The Season of Advent

I was raised Catholic. Actually, I usually say I was raised VERY Catholic. In my entire life from birth to 18, I can remember missing Mass twice (including Holy days.)

Once because we were snowed in. Once because the whole family was sick. Both times we celebrated the entire Mass at home, with my mom playing the role of priest.* *Rebellious, since Catholics still don’t allow women to be priests.

Anyway. Even as a youngster, I didn’t love Mass. From time to time there would be an interesting sermon. Occasionally, the Mass would be geared for kids. But the rest was just ritual … all the standing up, sitting down, recitation of prayers in a monotonous tone of voice, only men in the positions of power … it just wasn’t for me. Except. I always loved the season of Advent.

Halberg Family photo
Family Christmas photo circa 1977 (one sibling still unborn)

Advent is a season observed in many Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. My love of Advent was probably because anticipation is a big part of my essence frequency, possibly because the anticipation of Christmas to every American kid means much more than a simple celebration of the birth of Christ, most likely because this was the one time of year where a woman was a regular and integral part of the Biblical story, but also largely due to the sudden eruption of fun family festivities in my household.

To say that my family was into Advent is an understatement. There were six of us kids, 14 years apart from first to last. We gathered around the dinner table all year round, but during Advent, the Advent wreath became part of our dinner-time tradition. An Advent wreath is a wreath of evergreen foliage in which four candles are set, one more to be lit on each Sunday of Advent. In our family, we rotated through the designated prayer leader, the one who led us in prayer before dinner, and that person also got to light the candle(s) before dinner each night,  blow them out at the end of dinner, (or take bribes from siblings for the privilege) and choose and read the Bible story before we left the table.

Every morning, we began by attending to our Advent calendars. Most Advent calendars are standard two dimensional calendars containing small numbered flaps, one of which is opened on each day of Advent, typically to reveal a picture appropriate to the season. We had to have six advent calendars to rotate through, with a schedule kept by mom so that we wouldn’t fight over whose turn it was to open which one. Four of our Advent calendars were the typical calendar as described above. These were not very exciting especially since they were often recycled from years before, except that they marked down the days until Christmas, and sometimes the pictures inside were of presents or cute kittens and puppies, or angels and the like.

Swedish Christmas Tree
A Swedish Christmas Tree

Another was a three dimensional Swedish Christmas tree, made of dowels, and we got to choose an ornament and hang it on the tree. (Moderately exciting, see photo.)

But our favorite, and the one we would fight over for turns if my mom didn’t keep us all so organized, was a homemade embroidered tapestry with a Christmas tree and elves and 24 numbered rings that held tiny written scrolls with various assignments per my mom’s creativity. (See photo below.)

Creative Advent calendar
Mom’s Advent Calendar

Because this Advent calendar was the one that my mom imbued with her own creativity, each year was a little different. Some years you’d get a scavenger hunt clue to go find a small gift (usually a Bible story book which you would then get to read on your turn to be prayer leader at dinner.) Other years you’d pull a scroll that told you to help your sister with the dishes, or write a nice letter to an elderly friend or relative, or clean the bathroom for a sibling.

My mom still pulls out this advent calendar every year, and her grand kids are now the beneficiaries of her creativity. Fortunately for them, the only ones with large numbers of siblings live in California, and don’t get stuck with those awful “help your sibling” scribes.

The other fun things about the Advent season were that the Christmas records came out of storage, we all went hiking up in the woods to find and cut down the “best Christmas tree ever”, decorated the tree as a family, and the Christmas creche went on display. And then there were the school concerts, Santa pictures, Christmas shopping, and the whole season of anticipation for Christmas day.

I tell you the story of our family Advent traditions to set the stage for why the season of Advent is still important to me today, even though I don’t follow many of the other Catholic customs. For me, the season of Advent (although I do still celebrate reason for the season, even if my beliefs are more aligned with my personal spirituality than traditional Catholic or Christian dogma) is also a time to prepare for the rebirth of a whole New Year. No matter what has happened throughout the 12 months of the year we’re in, I love the ceremony in anticipation of a fresh slate, an opportunity to make my mark on a brand new year.

Furthermore, I believe that ceremony is an important part of spiritual growth, regardless of whether you consider yourself to be traditionally religious or simply secular.

