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Here’s a video that celebrates all of those wonderful square pegs making their way in a round world, each and every one of us…..

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Recently I was appreciating the photographs of a woman whom I admire tremendously – pictures of her garden, the ocean, a number of stunning landscapes, an osprey nest, and an eagle in flight. As a child she was the victim of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, tortured by the kind of cruelty and ugliness that can break hearts and shatter souls. And yet, as an adult she has spent a great deal of time both capturing and creating beauty. I was reminded as she shared her photography with me of psychologist, Rollo May, one of the founders of the humanistic psychology movement.

As a young man May fell victim to a debilitating depression. Many years later, when asked by writer and film maker, Phil Cousineau, what had saved him during that dark and painful time, Rollo replied, “beauty.”

In his book, “My Quest for Beauty” May wrote of wandering aimlessly in the hills of Greece where one day he stumbled into a field of wild poppies and had the following epiphany, “It seemed that I had not listened to my inner voice, which had tried to talk to me about beauty. I had been too hard-working, too ‘principled’ to spend time merely looking at flowers . . . it had taken a collapse of my whole former way of life for this voice to make itself heard. . . What is beauty? . . . Beauty is the experience that gives us a sense of joy and a sense of peace simultaneously. Other happenings give us joy and afterwards a peace, but in beauty these are the same experience. Beauty is serene and at the same time exhilarating; it increases one’s sense of being alive.”

I am thinking about my remarkable photographer friend and about Rollo May when I visit the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay. After a long and difficult week, I lie down beside the waterfall in the rhododendron garden among the ferns, hostas, bees, and beautiful blossoms. I welcome the beauty, allow myself to become intoxicated by it, lost in it. George Washington Carver wrote, “If you love it enough, anything will talk with you.” And so I send my love out into the garden. I listen. It begins to speak…

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I haven’t written a blog entry in over a month, the longest I’ve ever gone without writing. Sadly, inessential activities (like this blog) have been overshadowed by my mother’s cancer and my daughter’s illness, and the lion’s share of my life energy is being poured into sustaining hope and tending wounds.

The trajectory of my mother’s illness is too final and predictable to contemplate, while the weight and course of my child’s suffering is crushing and unknowable. It seems that we have set upon one of those night passages that Sue Monk Kidd observes can “blister the spirit and leave us groping.”

As I tentatively feel my way through a murky shadow land, I remind myself that the whole of my life is still abundantly blessed with love, and sweetness and light even as it requires me to be stronger and wiser than ever before – demands that I do/think/feel more than I have ever done/thought/felt before. Even though it insists that I. must. become. more.

Julia Cameron reminds us that “creativity – like human life itself – begins in darkness.” For over two decades as a psychotherapist I’ve witnessed so many transformations that were initiated by heartbreak and cultivated in darkness. And while there have been times when I could hardly bare to look into the depths of despair and suffering, I am especially grateful for them now, each and every one of them, because I have seen with my own eyes and heart what we are capable of surviving, overcoming, and becoming. Because I have seen, I can believe.

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“Creativity is a type of learning process where the teacher and pupil are located in the same individual”
Arthur Koestler

Dan Montgomery, author of “How to Survive Practically Anything” draws often on his clients’ creativity to help facilitate their journeys of self discovery. One technique he uses for this purpose is called, “the art box.”

If you’d like to try this technique, first, select a box of any size or shape that can serve to represent your whole self (body/mind/spirit/soul.) Next, collect any pictures, lyrics, poems, photos, drawings, objects, etc. that symbolize the various aspects of your life. Decorate the outside of the box with objects that represents those parts of yourself that the whole world sees. Place in the interior of the box those symbols and objects that represent your inner life.

Just as we’re always in process, the boxes as well are never truly completed as the expectation is that you’ll periodically modify your box to reflect change and growth. The potential for self discovery and catharsis when we engage in these kinds of creative activities is really quite remarkable. Go ahead and try it. Open yourself up to the wise spirit of your own creativity.

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  I just finished Linda Campanella’s book, “When all that’s Left if Me is Love: A Daughter’s Story of Letting Go” about a daughter’s experiences supporting a mother who is LIVING with small cell lung cancer. I stress LIVING because that is exactly what her mother did. She LIVED right up until she died and Campanella remained determined and committed to helping her mother do exactly that throughout the entire process – to LIVE as fully as possible.

