What of your rushed and useful life …?

And you -what of your rushed and / useful life? Imagine setting it all down -papers, plans, appointments, everything, / leaving only a note: “Gone to the fields / to be lovely. Be back when I’m through / with blooming.”

Poet, Lynn Ungar, from “Camas Lilies”
get outside

February was an unseasonably cold and snowy month for those of us on the Olympic Peninsula. The snow started falling Sunday the 3rd of February, and we can still see patches of unmelted snow in the field behind the house.

The dogs and I enjoyed trompsing in it, but I’m grateful that my lifestyle allows me to limit my time on the roads .

Now that the Equinox and the frogs in our pond have loudly proclaimed it to be spring, I invite you to imagine setting down everything in your life, and writing the note described above. Do you even know what you would do if you could “go to the fields to be lovely”? And be back when you’re “done blooming?”

If you’re like most people, you’re too caught up in your “rushed and useful” life to imagine that it might be different. Until, that is, you’re forced to … through a threshold not of your choosing.

A colleague and I used to walk the waterfront trails in Seattle, to help us think more creatively as we brainstormed a workshop on living a vital life.

One day we got onto the topic of societal expectations: how so many of us simply set out into the world following the blueprint society created for us –go to school, get a job, get married, have children, buy a house, acquire things, raise children, retire –without thinking about whether those choices are suitable for our unique spirit.

In following this pre-subscribed routine, many of us end up with health problems, or become increasingly restless or burned out. If we’re not working in a job that utilizes our best skills, and the lifestyle best suited to us, we muddle along feeling frustrated. Over time this disconnection from our “best-ish” self –the one connected to our highest potential– can contribute to anxiety, depression and lowered self-esteem.

When either of these scenarios play out, instead of looking inside to our own inner intelligence for solutions, we tend to look outside for prescriptions or escape. We choose things like prescription drugs, substance abuse, or excessive entertainment which keep us stuck in the scenario of escaping, and watching / consuming other people’s lives rather than figuring out how to better live our own.

girl brushing teeth
Habits like brushing your teeth can be healthy.

There is nothing wrong with any of these choices as a temporary fix. But practices become habits when we do them over and over. Habits can be beneficial: the habit of brushing your teeth twice a day, for example, leads to good oral hygiene and prevents tartar build up, cavities, and bad breath.

Plenty of your habits may have served a purpose at one time in your life, but if you continue to follow these habits without listening to your inner voice –your spirit, or Wild and Wise Heart– eventually you lose the ability to connect with this part of you that is deeply connected to your own well-being.

So, what can you do instead?

Step One: Quiet Your Mind

You can google benefits of meditation and find hundreds of articles on how a meditation practice will benefit you, and plenty more that will teach you how. But I know that those of you who do not already have a meditation practice are skeptical. The good news is that if sitting quietly cross-legged on the floor repeating simple mantras to yourself doesn’t sound natural to you, there are other ways to quiet your mind.

Quiet Your Mind
Quiet Your Mind to find your wild and wise heart

A few are active choices –yoga, xi gong, trail running, hiking, fly fishing, knitting, collage, coloring, gardening– to list just a few. Quieting your mind, or mindfulness, is simply the ability to pay attention, on purpose, nonjudgmentally, to the present moment.

Honestly, this can be done anywhere and anytime, especially doing the things you already love to do. You simply need to be taught how, and then make it a practice, until it becomes a habit.

In my opinion, the easiest, most powerful way to quiet your mind is to leave it.

“In my opinion, the easiest, most powerful way to quiet your mind is to leave it.”

Author and Transformational Life Coach, Kristin Halberg

To do this, simply drop your awareness down to your heart. You can place your hand over your heart to add a physical component to this practice, but it isn’t necessary. When you drop your awareness into your heart, and breathe, just slightly more deeply than usual, imagine that your breath is flowing in and out of this heart area. This practice essentially creates a “time-out” for your mind, which enables you to let thoughts go.

Trees hugging
Intelligent and

Then ground yourself to the earth, by imagining that your awareness is dropping down into your hips, then down your legs to your feet, and connecting you to the earth with invisible roots, intertwining you with loved ones, like trees.*

Then bring your awareness back to your heart, and continue to breathe, imagining your breath is flowing in and out through your heart area for 30 seconds, more if you have the time.

I call this tool my inner sanctuary tool … everything else begins to drop away, and it’s just me and my heart, and the Earth. This tool helps to clear all the static, stories, and amplified emotions your mind creates on a regular basis and begins to reconnect you to what I call your Wild and Wise Heart.