In her latest book, The Book of Ceremony, Sandra Ingerman says that ceremony brings the sacred into ordinary life. In other words, it opens a phone line between you and the power of the Universe, whether you call that God, Goddess, Creator, Great Spirit, Yahweh, Holy Spirit, or The Universe. By bringing ceremony into our life, we reconnect with the sacred as well as to life and nature. Ceremonies can help us unburden ourselves from past hurts, traumas, and self-sabotaging beliefs, moving us into a place where we feel a deeper connection to ourselves, to others, to nature, to life, and to why we are here.

This year I am offering a 25 day Kindness Challenge during the season of Advent. My goal is to offer a secular practice in the spirit of Advent, one that prepares you for new growth in the coming year, and one that is aligned with the kind spirit of the holiday season.

Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

I don’t know about you, but I prefer the second option, and kindness helps to create a field that supports miracles.

The holiday season can be stressful for many, and when we’re stressed, we quickly escalate into fight / flight / freeze / faint and by definition get too caught up in our own head as we try to navigate our personal holiday challenges. 

When we participate in ceremonies, we transform the negative thoughts and states of consciousness that are burdening us. Ceremony impacts us deeply on a subconscious level, creating positive change. Science shows that performing acts of kindness –to yourself or to others– reduces the effects of stress, improves your mood, boosts your immunity, spreads exponentially to at least three degrees, increases confidence, boosts energy, and is an excellent tool to overcome social anxiety. What better way to bring in the New Year?

Click this link to join my Kindness Challenge, and imagine that each daily message is in the form of a scroll on my mom’s Advent calendar, leading you to focus on and practice kindness: to yourself, to others, to Nature and the Divine.

And I promise I won’t make you clean the bathroom for a sibling,

I hope to see you on the other side.

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On Death and Grieving and Supporting Another

Navigating your own grief is challenging, no question about it. In theory, the five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, are a part of the framework originally proposed by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, while writing about coming to terms with one’s own death. These five stages have since been used as a helpful framework for anyone in grief.

In my own experience, just as difficult –if not more difficult– than navigating your own grief is navigating grief as a couple.

Note from the Universe 07.11.17
Us:February 2017

Between my partner and I, we’ve lost four people we care about in the past 7 months. In order: my aunt, his dad, my dad, and most recently his grandmother, (just this past weekend) who was also a mother figure to him.

We’ve been further challenged by our self employment. There is no such thing as “time off with pay” when you are sole proprietors. And we’re also navigating a reconciliation period from last year’s 8 month separation while he fished in Alaska.

It’s difficult to balance your needs with your partner’s needs during the everydayness of a relationship, but add grief and extra challenges and this balance becomes even more difficult.

For one thing, the stages of grief have been proven to not be linear stages. You can dance back and forth between depression and acceptance for months if not years. And of course, you are unlikely to be in the same stage at the same time. So when one partner is moving on, the other might be depressed, which creates tension and feeling a need to tiptoe around one another which feels inauthentic.  Also, with multiple deaths in a short time frame, there is almost a sense of rivalry (comparison for sure) at who is grieving the most and when and why, and whose funeral was the best, and how we honored the lives of those we lost. This is ridiculous of course, but human emotions are not always rational, even in the best of times.

Other questions come up:

  • How can I support my partner without losing sight of my own boundaries and needs?
  • How do I deal with my anger and impatience when I don’t feel like being understanding and patient right now?
  • How can I best help my partner process his / her grief while still honoring my own process and continuing to move forward with my own life?

Of course, being me, I hold myself to a high standard and expect to do more than just muddle through. I am still learning to be gentle with myself and accept that I have to take care of myself first in order to be there for my loved ones.

My most relied-upon tools are the same ones I teach my clients.

  1. HeartMath(R) –to transform the negative and draining energy into positive.
  2. Walks in Nature –to bask in a sense of awe and wonder.
  3. Creative Expression –to help process the emotions
  4. A reliance on Spirit –to help when it gets too tough.

But unexpected encouragement that shows up in your inbox is also a big help. This past week was a particularly challenging one for me. I didn’t handle any of it as gracefully as I might hope, although certainly better than I could have.

I subscribe to Notes from the Universe, by Mike Dooley. This morning, here is what it said:

“You’re simply the best, Kristin. You blow my mind. We’re all in total awe. How you hold together under pressure. How you face up to your challenges. And your rebound ability totally rocks. You’re driven, persistent, and strong. Playful, silly, fun. Compassionate, sympathetic, understanding. You’re just plain unstoppable. And you always have time for others. What a package. Soooo…

How ’bout cutting yourself some slack every now and then?

Tallyho,
The Universe”

Beautiful. Thanks Mike. And this goes for all of you as well.