One example of how they made the most of each and every day was that around 4:00 in the afternoon Linda, her mother, her father, and anyone else who happened to be in the house at the time settled in to celebrate ‘happy hour’. There was much laughter during this time, and the sharing of news, stories, small gifts, and great love. No one in the room was in denial of death or free from grief, however each was acutely aware in the moment of how precious life is when savored, how beautiful and even luminous in can be in the face of its impending loss.

While Campanella’s book contained heart break and grief, it also offered me, a daughter whose own mother was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer in August of 2010, much needed comfort and perspective. While I have so often felt powerless when confronting my mother’s cancer, Campenella has reminded me of my families’ strength and essential proficiencies. We are masters of loving, and as we weave our love throughout each and every moment that we’re together, we can create a sacred container which honors life and offers healing even in the absence of cure.

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In “Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom,” poet, John O’ Donohue wrote, “though the human body is born complete in one moment, the birth of the human heart is an ongoing process.  It is being birthed in every experience of your life.  Everything that happens to you  has the potential to deepen you.” 

I know from the depths of my own life that his words are true.  I haven’t always known this.  In fact, it’s been a lesson which I’ve needed to learn over and over again before it finally settled securely into my consciousness.  My own heart has had to break more than once before I entertained  the possibility that the light that  came pouring through its cracks would not blind or burn, but illuminate.  

Playwright, Arthur Miller observed, “possibly the greatest truths we know, have come out of people’s suffering. The problem is not to undo suffering, or to wipe it off the face of the earth, but to make it inform our lives…” I’ve always been a reluctant student when confronted with the lessons of suffering and will never welcome this particular teacher.  Still, I’ve come to believe that its lessons are most always far more profound than those delivered by my gentler instructors.

While I fail to consistently keep it, I make this promise to myself  repeatedly, “I will open myself to the potential for wisdom that lives within each and every experience of  my life.” 

 

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This past weekend I attended a retreat entitled, “The Spirit of Aging” at Living Waters Spiritual Center. It was a special time to reflect, connect, and renew — and I needed it.

Karen Lewis Foley, unitarian minister, spiritual director, and our retreat leader read an absolutely beautiful poem entitled, “Mother Wisdom Speaks” that resonated deeply with me.

Mother Wisdom Speaks

Some of you I will hollow out.
I will make you a cave.
I will make you so deep the stars will shine in your darkness.
You will be a bowl.
You will be the cup in the rock collecting rain.

I will hollow you with knives.
I will not do this to make you clean.
I will not do this to make you pure.
You are clean already.
You are pure already.

I will do this because the world needs the hollowness of you.
I will do this for the space that you will be.
I will do this because you must be large.

A passage.
People will find their way through you.
A bowl.
People will eat from you and their hunger will not weaken them unto death.
A cup to catch the sacred rain.

My daughter, do not cry. Do not be afraid.
Nothing you need will be lost.
I am shaping you.
I am making you ready.

Light will flow in your hollowing.
You will be filled with light.
Your bone will shine.

The round, open center of you will be radiant.
I will call you Brilliant One.
I will call you Daughter who is wide.
I will call you Transformed.

By Christin Lore Weber

Do not be afraid. You are being shaped. You are being made ready…..

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All over the world tomorrow public screenings will be held of the award winning documentary, “Happy.”

Over the course of six years, Roko Belic and his crew travelled too 14 countries and spoke to numerous people from various cultures and demographics and to experts in the field of positive psychology in order to discover how we can best cultivate and sustain happiness. What he learned, he reports, changed his life. And now, with his documentary, he wants to change ours too. You can read, “Things I Learned While Making a Movie About Happiness” at his blog.

In Maine, a screening will be held in Freeport at Royal River Natural Foods on Route one at 4 PM. Hopefully, we’ll be hosting a screening and discussion of the film at Sageplace very soon.

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Winter Solstice 2011

Here in the northern hemisphere tomorrow is the winter solstice, an acknowledgement of that darkness which marks the longest night and shortest day of the year. Rainer Maria Rilke wrote the following on Darkness:

“You darkness, that I come from,
I love you more than all the fires
that fence in the world,
for the fire makes
a circle of light for everyone,
and then no one outside learns of you.

