a place of right action, my heart- right emotion, my throat- right communication, between my eyes- right thought, and the crown of my head- right connection. This sets the intention for sacred work to take place.
Drumbeat-heartbeat no longer a sound, now a feeling.
One knee senses the small pebbles beneath, grounding me to this place and time. When ready, I rise and bow to the fire- giver of life, destroyer, and transformer. I proceed to the dark recess where torch and ember cannot reach.
Wetness… bare feet slip on rocks and hands slide along slick walls. I smell the dampness that blankets my skin and fills my nostrils. I drink with every breath.
I notice the small pots on the stony ledge and pick one up. It’s half full of russet paint, the color of dried blood. I push my finger into the warm thickness then streak the bridge of my nose and under each eye. I hold space for a still moment before I take that pot to the place where dark meets light and magic takes place. I dip a crude brush into the paint then hover above the place on the wall where I want to put the image. Wait. Keep waiting as long as I’m thinking “I want. I want.” When “I want” becomes “thy will”, place the brush on the rock and let it move. It will be what it will be.
Back- long and strong, around the haunches- muscular and determined, shoulders- curved and coiled for action, neck- supporting the regal head, and face- alive and knowing. What else? I wait for it to come. If nothing comes, I stop for stopping is all I can do. This is a collaborative piece that I can never own or dare to take credit for. My body, like my brush, is a channel.
I stand in the silence… feeling the blood course through my veins and pound in my ears. All the pounding- my heartbeat, the drumbeat, and the animal spirits stampeding on the wall. I know this is all for now and I am at peace. I return the bowl to its place on the dark shelf and I return to the light beyond the embers and the torchlight to the fiery radiance of the sun.
Sensory overload as macaws scream, monkeys screech, insects rub legs and wings, birds chirp, and the waterfall roars. I cover my ears with my hands. Too much to take in. Too many objects… too many sounds… too many scents vying for attention, rushing me all at once. I long to return to the cave, that place far removed yet more deeply connected to all that is.
This, too, is my world. Men feeding elephants. Women feeding babies. I take from the cave and bring to the village as a gift. I take from the village and bring to the cave as a gift. All of life committed to being an offering. An expression of gratitude for the light and the darkness, the noise and the silence… gratitude for all that is.
Picking blueberries in my back garden in the coolness of the morning is both a meditation & a prayer of gratitude for me. I planted the 8 bushes that line one side of my yard, nurturing them over the years so they can produce flavorful berries that nourish me, my loved ones, & the local wildlife (which I also consider my loved ones). The act of gardening is a spiritual experience, connecting me to all that is. It also allows me to quickly disconnect my overactive mind & fall into a gentle easiness that a familiar task can bring.
There is no need to analyze or worry for I know from a lifetime of experience that all I must do is pluck the plump berries that fall easily from the branch. If I have to tug at the berry to get it to fall into my pail, it’s not ready& all I gain from forcing the situation is a hard, sour berry that is unpleasant to eat. I’m finding life works in exactly the same way… if I have to force it, whatever “it” is, it’s most likely not going to work out the way I’d like it to. Yes, I must show up & invest wholeheartedly in the moment, but it’s equally important that I willingly surrender to the natural flow of things. We’ve all been there & we all know the difference between when something feels right & when something feels forced.
I have also learned that if I look at the bush from one perspective, I may think I’ve seen all there is to see, missing out on the bounty that may be tucked under some leaves or hidden around the back of the bush. Shifting my perspective allows me to see a treasure that wasn’t visible from my own narrow viewpoint. I can carry this lesson into my daily life & relationships… acknowledging that my point of view is just that– one point of view– and that there are other perspectives I can consider, opening my soul to understanding, compassion, & empathy.
There is wisdom in books, gurus, & retreat centers but there is a simple yet profound wisdom gained by being still, being present, & being authentic. This I can do in my own back garden, among the blueberry bushes.
For Summer Solstice, my friends and I are gathering to honor this special day & recommit ourselves to one another… unique blossoms that together form a garden of incredible beauty, grace, & strength. I wrote this poem to remind us of what makes us thrive.
A Blessing To Each Flower
A seed secure in the soil asks not, “What shall I be?”
It’s unique beauty comes naturally, effortlessly.
Nourished and nurtured, it grows more fully into itself
And what it is IS what it is meant to be.
The birch envies not the willow
Nor does it strive to be anything other than Birch.