As with all habits, this becomes easier over time. I tell my clients to practice this tool 20 – 25 x per day … but in the beginning, for only five – ten seconds at a time. Essentially, what you are doing is creating a new very simple habit, which will then serve you when you need it the most. You can use this tool in-the-moment and on-the-fly. Or you can combine it with any of the active mindfulness activities I suggested above.

Step Two: Reconnect with your Wild & Wise Heart

There are numerous ways to reconnect with your Wild & Wise Heart. Kicking off the Inner Sanctuary practice will help you jump start this relationship.

However, once you start to feel this reconnection, you will want to kick it up a notch. For this, you’ll need to set aside some time for yourself. Trust me, even though this might be hard at first, it will be well worth it.

Journaling in Nature, Write with the Heart
Once you start to feel this connection, you’ll want to kick it up a notch.
  1. Get out a journal or a piece of paper and begin by writing down five things you love to do.
  2. Next, write down three to five things that get in your way of doing these things on a regular basis.
  3. Now, do a time inventory. Think back over the past five days. Did you fall into any of your old “time quick-sand” habits, where you got lost in an activity that didn’t bring you as much value as the time you spent on it? (If so, don’t beat yourself up for this. Just bring awareness to it, write it down, and then drop your awareness into your heart, and breathe until you can feel yourself in your inner sanctuary again.)
  4. Next, do a mindset inventory. Did you fall into any mindset obstacles? (These are things like: I need to set aside hours to do this, I need more money to do this, I can’t do this because ….) Again, the goal here is simply to bring awareness to these thought habits, and then go back to your inner sanctuary.
  5. Release your attachment to all the obstacles. To do this, simply ask these questions, “I wonder where I could find 10 – 15 minutes in my day to do one of these things I love?” And “I wonder if there is some approach that belies these beliefs that I might be able to try today?” Write down your answers. (Try this: write your questions with your dominant hand, then switch to the other hand and write the answers. This is a trick to further interrupt your neuro-typical habits.)
  6. Then act. Follow through –for a minimum of ten minutes– on one of the suggestions you gave yourself.

I’d love to hear how this challenge goes for you. After you try it, please drop me a note in the comments below.


If you’d like further support and more tools to re-member your Wild and Wise Heart, join my 5-day spring challenge: Back When I’m Through Blooming.

*For more information on intelligent and wise hearted trees, watch Intelligent Trees, a documentary by German Forester Peter Wohlieben and UBC scientist Suzanne Simard.

In Remembrance …

Josh.Denise.Kristen
Josh with his wife Denise (on the right) and his sister Kristen

My phone rang at 10:38 pm, Tuesday, January 8th. Ordinarily, I’m in bed by then, but my partner and I were enjoying our hot tub. It was a crisp, cold, starry night. I glanced at the phone. It was my sister-in-law Denise. I picked up.

“Where’s Justin?” she asked, and I could tell by her voice that something was the matter. I put her on speaker and walked outside with the phone, holding it near the hot tub. “What’s up Denise?” Justin said. Words spilled out of her … Josh, and the bar, and the Coast Guard …

She tried again. “Josh called me to come down to watch the boat come in tonight. The captain was being stupid, and he said he was scared. He put on his life jacket. The Coast Guard was there to escort them over the bar, and I watched them make it through, but now there’s all these lights and the helicopter!” She was frantic, and despite my own concern, my training kicked in.

“Denise, it’s going to be fine.” I walked back in the house, away from Justin, who was saying words to the effect that Josh could already be dead. It scared me to hear him say that, but he habitually jumps to the worst possible conclusion, in order to prepare for contingencies, and I didn’t think that’s what Denise needed to hear right then. Instead I said, “He’s wearing his life jacket. It’s Josh. He’s going to be okay. Think how big and strong he is.” I continued my attempts to be comforting, adding, “he’s going to come home to you tonight and have such a story to tell you and he’s going to be so pissed at that captain!!” We both laughed a little, knowing how Josh is, and how he would be angry, and how he would tell her that story. And then be done with it (although never take a job with that captain again.) He had forgiven tattooed on his knuckles, and he did his best to live like everyone else was worthy of forgiveness, too.

I wanted to believe my own words as much as Denise did. And I always hold onto hope until I can’t anymore. But Justin knew first hand how dangerous the Newport Bar can be in a storm, and he was more realistic. He toweled off, put on his clothes and came inside.

The Yaquina Bay Bar in Newport, Oregon is the area where the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean meet with the shallower waters near the mouth of the Yaquina river.

