Going With My Flow

I rested.  I reflected.  I reevaluated what mattered most to me.  I released what no longer served me (as much as I could, knowing I’m ready and willing to release even more).

These last several months have been a time of great introspection for me because I feel the familiar pull of a place further down the river of my life and know the best thing to do is to stop, listen, and wait to find out what is beckoning to me.  Am I being called to action or am I being called to prepare in other ways first?  Do something or just “be”?

I check in with my Self- signals from my body, mind, spirit, and soul.  I listen to my intuition– my inner wisdom.  What am I supposed to be doing right now?  When I’m unsure, the best thing to do is be still.  So, I’ve been still for a while.  No blog posts.  No committee meetings.  No activities that I’m not completely passionate about.  Doing my best to have inner quiet and stillness while I outwardly continue the hurried pace of living, finding peace amidst the chaos to some extent.

I’ve bobbed in the Dead Sea and know how serene it feels to let go.  It’s a profoundly simply yet powerful way to fully experience the concept of “surrender”, feeling completely supported and safe, warmly embraced by the water.

The cliche, “Go with the flow”, springs to mind, bringing a bit of anxiety to this woman who likes to know where she’s going at all times.  What flow?  To where?  With whom?  So I coined the phrase, “Go with My Flow”, recognizing that we are at different stages of our journeys and that “one size does not fit all”.  Your flow is different from mine.  I might choose a chubby inner tube bobbing lazily down the river of life while you strap on your helmet and buckle your lifejacket, ready to brave the whitewater of your life. Or maybe it’s the other way around, I’m plunging down a foaming waterfall while you are wading knee-deep in the safety of the shoreline.  It doesn’t matter.

We each have to go with our own flow.

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Listening to Intuition

I’ve been craving space, knowing that life, like the earth, has seasons.  Autumn is ending and the last of the crops have been gathered before a period of rest.  It’s getting dark earlier.  Snow will most likely fall tomorrow and there is little else to do outside.  So I eagerly anticipate winter for it symbolizes the winter in the cycle of my life – a time when I can go more deeply within, rest, wait, emerge transformed.  I honor these cycles and learn from them.

I was overdoing it.  The perfectionist in me loved the committees, obligations, and productivity that I had over the last couple of years.  The authentic me, buried beneath the to-do lists, longed to step into the light and just BE.  As my commitments came to an end, I refused to “fill the void” with yet more committees and obligations.  Instead, I chose to sit in the growing space and settle in.  A little space felt good and more space felt even better.  I respected what I was feeling and stretched out my arms, embracing the mystery.  I don’t need to “be” anything other that me.

I have to warn you.  If you are brave enough to try this, some people won’t understand.  They have expectations for you.  They remember the old you and want you to stay that way, for if you reveal your authentic self and come from a place of inner knowing, they have to take closer looks at themselves, too.  Not every one is comfortable with change.  Be okay with that.  And be okay with the fact that some relationships will fall away to make way for relationships that align with who you are, NOT with who you were.

I also have to warn you that like-minded people will suddenly surround you.  Kindred spirits will respond favorably to the change and affirm your decision to be YOU, for they have traveled similar paths.  You’ll be amazed at who appears in your life and the new opportunities that come with your growing authenticity.

This has been my experience over the last few months.  I love the way it feels yet acknowledge a part of me that is uncomfortable with the growing space… that perfectionist who adamantly says, “I should be doing more.”  “I should say yes to all the things people want me to do.”  “It’s selfish to self-nurture.”  Right?  Wrong!!  That’s just fear and insecurity calling out in desperation to be recognized.  That’s the voice I listened to in the past.  But I want something more for myself so I ignore that desire to please and produce and continue to sit in the space I’m creating and nurture myself.

So I’ve stopped saying yes to every request for my time & energy.  I’m only saying yes to things that stir my soul and energize me.  To get back to my nature analogy, the earth goes through periods of birth, death, and rebirth.  So do we.  Some call them “chapters” of their lives.  Some say they are “entering a new phase”.  Whatever you call it, honor it.  Surrender and see where it leads.

My period of rest has given me the time to get to know my true self- Pure Susan.  I like where I am going and I like who I am traveling the road with.

I’ll be exploring this & other related topics in my next several blogs.  How do we create space?  How do we say no to energy-suckers?  When opportunities to fill the space come along, how do we know which will nourish and which will drain?  How profoundly can life change when we say “Yes!” to what stirs our souls?

I can’t shed everything that no longer serves (yet) but by shedding what I can, I create a sacred space for my authentic self to grow and reach for the sunlight of all possibilities.

 

 

Monks Walking: collage on paper

I took a chance with this one, stepping outside my comfort zone to explore new techniques & a freer style of painting.  I have to admit that I’m pleasantly surprised.  Not all of my experiments go well- that’s what makes them so exciting.  But when they do, it makes up for the many that don’t.  Besides, is any experiment ever a failure?  Or, is the failure in not taking the risk in the first place?

Monks Walking is an original collage- acrylic paint & bits of magazine images on 18 inch by 24 inch mixed media paper.