Daffodil degrades not the dandelion
Nor does it mock the maple.
For all have a place in Gaia’s garden.
All are loved & accepted unconditionally.
And while each has needs that differ from another
All radiantly bloom with this blessing….
May we each have the tender care we need,
May we each be given the space to grow,
May we see our own beauty,
And may we celebrate the uniqueness in every blossom.
Earlier this month, I spoke on the subject of Making Sacred Space. The transcript is below….
We’re going on a journey this morning to explore the concept of making sacred space, as far as the outer edges of the universe & as close as your own soul. To me, making sacred space is the ability to create a holy connection between our highest selves, other beings, & all that is. I’m offering the suggestion that this holiest of ideas begins & ends with you. This is a deeply meaningful concept for me & by the end of this contemplative, participatory service- where you’ll have opportunities to meditate- I hope it will be for you, too.
Energy is all around us, going in all directions, but it’s the energy that you put out that you’ll receive back. If you set the intention & make authentic connections, any space can be sacred. Both intention & connection are equally important & completely in your power to manifest. Sacredness is a choice.
We’re going to start with our intention & open our arms for a holy hug, embracing all that is. Then, we’ll slowly close our arms to embrace the greater community… closer still to embrace our loved ones…. & closer still until we are embracing our Selves, with a capital “S”, creating the ultimate sacred space within.
On a grand scale, there are collective sacred spaces made such by the intention of those who created them AND their spiritual significance to others who experience them. These places are highly charged for generations of people feel this concentration of energy. It’s not just the physical aspect of place but the power felt there. These places include burial mounds, temples, mosques, & cathedrals.
I grew up in the Catholic tradition so for my earliest years, churches, places that housed the relics of saints, & the Vatican were considered sacred. I distinctly remember when I was 9 or 10, sitting in the pew with my family… physically present but mentally, spiritually, & emotionally cut off. The space was no longer sacred to me for although the intention of those who designed it was there, my spiritual connection to it was not. I could appreciate the stained glass, statuary, & intricate carvings… but they held no sacredness, no significance for me any longer. I learned fairly early that it’s not the space alone. It’s our emotional engagement… our relationship with it that makes it sacred.
An open mind & an open heart don’t allow for narrow views & soon, my view of the sacred expanded to include much, much more. I’ve been very privileged to travel the world for most of my life, getting familiar with other cultures & opening myself to other points of view. I’ve walked on paths around Walden pond, immersing myself in the spirituality of the transcendentalists. I’ve descended into the tombs of the pharaohs, put my hands into the cool water of the Sea of Galilee, stood in the remains of a temple to Diana on Crete, & removed my shoes before entering Al-Aqsa mosque where beautifully ornate prayer rugs covered the floor. “This mosque is sacred. That temple is sacred. And this pond is sacred, too.” How can that be? I believe it was my intention to be fully present & feel the holiness as well as my connection to each of these places- no boundaries & no limiting labels.
At this level, sacred is archetypal & collective… we agree that this building or that burial mound, even this canyon or that mountain are sacred. We join a “sacred” already established… Dome of the Rock, Stonehenge, Notre Dame. There is magic in these places & I find it nourishes my soul to visit them whenever possible for the collective energy of so many people throughout the ages sanctifies the space…relationship building… place to person, person to place, & person to person.
Navarre Scott Momaday, a Southwest American Indian writer wrote, “To encounter the sacred is to be alive at the deepest center of human existence. Sacred places are the truest definitions of the earth; they stand for the earth immediately and forever; they are its flags & shields. If you would know the earth for what it really is, learn it through its sacred places. At Devils’ Tower or Canyon de Chelly or the Cahokia Mounds, you touch the pulse of the living planet; you feel its breath upon you. You become one with a spirit that pervades geologic time & space.”
I’ve opened my heart to the Universe & see all things natural as profoundly sacred. Almost 30 years ago, I sat on a grassy mound near a field in central Pennsylvania, in silence & stillness, in that moment, learning (although it’s a lesson I need repeated periodically) that stillness & silence are a direct line to the holy. Bucks & does emerged from the woods on the far side of the field & cautiously ate… pausing to sniff the air periodically…. Could they sense my presence? Over a couple of hours, I was joined by butterflies, bees, rabbits, & birds. I laughed inwardly with joy. Eventually as the sky grew inky blue just before darkness covered us all… the bucks came leaping & playfully scuffling ever close, within just a few yards of me… We made eye contact. Then my quiet laughter gave way to enormous teardrops streaming down my cheeks & splashing on my knees as I sat motionless, part of this sacred moment. I was connected to the divine & for me, this place was… and is… divine. Each animal from deer to ant was divine, the ancient oak in the middle of that field was divine, & I felt my own Divinity in that moment.