According to the Oregon State Marine Board safety publication, “most accidents and deaths that occur on coastal bars are from capsizing. Improper loading and/or overloading are major causes of capsizing. Improper/overloaded boats have less stability and less freeboard, which can allow seas to break into the vessel, causing the boat to become even less stable. Boats are more likely to capsize when crossing the bar from the ocean because the seas are on the stern and the boater may have less control over the vessel. Boaters must make sure the bar is safe prior to crossing.”

I stayed on the phone with Denise that night off and on for over an hour as she drove back and forth across the bridge, desperately trying to find out more information. I was worried for her safety too, all alone with that news, and driving … but the last time she called me she found some friends and was going to go try to talk to the cops to see if she could get more information from them.

Meanwhile, we were continually checking the Newport breaking news. And I prayed, & talked to Josh in my head urging him to hold on, & even called upon Poseidon & his wife Amphritite (one of the goddesses from last summer’s Greece retreat) to help him get to shore.

We learned at one point that a person had been found and taken to the hospital. “See, that’s got to be Josh,” I said to Justin. “And he’s going to be okay! The coast guard was right there!” But it wasn’t Josh. And the person wasn’t okay.

After a while, we saw that another person had been found, and again we had hope.

Justin called the Coast Guard twice, telling them he was Josh Porter’s next of kin, but they couldn’t –or wouldn’t—give out any information because they were in the middle of the rescue.

Then finally, around midnight, we got word that Josh’s body had been found. That he didn’t make it. Writing these sentences still makes me cry.

According to the Coast Guard report, the boat hit the tip of the North Jetty and a 20’ wave capsized it. Two of the crew were washed overboard, and the captain was still on the boat, even though it was upside down. Josh’s body was found on Nye Beach, which is about 3 miles north of the north jetty.

My heart still breaks.

Josh was an experienced, hard-working and sought-after fisherman, who fished various fisheries (salmon, crab, tuna, halibut, squid) from the Bering Sea to Southern California. He started fishing with his mom and dad when he was quite young. In later life, he was often hired to be captain, but if a captain’s position wasn’t available, he was always willing to work as crew. He was only filling in on the Mary B II for one trip before his next official crew job began. Josh’s boat, the Fearless II, was harbored in Crescent City. It wasn’t licensed for crab.

This video is footage from The Deadliest Catch, talking about the dangers of the Newport Bar: https://youtu.be/h0dR8V7hIJs

Vincent Van Gogh said, “The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.”

It’s impossible to explain the life of a commercial fisherman to one who has never been out there. It is hard work. Dangerous. And yet the fishermen and women I’ve known also have an amazing eye for beauty, have an adventurous spirit, and an unconventional lifestyle that modern hipsters can only dream about. And many are as erudite as a college professor.

As for Josh, he was larger than life. I looked up that phrase to make sure it was an accurate description. The internet says someone who is larger-than-life has a very strong or lively personality that impresses people very much. For sure, that was Josh in all phases of his life.

Young Josh

I first met Josh in grade school. He was a couple years behind me, but we were in band together. One memory that stands out is a moment after band, when we bumped into one another in the doorway. He was reaching for the Silmarillion, (the book J.R.R. Tolkien wrote that goes into more depth about the land and the people that the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were based upon.) I grew up in an area where most of the guys didn’t read much at all, and definitely not for pleasure, so to find him reading the story behind the story that was one of my favorite series was remarkable. He read and collected volumes upon volumes of books, stored in his gear shed, in his home, and on his boats. One of his dreams upon retiring was to open a used book store.

Josh was also a great musician …. Our high school band went caroling one Christmas. We lived in a very rural location, so rather than walking around city blocks, this meant we piled into pickups and cars and vans and drove to people’s houses. I ended up in the back of a truck with Josh and some others. Josh started playing Stairway to Heaven on the guitar; to me he sounded as good as Led Zeppelin.

Flash forward to present time. Josh loved to play the guitar, which is another instrument you often find on commercial fishing boats.

[Here’s a video of him playing guitar for an original and unpretentious young singer: https://www.facebook.com/denise.barrettramirez/videos/974847182525318/ ]

Josh and Denise lived on the family property with us for a few months last spring between fishing seasons, harvesting trees for a little extra money. Most mornings, Josh came in to use the bathroom and then sat down on the couch, picked up the guitar and played a few tunes before starting his day.

Family outings with the Porters always included music, whether we were outdoors camping, or inside in the living room.