Monks Walking gently reminds me to be present & mindful.

Monks Walking is an original collage on 18 inch by 24 inch mixed media paper.  If you look closely, left of center is a small section of the magazine picture that inspired my piece.  I love the bold colors, strong natural sunlight, and exotic architecture in the photo- so I used similar colors and painted enlarged versions of the patterns and motifs with loose brushstrokes, creating a piece both strong and contemplative.

Notice the intent focus of the Buddhist monks on their simple act of walking, reminding each of us to focus on the present moment and be mindful of every step we take.

Visit my shop on Etsy to view the art I currently have for sale.  www.etsy.com/shop/PureSusan

Use It Or Lose It

I have a confession to make….my comfortable fall-back position is to look outside myself for guidance when I’m in a period of turmoil, whether it be job concerns, relationship issues, or spiritual questioning.  I grab the nearest self-help books, take the workshops, & listen to all the audio-recordings from motivational speakers & gurus that I can find.  Someone “out there” must be able to help me.  Right?  Not necessarily.

Here’s the bottom line.  All of those are wonderful resources BUT…. if I don’t internalize the lessons & APPLY them to my life, none of them will work.  Would I expect to get benefits from a piece of exercise equipment I never use?  Would I become a better artist if I never picked up my brush to paint?

I’ve learned to ….USE IT OR LOSE IT

Here is a short list of useful strategies I have in place to center myself- tools that both nourish & nurture me.

  1. Meditate
  2. Journal write
  3. Create art
  4. Work in my garden
  5. Go for a walk
  6. Connect with nature
  7. Pray
  8. Listen to music
  9. Spend time with those I love
  10. Read
  11. Take time to be alone
  12. Get a massage
  13. Give or receive a Reiki session
  14. Take a power nap
  15. Rattle or drum to change the energy around me
  16. Use positive affirmations
  17. Hold a smooth stone & get grounded again
  18. Play with the dogs
  19. Focus on the many gifts & blessings in my life

I have a great many tools in my “self-care” toolbox but it’s up to me… and only me… to use them when I need them.

 

 

Things We Don’t Talk About screening

I’m extremely honored to be co-hosting Things We Don’t Talk About: Women’s Stories from the Red Tent with the award-winning filmmaker, Dr. Isadora Gabrielle Leidenfrost in October.  I’ve seen this ground-breaking film several times and cannot wait to share it with both the women & men in my community.

Things We Don't Talk About screening comes to York PA

Things We Don’t Talk About screening comes to York PA

Dr. Leidenfrost created this amazing documentary to chronicle the Red Tent movement that was sweeping the United States at the time she was filming.  Just 2 short years after it’s release, the Red Tent movement is now a worldwide phenomenon.  (On a personal note, it’s this movie that inspired me to start a tent in York PA.)

I’m thrilled that men are welcome to the screening, not just because they’ve been curious about what goes on inside the tent but also because they have mothers, sisters, daughters, girlfriends, and wives.  What impacts women impacts men and they need to be welcomed in the conversation about how we nourish each other and care for ourselves in a sacred space.  Though they cannot stay for the Red Tent celebration after the screening, the men will get a picture of what women do once the flap closes and we are sitting in sisterhood.  Briefly put, the Red Tent movement allows women a safe place to share their stories, nurture themselves, hear the wisdom of others, & honor the divine within.

While I’ve written about the Red Tent movement & my role in it before, this screening with Dr. Leidenfrost takes it to a whole new level.  May women and men find the experience profoundly moving and inspirational!

Portrait of an Artist

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.

Wisdom from My Garden: Meditation on a Blueberry Bush

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.

Blueberry Bounty

Blueberry Bounty

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.

A Blessing To Each Flower

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.

Red Tent Reality

York PA's first Red Tent Event on March 15, 2014

The first Red Tent Event comes to York Pennsylvania

 

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.

The space was transformed from the ceiling to the floor.

The space was transformed into an exotic locale in the middle of the city.

 

INSPIRATION

 

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.

The Sacred Wisdom Circle where women could gather & share in a large group.

The Sacred Wisdom Circle where women could gather & share in a large group.

 

 

VISION

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.

Creative Space:  materials were provided so women could explore themselves through art or writing.

Creative Space: materials were provided so women could explore themselves through art and writing.

 

A space set aside for intimate conversation away from the larger Wisdom Circle.

A space set aside for intimate conversation away from the larger Wisdom Circle.

BALANCE

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.

Exotic accessories, my artwork, & images of the Divine Feminine filled the space with an energy that honors women.

Exotic accessories, my original artwork, & images of the Divine Feminine filled the space with an energy that honors all women everywhere.  Chocolate wrapped in silver foil glittered here & there because… well… because chocolate is always a good thing to include in a women’s gathering 🙂

 

SYNCHRONICITY

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.

 

The collage honors women of all ages & cultures.

The collage honors women of all ages & cultures.

 

Each woman lit her flame & put it on the altar to join the flames of everyone else in the Tent.

Each woman lit her flame & put it on the altar to join the flames of everyone else in the Tent.

 

REFLECTION

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”.