Cathedrals, burial mounds, & temples can be agreed upon as sacred sites but how are places like Aushewitz, the 9/11 Flight 93 plane crash site in Shanksville, PA, & Pearl Harbor sacred? Are they sacred? The original intention without a doubt, was NOT sacred but have been made so…by collectively honoring those who suffered & died in these places, creating hallowed ground. I see it as a reclaiming of sorts… empowerment. There is a new 9/11 museum opening in NYC on Ground Zero. The reporter on the Today show referred to it as sacred space. Is it? Last summer, returning from a trip to Vermont, we stopped in a small town for lunch. As soon as I parked the car & got out, my breath left my body for I saw a sign hanging on a storefront that read, “Welcome to Sandy Hook. We choose love.” After losing 20 children & 6 adults to a killer with a gun in Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, the townspeople reclaimed their power, set the intention to choose love, & made their town sacred. Sacredness is a choice.
So yes, the city of Jerusalem is holy but so are the olive groves outside the old city walls. And yes, Stonehenge is sacred but so are the rolling fields dotted with grazing sheep in the surrounding countryside. And we’d probably agree that Notre Dame is sacred but I propose that sacredness can be found in a nearby café sharing a warm baguette & espresso with someone you love. It doesn’t have to be grandiose. The ordinary can be sacred if you let it be so.
Daniel Taylor wrote in In Search of Sacred Places: Looking for Wisdom on Celtic Holy Islands,“If you have been in the vicinity of the sacred—even brushed against the holy- you retain it more in your bones than in your head; & if you haven’t, no description of the experience will ever be satisfactory.”
I’ll pause for 1 minute to give you the opportunity to visualize some of your most sacred spaces-take this time to travel the world.
Let’s return to this place, this time & bring our embrace in a bit closer to consider the sacredness of community. Intention + connection = sacred space. Creating sacred space for others in our community comes easily to some, not so easily to others, sporadic for others still. It looks different for different people. A drum circle, a book discussion group, men gathering to stain bookcases, families working together in a community garden, congregants on their knees laying pavers or mosaic stones in our labyrinth nestled in the sacred space between the memorial wall & the breathtakingly beautiful beech tree. At this level, the sacredness is in our connections to those around us & in the relationships we build. We honor what we need spiritually & consider what we can bring to others to create a sacred space that is inclusive.
A lifetime ago, I was led to facilitate Bible study groups in CA & when I first arrived here, I held sacred space for gardeners & our beautiful grounds when I chaired the Garden Committee. I’ve also held space for little ones in RE over the years. Now, I’m called to focus on creativity & women’s spirituality with those who want to study dreamwork, intuition, earth-based belief systems, & goddess-worshipping cultures… go figure! I’ve taught Cakes for the Queen of Heaven & Rise Up & Call Her Name workshops, holding space for dozens of congregants & members of the community. Years later, it’s transformed into the Women’s Spirit Circle, made up of amazing, intelligent women who share the intention & make the conscious effort to hold sacred space for one another through their presence, support, & shared experiences.
And this year, I’m stepping out of my comfort zone by holding sacred space in the form of Red Tent Events. The intent is that this will be a welcoming, safe nurturing place for women to connect with other women & reconnect with their authentic Selves in significant ways. With lots of love & support from dear friends, we created a magical space for 23 participants last March & I’m hoping we have an equally positive response to the Red Tent being held on June 21st, when we’ll explore Refilling the Well- Ways We Nourish & Nurture Our Selves. Just a little plug for an event that I hope will be deeply moving for each woman.
Charles W. Chestnutt wrote “The workings of the human heart are the profoundest mystery of the universe. One moment they make us despair of our kind, and the next we see in them the reflection of the divine image.”