Two Christmases ago, right after Justin’s dad died, Justin and I hosted a joint family gathering on Christmas Eve, and requested that everyone bring their instruments. It was a magical moment to look around and see our two families united through music.

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Josh had a great laugh: full throated, head back, eyes closed. He loved silliness and puns and plays on words. One time when we all went down to Newport to spend a few days together as a family, Josh was in the middle of a challenge to make up hundreds of puns about Oreos. One example: What do they call a Tuna that eats Oreos? Albacoreo. I know, right? Imagine hundreds of puns about Oreos, all in one day.

In the Fall of 2016, Josh and I flew together to visit Justin in Alaska. Josh was looking to buy a boat, and Justin found a 49’ wooden sailboat / fishing vessel in Petersburg. My family gifted me with an Alaskan trip to visit Justin for my 50th birthday, and it happened to coincide with Josh’s visit to look the boat over before buying it. While we were in the airport waiting for a taxi to take us down to the harbor and Justin’s boat, Josh saw a little kid wearing a bright yellow Pokémon outfit.

Pokemon
Josh wanted one of this outfits.

“I want one of those!” he said. We laughed, and someone asked him where he would wear it. “In the captain’s chair,” he said, without missing a beat. It wasn’t a stretch to picture him sitting in that chair wearing the Pokémon outfit.

In the days after his death, I cyber stalked his page, reading all the hundreds of comments from people who knew him. A few examples stood out to me because they seem to capture so many pieces of him at once: generous, kind, open-hearted, unconventional, loving ….

The first was from a woman named Olivia. She said, “I hadn’t spoken to Josh Porter since the week we met, but I want to share my memory of him. I was hitchhiking in March of 2011 and was severely ill with bronchitis, or possibly pneumonia from being outside in the Washington rainy and freezing nights. Someone named Sarah and her dog were with me. It was dark out, no idea what time, near Newport, Oregon in the rain on a small road. Josh drove by and picked us up when no one else would. He brought us to his houseboat on the dock: pink and called The Grumpy Dragon and insisted that we stay the night. He introduced us to his wife, Denise. They stayed on a separate boat on the dock. The two of them showed me so much kindness, insisting we stay for several days to recover and renting us movies. Denise gave me these little gold colored metal butterfly wings that I still have. I’ve stayed Facebook friends with Josh for almost eight years and have always thought well of him, and I was really sad to hear about his loss. Rest in peace <3.”

After the memorial service, another friend, a college professor, wrote this:

“SAYING GOOD-BYE, JOSH PORTER
How did a former drug addict and hardworking fisherman with little [formal] education get 4,369 Facebook friends? Why did over 200 people come to an unpretentious church in a steel-clad warehouse to celebrate his life? Why did the Siletz Tribe send their best singers and drummers to honor this white man?

Because everyone there knew of the lives he had changed forever among fishermen, criminals, drug addicts, and many more. Because he had never been known to boast of any special ability, no less of saving lives. Yet when the program turned to Stories and Memories the first two volunteer speakers were a boy from middle school to say how Josh always made him feel good, and a young man with Down’s syndrome who said how his giant friend always made him feel warm. Then followed many men and women who said, “He saved my life.” They meant it in the most literal sense.

After the service everyone stacked and cleared the chairs, rolled out tables and sat down for a sumptuous supper. I ate with a woman and her 15-year-old daughter and with a 40ish couple. All three adults told me how important Josh had been in saving them and their families from addiction. The man who had spent half his life in prison for burglary, robbery and car theft to get drug money is now a licensed contractor and just bought a house for his family. The mother of the teenage girl is about to get her diploma in social work.

No newspaper wrote about Josh except three weeks ago when they ran the story that a 20 ft wave had overturned the FV Mary B II as it tried to cross the bar coming home with a load of crab at night and one of the dead was a crewman named Josh Porter. Several newspapers and TV stations ran stories three more lives lost at sea. I saw no news media at today’s service. Perhaps they don’t think they might find stories in an evangelical church in a warehouse. They missed story after story about a quiet hero.

Has America ever been more in need of such heroes?

In the lines below, the “Master” whose hand plays the violin and touches lives is probably God, but today the hand that men and women and children in South Beach Church felt in their lives was Josh Porter’s.