But the darkness pulls in everything;
shapes and fires, animals and myself,
how easily it gathers them!—
powers and people—
and it is possible a great energy
is moving near me.
I have faith in nights.”

Matthew Fox asserts that our spiritual journeys involve traveling four essential paths – the via positiva, the via negativa, the via creativa and the vis transformativa (I’ll be writing more about each of these paths in future posts.) When we enter the via negativa, the second spiritual path, we’re invited to be still, to embrace the silence, and to learn from our inevitable suffering.

I have never welcomed winter, nor will I ever choose to set foot on the path of the via negativa willingly. And yet, I’ve come to trust that while I may not be able to bravely dare its darkness, when I’m able at the very least to endure it, I eventually find myself deepened and poised for new growth as I emerge into the light.

While reflecting on a time that author Sue Monk Kidd encountered darkness, she wrote, “Everything incubates in darkness. And I knew that the darkness in which I found myself was a holy dark. I was incubating something new.

Whenever new life grows and emerges, darkness is crucial to the process. Whether it’s the caterpillar in the chrysalis, the seed in the ground, the child in the womb, or the True Self in the soul, there’s always a time of waiting in the dark.”

At some point on December 21, 2011, during the shortest day and longest night, I’ve committed to considering what might be in the process of incubating within me, what might require the dark in order to bloom in the light.

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Photo by Guy Mayer

In a thought provoking paper entitled, Reflections on Sacred Experience and Sacred Science, Peter Reason wrote, “…I heard for the first time the challenge that we in the West had lost the feeling for sacredness, the ability to notice the sacredness of our world, and that we need to discover this anew if we are to learn from the traditions of Native Americans. One is entering a different world, a world that is again alive and enchanted, a world in which all sentient beings bring their gifts of teachings, and are thus worthy of honour. Such an animate world is akin to that inhabited by the alchemists, and can only be comprehended fully through a participatory consciousness.”

In this same paper Reason quotes the following from Morris Berman’s book, “The Re-enchantmant of the World:”

“The view of nature which predominated in the West down to the eve of the Scientific Revolution was that of an enchanted world. Rocks, trees, rivers, and clouds were all seen as wondrous, alive, and human beings felt at home in this environment. The cosmos, in short, was a place of belonging. A member of this cosmos was not an alienated observer of it but a direct participant in its drama….The story of the modern epoch, at least on the level of mind, is one of progressive disenchantment. From the sixteenth century on, mind has been progressively expunged from the phenomenal world… At least in theory…the “mechanical philosophy”… (is) the dominant mode of thinking. That mode can best be described as disenchantment, nonparticipation, for it insists on a rigid distinction between observer and observed. Scientific consciousness is alienated consciousness: there is no ecstatic merger with nature, but rather total separation from it…”

Reason points out that our disenchantment and disconnection from the natural world and from our own experience has led us to a kind of soul sickness and calls for a “re-sacralization of the world.” One way to do this, he suggests, is to follow theologian Matthew Fox’s advice to “…fall in love at least three times a day.”

And so today I fell in love with a puppy I met on my walk, rubbing my cheek against her silky soft fur, and laughing fully from my belly as she wiggled wildly and covered my face with kisses.

Later I witness the anguish and sorrow of a couple desperately attempting to find their way across a chasm that seems to grow wider and more dangerous with each moment – with each jagged heartbeat – and with each accusation. Finally, as they sit rigid and exhausted, I ask them to take just a few moments to listen for what else might lie silently beneath their fears, anger, frustration and betrayals. Softly at first, barely perceptible even, their breathing steadies and something indescribable begins to happen as the energy in the room shifts and remarkably (you would have had to have been there) and seemingly as if by magic we are each touched and even (I think) for a moment transfixed by the undeniable presence of a battered and weary but still living love.

After work I spoke with a friend whom I’ve known for over thirty years and as she shared with me a simple and yet oh so sweet story about her day, I allowed myself to savor her voice, her laughter, and her unique and wildly optimistic perspective, and I felt my love for her warm my heart and gentle my spirit.

And so, I have fallen in love at least three times today and I resolve to fall in love at least three times tomorrow as well. In doing so, I allow myself to be enchanted and to more fully embrace the sacred.

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