I know from experience how hard it is sometimes to recognize the sacredness in others, especially the ones we are closest to. I use the term “spiritual practice” to identify my spirituality because it has to be practice… practically every day. I’m both a spiritual being having a human experience & a very flawed human being having a spiritual experience. For some reason, we tolerate a lot from “them”- politicians, big business, our bosses, but we tend to take it out on the ones we are closest to- friends, family, & one another in a congregation. Why is sacredness so hard to see in others sometimes? Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Every man is a divinity in disguise, a god playing the fool.” Maybe that explains it.
I admit I cannot make the experience sacred for my Red Tent participants any more than the ministers, choir members, or greeters can make this sanctuary sacred for each of us on Sunday. Remember what I said earlier, it’s intention AND CONNECTION that makes sacred space. It’s not their responsibility, it’s just as much ours. It’s our choice to set the intention or not… it’s our choice to connect or not… it’s our choice to make this space sacred… or not. We each have to come with hearts wide open & participate fully in the making of sacred space. It’s not a one way street, it’s an exchange of energy. As someone reminded me a couple of nights ago, right when I needed a loving reminder, showing up physically is only the first step. Before I blame someone else for what I may feel is a spiritual “lack”, I need to reflect on what I’m bringing to the experience.
“Without love & compassion, nothing is sacred”, Bryant McGill wrote in Voice of Reason.
Consider your connections to the greater York community, this UU community, & your friends. Where are the sacred spaces for you? What are you doing to make sacred spaces for your Self & others? Let’s take one minute to reflect on this.
So let’s tighten that embrace, bringing the circle ever closer… holding onto those we love the most.
III. LOVED ONES Around 1998-1999, all hell broke loose in my life when I lost the extremes, the anchors of my existence, the person I could never please & the person I could never disappoint. In the eulogy to the latter, I talked about losing my home with the loss of him… my roots seemed to wither & die with my grandfather’s passing. It wasn’t about the land or the house where I spent the best days of my childhood with him & my grandmother, it was the loss of sacred space created by their unconditional love & our connection to one another.
Truth be told, I find sacred space just about anywhere & everywhere now… at a cookout laughing with a group of friends, watching the clouds from the hammock where I gently rock with napping dogs, & in the garden where my boyfriend & I pick fresh basil & tomatoes for homemade pesto before sitting at the picnic table, watching the sun blanket the barley field in a rosy glow.
When our friends silently step off the deck & walk barefoot among the gardens, I believe they have a sense of the holy & join me in feeling the sacredness of my back yard. When my niece takes a little bag & fills it with silky soft lamb’s ear, fragrant rosemary, & refreshing mint so she can smell these things hours later when she goes home… she may not articulate it but she is connecting to the sacredness of that space, where sunflower seeds are offertories to the birds & a homemade blueberry cobbler sanctifies friendships.
Sacred space is where you make it. Heart open… receive it… give it. It’s all sacred when we choose to see the Divinity all around us.
How do you make your space sacred for your Self & those you love? What makes it so? What can you do to make it more sacred? Thomas Moore wrote in Care of the Soul, “Care for our actual houses, then, however humble, is also care of the soul… Every home is a microcosm, the archetypal “world” embodied in a house or a plot of land or an apartment.” Let’s meditate on this for one minute, envisioning your intimate space & considering the sacredness there.
IV. SACRED WITHIN
So we started by radiating our holy intention to manifest the sacred out to the universe & now slowly return, back to our Selves. The most sacred space of all is within each of us, the Divine Spark… the Light of Love… soul, whatever name you give that which identifies your highest self.
Do you feel that you are sacred? This can be most difficult for some of us. Yes, we believe the earth is sacred. Yes, we see the divine in those around us. But do we see the divine within ourselves? Do you? We are each sacred… despite ourselves… because of our Selves.
How do we make the sacred space within ourselves? The good news is that you only have to recognize it– for it’s already there. There is a divine spark in you, a life force energy, kundalini… we each have it. It’s not about creating sacred space; it’s about acknowledging the divine spark & turning it into a flame.
How do we nurture that sacred space within & deepen our connection to it? I’ve thought of 5 practices that I can consider when I need to nourish my own sense of sacredness.
In my Reiki practice, for example, I hold sacred space for my client, myself, & the life force energy that connects us both. If the client remains open to it & is fully invested in the experience, it goes beyond physical, and even the energetic, entering the realm of the spiritual.
Donna Davis wrote, “Open your eyes to the beauty around you; open your mind to the wonders of life; open your heart to those who love you, & always be true to yourself.”
May it be so & blessed be.