The Touch of the Master’s Hand
—Myra “Brooks” Welch
’Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer
Thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin,
But held it up with a smile:
“What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried,
“Who’ll start the bidding for me?”
“A dollar, a dollar”; then, “Two!” “Only two?
Two dollars, and who’ll make it three?
Three dollars, once; three dollars, twice;
Going for three—” But no,
From the room, far back, a gray-haired man
Came forward and picked up the bow;
Then, wiping the dust from the old violin,
And tightening the loose strings,
He played a melody pure and sweet
As a caroling angel sings.

The music ceased, and the auctioneer,
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said: “What am I bid for the old violin?”
And he held it up with the bow.
“A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two?
Two thousand! And who’ll make it three?
Three thousand, once, three thousand, twice,
And going, and gone,” said he.
The people cheered, but some of them cried,
“We do not quite understand
What changed its worth.” Swift came the reply:
“The touch of a master’s hand.”

And many a man with life out of tune,
And battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd,
Much like the old violin.
A “mess of pottage,” a glass of wine;
A game—and he travels on.
He is “going” once, and “going” twice,
He’s “going” and almost “gone.”
But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd
Never can quite understand
The worth of a soul and the change that’s wrought
By the touch of the Master’s hand.”

And finally, the last post I’ll share was from another guy who met Josh only briefly. He said, “Josh Porter … We met thru the Facebook Page Commercial Salmon Albacore and Crab … We came to know each other … I will never forget the day we met for coffee in Newport down on the Bay Front. A day that changed my life forever …. You inspired me from the day we met not only as a Fisherman but a Winner in the World of Recovery …. You are and always will be a True Miracle … the name of your fishing vessel so much described your outlook on Life “Fearless.” May you Rest in Peace my Friend ….”

And then he quoted this poem:

Not, How Did He Die, But How Did He Live?

Not how did he die, but how did he live?
Not what did he gain, but what did he give?
These are the units to measure the worth
Of a man as a man, regardless of birth.
Not, what was his church, nor what was his creed?
But had he befriended those really in need?
Was he ever ready, with word of good cheer
To bring back a smile, to banish a tear?
Not what did the sketch in the newspaper say,
But how many were sorry when he passed away.

____________________________

There are other stories I could share: of Josh’s wide open heart, his generosity, his sense of humor, adventurous spirit, wit & intelligence, friendliness, love for his family, as well as the battles he fought with nightmares and depression. I am so incredibly sorry these stories and this life came to an end so soon.

Rest in peace Joshua James Kahlil Porter. You are so missed. ❤

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.

My Wild Year

For those who didn’t hear before, 2017 was an unusual year. My dad passed away very unexpectedly on January 6th, 2017. My partner’s dad died –also a bit unexpectedly, although he had been sick– a few weeks prior to that, and my favorite cousin’s mom (my aunt) passed away a few weeks before that. After my dad’s funeral service, as a bit of a break from our ordinary lives, and to help my cousin remodel her mom’s home to use as a rental, Justin and I spent the better part of three months in California in early 2017. A few months after we returned, we held the service for his dad, and just a few weeks after that his grandmother passed away.

In late summer, just as we were settling back in to our routine, we found out –a bit dramatically, but that’s a story for another time– that we had to move out of the home we’d been living in for five years. We weighed our options, and decided to move into what had been his grandmother’s home, this log cabin (see photo below) originally built in 1893.

Bottom line, 2017 was very transitional and hard to predict …  very much like a walk-about pilgrimage. (A walk-about pilgrimage is a journey we go on simply by virtue of the –often sudden– unpredictability of our lives.)

At the beginning of 2018, my internal GPS (what I call my Wise Self) kept telling me to slow down, breathe deep, take a nap, relax, listen, connect to my self, my place, my new home … and allow myself the luxury to take a break from the need to chase down clients, or plan workshops & retreats. My underlying counter-voice kept saying, “you already took a year off! If you don’t get out there and DO stuff (market) you won’t get clients. And if you don’t get clients you won’t get paid!”

I chose to listen to my Wise Self. Although sometimes –I’ll admit– I wasn’t sure it was her, and I did host a workshop and attend a couple of local marketing events.

Finally, towards the end of April, when I pulled a card from my Oracle deck that once again said, “Take a Nap” when I asked about marketing my business, I decided to call my year a sabbatical.

A sabbatical is most common in academic vocations, but the concept of sabbatical originated in farming. It means to allow the land to remain fallow, to let it go wild for a year.

My Wild Year so far

In the process of “going wild”, I’ve been rooting into my self and my place and without even knowing it at the time, working on the practices of belonging, and awakening to the ancient Earth consciousness inside me.