Much love,

Kristin

Serendipitous Presence

I haven’t written a thing since last October! This is, in part, because I wanted every blog post to be “meaningful” and “perfect.” Of course it never will be, but before I let go of that expectation, it was difficult to start.

To be fair, beyond that self-imposed restriction, it has been an unusually unusual year. Along with Joy and Goodwill and New Year’s intentions, the holiday season folded in three important deaths: first my aunt, next my partner’s Dad, and then my Dad.

I know that the way each of us will grieve and process these three deaths is still unfolding … but the initial impact reframed my chosen theme for 2017 from abundance to serendipity.
Serendipity with dogs in daisies

 

 

You might think that death is an unusual place to find serendipity. But both my father’s death and my partner’s father’s death brought with them reconciliations that were both unexpected and valuable. And my aunt’s death brought both adventure and an opportunity to spend lengthy time with my California relatives. Now of course, I’d trade all of that to have our loved ones back; but since that isn’t how life works, I’m happy to have experienced the serendipitous moments.

Looking forward to sharing more of those with you in the days to come.

Much love,

Kristin

New beginnings …

On this New Moon I’m kicking off my new blog, announcing the beginning of my new business branding, (from KIC Coaching & Healing to The Dream Hatchery, more on that later) and officially starting my new challenge … to turn my recently adopted six-month old Heeler / Australian Shepherd / “who-knows-what-else” mix into a well-behaved member of my family.  (I will also be learning WordPress, so you will see my formatting improve along with my “alpha leadership” …)

I’ll start by introducing the puppy.  Blue 05.25.16 cropped & framed

Three weeks ago, as I was returning from my walk on the nearby beach, I saw a sign posted at Angel Crest Farms, “Farm Puppies”.

“Farm puppies?!”  I flipped a U-ey and went back to investigate.
The owner of the puppies informed me that the pups were now six months old.  “Wha?  How long has that sign been up?”  “Six months,” she replied.  Hmmm.  I wondered how I could drive past the place nearly everyday for six months and not see a sign for puppies.  I could miss a sign for fresh dirt maybe, or fresh cut flowers perhaps, but puppies???  I guess I am more ready now than I was six months ago, even though I have been threatening to get a new puppy this year. Anyway, she arranged to bring two of the male puppies to meet me the following day, also informing me that one of the puppies, (the one she felt was best for me considering I needed him to fit in with our 14 year old Labradoodle mix and our cat) had the markings of a butterfly on his back.  Hmmmm.  Universe?  Are you conspiring on my behalf?

Long story short, I couldn’t take the pup right away because I had to be out of town for a full day later in the week, so I took her number and said I’d think about it.  Meanwhile, I did some research on Australian Cattle Dogs, and asked around.  You need to be prepared to step into the role of the Alpha completely, said all the research.  Fear and doubt came crowding in … am I ready for this?  Do I have what it takes?  I’ve raised well-behaved, wonderful dogs in the past, but it has been ten years since I last had a puppy and none of them required a lot of work to train.  Also, my partner is fishing in Alaska, and I wanted to make sure he approved as well.  “Uh oh,” was his first response when I texted him a photo of the two pups.  His biggest concern was for Hank, as was mine.  Our original plan was to wait until Hank was gone, but Hank continues to be quite healthy, he’s just deaf and can no longer accompany me on trail runs or walks.

Finally after hemming and hawing for a couple more days, I decided to give the puppy a trial.  If Hank hated him, I just couldn’t do it.  And if he passed the Hank test, but harassed the cat, I still couldn’t.  Ironically, stepping into the Alpha role and stretching out of my leadership comfort zone (I prefer Hank and Blue 05.30.16 small framedcollaborative partnerships so I can stay under the radar) is aligned with the other growth edges in my life this year, so I knew that was another “sign from the Universe” to help me stretch and grow.

Hank accepted him right away.

The cat wouldn’t even deign to come out of her hidey-hole for four days.  Finally I had a conversation with her.  (I do this.  All the time.)  “Katniss,” I said.  “That puppy is just a baby.  If you tell him you’re the boss, you get to be the boss.  But if you hide out down here and don’t even show your face, you’ll never even know.”

Katniss 2016I did some introductions while the pup was in his crate and completely under my control, and by the end of the 5th day, Katniss strolled out the front door past him with her tail in the air.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  (And replayed The Stray Cat Strut in my head that entire day with a smile on my face.) We’ll get there.  All of us.  It’s just a matter of time.

Welcome to the family, Blue!