The other evening, I had a few moments to sit in a lawn chair in my back yard, soaking up the scenery & listening to the birds. At one point, I looked down at the arm of my chair & saw a delicate little insect with an iridescent green body & transparent wings. It stayed only a second & was gone. If I hadn’t looked down at just that moment, I would have missed it entirely.
That’s when it suddenly dawned on me that it’s been a while since I just stopped & participated in nature fully. I don’t mean glancing up at the sky as I run between my car & the grocery store nor do I mean staring out at the trees as I walk down the hall at work. I mean sitting in stillness & silence IN nature…. feet on the earth, breeze on the face, & sun on the skin.
Participating. Being present.
When the realization hit me that I’ve been too busy to connect, I took a cue from people who keep track of expenses so they can see where their money goes, and kept track of where my time goes. I listed every group, committee, class, & work obligation. I even listed my boyfriend, dogs, & housework. I wanted to see it all in black & white. Am I focusing on what I love or have I gotten distracted by other things? The answer, I’m ashamed to say, is that I got distracted by other things. And what’s worse, I make the little things the priority & pushed what mattered to the back burner. Can anyone out there relate? It was quite a wake-up call for me.
I admit it; I’m an overachiever. I’m a woman who says “Yes” and “Sure, I’d love to” without thinking about the time commitment because I like to be helpful & do things I know I’m skilled to do. We all want to make a difference & feel important. Right?
But here’s the reality check– I can’t do anything well when I’m doing too much. The amount of time I need to fulfill all my obligations is greater than the time I have in a given week. And what’s worse, there is zero time for things like “fun” and “relaxation”. I cannot do it all. So it’s time to do 2 things…
Set priorities & establish boundaries.
I put the items on my list in order from most important to least important. Then, I considered how to scale back. For some things, it’s easy. An on-line class ends at the end of the month & an art class ends in early June. I just won’t take any more classes for a while. For other things, it’s a little more difficult. I have to resign from a couple of committees. I hate to do that but I know that I cannot give my best when I’ve stretched myself so thinly. Instead, I’ll give the few things that truly matter more of my energy & thereby, make a greater contribution than I am now. I’m going to keep scaling back until I can take a deep breath & not feel like I’m wearing a corset!
Establishing boundaries may prove to be a bit more challenging for it means I have to look someone in the eye and say “No. I’d love to help you but no. I can’t fit anything else in my schedule at this time.”
Some people are masters at multi-tasking. I’m not one of them. I prefer focusing on one thing at a time & giving it my best.
Some people can run from one task to another, eating their dinner on their lap while they are driving. I don’t want that to be my experience. It’s too stressful. Plus, I can only eat so many french fries & still fit into my jeans!
I want to have a quality life- balancing the giving & the receiving. I want to support the causes I care about but I also want to support my own health & well-being. I need time to watch the insects crawling on my lawn chair.
If it feels like you’re doing too much, YOU ARE.
List your priorities.
Start saying no.
There are countless takes on the phrase “Keep Calm & Carry On” but there is an alternative that I saw on a magnet… “Let go or be dragged.” If it no longer serves your highest good, stop doing it. Make space for what matters most. Give as much as you want but remember you have to give to your Self, too. It’s not selfish… it’s self-preservation.
Occasionally, I find amazing little treasures at flea markets or antique stores– tired, chipped, battered pieces that call out to be restored to their former glory or given a new makeover. No one wants to be stuck in a corner of a shop, collecting dust… everyone longs to be in a home with someone who appreciates their value.
As I decorated this table, I imagined it supporting a cup of tea for a woman reading tales of queens, knights, & trusty white steeds. I imagined it in a very bohemian house where someone meditates serenely, incense floating on the air. I imagined it in a little girl’s room, holding a small lamp & collection of treasured objects. I imagined it being useful & enjoyed once again.
Inspired by illuminated manuscripts, I refurbished this table with jewel tones– amethyst, emerald, & gold. All the papers, fabric, & paints combine to put the FUN back into function.
Until it gets its forever home, this table is the perfect height for my coffee mug, journal, & fountain pen. Treasured once again.
On March 15th, twenty-three culturally-diverse women, representing every decade of life from their teens to their seventies, honored the call from deep within themselves to gather in York, Pennsylvania’s first Red Tent. Coming from as far away as Philadelphia, these women gave themselves the gift of time– time to connect with other women & precious time to reconnect with their authentic Selves in a safe, nurturing space.