The first task of moving in was to clear a space for us. We had to be completely out of our old place by Thanksgiving, and before we could move in here there were a few things that had to be done. We painted the press board ceilings white, gave away or sold the furnishings we weren’t going to use, built some beautiful rustic book cases, and sorted through, cleared, or stored decades of Grandma Beverly’s personal belongings. My partner kept saying, “get rid of everything” and my sister-in-law kept saying, “don’t get rid of anything without talking to me first.” Somehow we managed to make room for ourselves and keep the peace.

Come spring, my # 1 priority has been to cultivate my garden spaces. Justin’s grandma loved to garden, so the base of the garden was already in place. But it was overgrown with grass and weeds because her health (at 93) kept her from doing as much as she used to do. I mulched it heavily last winter with cardboard and leaves from our Norwegian Maple, but that wasn’t enough to kill all the grass.

I hate to weed, so I decided that I would tap into my strengths rather than my weaknesses this year. Rather than feeling the pressure to reclaim the entire garden, I decided that I would work on it a section at a time. My overall plan for the garden is to make it a wildlife sanctuary and Kristin-variety cottage garden … lots of indigenous wild flowers mixed in with roses, my favorite vegetables, herbs and Grandma Beverly’s perennials, plus a few of my own favorites.

One of my strengths is a love of learning, so to tap into that love, I decided to learn which plants have a symbiotic relationship with one another (like tomatoes, basil, carrots, & garlic for example.) I decided to learn the names of the bugs I discover in the soil and understand which ones are beneficial and which aren’t. And I decided to learn how to garden completely organically, with my own compost, beneficial nematodes, and by attracting wild life “critters” that help keep the bad bugs away.[Did you know that snakes, lizards and beetles eat slugs?!]

In the midst of all that yard work, June, and my Greece retreat snuck up on me. I signed up for the Greece Goddess Pilgrimage retreat in November, right in the middle of our move. The description said, “come journey with us to the Greek Island of Tinos, for an empowering and creative nine-day sacred Yoga and Art retreat.” I said, “I’m in.”

I communed with the land, the Aegean Sea, and Greek goddesses, did lots of art and a little bit of yoga, and made connections with like-hearted women from all over the US, Greece, the UK and Australia.

My intention for the trip was to make an even deeper connection with myself and my work … while also connecting more deeply with Mother Earth and her infinite wisdom. While there, I read the book Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home, by Toko-Pa Turner, a Canadian writer, teacher and dreamworker, who lives on a small island in the Salish Sea. (My neighbor!!) From her I integrated the knowledge that belonging is a practice … and one that I was already intuitively immersed in!

My take-aways from this pilgrimage journey / art retreat / goddess retreat were:

  1. I am an artist. Or rather, an artist and creative activist. I knew this before, of course, but the process of indulging in art for fourteen days helped me feel it.
  2. I am also a writer. And part of my calling as a creative activist is to write. This is not new knowledge either, but as of now I am officially writing my first book, tentatively called “A Field Guide to Practical Magic: 21 Days to Connect with Your Wise Self”  …. or something like that!
  3. I’m being called to call women back to their wild roots, to apprentice themselves to Nature and their own shadow, and to reconnect to and express beauty and their own Wild and Wise Soul.

Going forward, my work will more deeply reflect these three things. (To learn more about my work, you can follow my page on Facebook or visit my website.)

Serendipitous Treasures

Since I’m on the topic of serendipity, I became reacquainted with my partner through yet another funeral, back in 2007. The funeral was for the older brother universe soul matesof classmates of ours, and there were many people there that we knew.  At the time I arrived, he was heading out the back door with an elderly woman.  He smiled and waved, and although I knew he was someone I used to know in school, I couldn’t place him.  I sent his face through my mental facial recognition software and came up blank, but I have to admit that I was never was able to fully forget him either.

Finally, months later, he sent me a Facebook friend request, saying that he thought he’d seen me at that funeral. Oh! Of course! It clicked into place for me.  The elderly woman he was solicitously escorting out the door and into a silver Mercedes was his grandmother. When he contacted me, he was living in Mexico, caring for his mother’s property, and was with someone else so I put him out of my mind except when Facebook did its thing.

Several years later, he reached out to say he was back in town, and would I like to meet for a beer? And the rest, as they say, is history. This is what he looked like when I graduated from high school, and again when I met up with him in 2011.

Justin then and now
Is it any wonder I didn’t recognize him right away?

How has synchronicity shown up in your life? Do you have a favorite story of unexpected treasure popping up when you were least looking for it? Please feel free to share in the comments.  It’s fun to hear other’s stories!

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