The actual Red Tent event only lasted a few short hours but the vortex of positive energy it created affects me on a profound level to this day. Responses from many of the women, through an on-line survey I sent out after the event, show that it was powerful, provocative, & nourishing.
After leading women’s groups for years using curricula such as Cakes for the Queen of Heaven & Rise Up & Call Her Name, I’ve since created my own workshops for both women & men under the name Pure You: Awaken Your Authentic Selves. As I researched topics that I thought would stimulate thought & discussion in a women’s spirit circle, I came across the film, Things We Don’t Talk About: Women’s Stories from the Red Tent. This documentary by Isadora Gabrielle Leidenfrost records the grassroots movement of Red Tents popping up all over the country. “A Red Tent is a red textile space where women gather to rest, renew, & often share deep & powerful stories about their lives.” It sounded exactly like what I wanted for the group. I watched the movie at home several times, secretly wishing for a Red Tent in my community, before sharing both the movie & the vision with others.
One evening last fall, I offered a “Red Tent movie night” with a discussion to follow. So many women wanted to attend that I had to offer it twice! Both times, the most popular question asked was, “When are we going to have a Red Tent here?” That confirmed what I had been thinking. The time was ripe to join the movement that was fast becoming an international phenomenon.
There’s a saying that if no one presents you with an opportunity, you have to create your own. Despite being in uncharted territory & having a healthy dose of fear, I created the opportunity that I wanted all of us to share.
My vision was to provide a safe, nurturing environment where women could find what they need to rejuvenate body, mind, & spirit. I wanted to create a place where they could be in the company of like-minded women, reconnect with their higher selves, & disconnect from the outside world for just a few hours. No demands, no obligations, no expectations. After organizing the overall format for the day, I stepped back & let it be what it needed to be.
As facilitator & host, I took my cue from a phrase often heard in education, “Better to be the guide on the side than the sage on the stage.” This was OUR Red Tent not MY tent.
From the day I committed to organizing this event, I had to consciously maintain a healthy balance between the logistics required to plan such an event & the sacred intention that would make this more than “just another women’s group”. I had high expectations for myself & the Tent.
When I prepare for my Pure You spiritually-centered events, creativity workshops, & circle groups, I like to plan the structure (agenda) while recognizing the need for fluidity. I envision a membrane freely breathing in & out, a living organism that moves the spirit as opposed to rigid schedules that shackle the soul. The right amount of structure supports; it doesn’t stifle.
Synchronicity is when the universe hears your prayers & answers them in mystical, mysterious ways. I never could have organized this Red Tent event without the many kindred spirits who offered their support. The space was graciously loaned to us by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York & its staff helped promote the event. Wonderfully artistic women helped create the space & several men offered their appreciation for what we were doing for their wives & girlfriends. (Eventually, I would like to do more for their daughters as well.) You know you are on the right track when doors open & someone is there to meet you on the other side. I am humbled & grateful beyond words.
I deliberately scheduled the first Red Tent to coincide with the Vernal Equinox, a time rich with symbols of new beginnings. It seemed the perfect time to start a new event for the community. Thanks to the feedback generously offered by many of the women, I have a better understanding of what they enjoyed about this event & what they would like to see different for the next one.
While many Red Tents don’t have a “theme”, ours did. I chose “Embracing Change” because so many women expressed that they were in periods of transition– new babies, empty nest syndrome, caring for aging parents, & facing choices as they start new chapters of their lives after retirement. Someone once said, “The only constant in life is change.” By sitting in sacred council with one another, more of us clearly saw that what we were experiencing was not new & that we had sisters in our midst who had gone before & had wisdom to share. We ALL had wisdom to share.
Raw emotions can appear & old wounds can reopen when women gather in a safe space & share their stories. I made it clear in the beginning that while we are here to listen & support one another, this is not an event that can take the place of talking to a professional. I had a small table near the exit for business cards, brochures, & emergency numbers of resources available to women in our city. Whenever I lead a group for spiritual or creative exploration, I take my responsibility for the women’s health & we;ll-being seriously, preparing as much as possible for the unexpected.
Yes, I created a sacred space for women to gather in community with one another but it was the women who created the magic.
I look forward to our June 21st Red Tent Event where our focus will be “Refilling The Well: Ways To Nurture & Nourish Your Self”.
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