How I Finally Learned that Art is Fun

I consider myself to be a performing artist to some degree. I love to sing and dance, and from the age of 10, my home away from home was the local community theater.

I’ve never thought of myself as a visual artist. When I was a kid and the Sunday School teacher asked us to draw a picture to make the morning fun, I would end up in tears because it never looked the same way on paper as it did in my head. In my Reiki II class, I became completely intimidated when we had to learn how to draw the symbols.

When I began doing the Journey of Yes courses a few years ago, I was nervous about doing the art prompts, much less sharing them with the professional and semi-professional artists in the course. I finally talked myself into doing some of them and posting them on the Facebook group. Everyone was so supportive of my stick figures and wavy lines. They truly appreciated the symbolism I put into my attempts of self-expression.



Imagine my surprise when I realized that I was actually enjoying doing this kind of art.

Not only was the artwork helping me to process and express my emotions, it was actually fun!

Then, joy of joys! During the Hell Yes course at the beginning of the year, a piece of  the class  included some tutorials on how to create memes and other digital artwork on All of the sudden I could visually express the pictures in my head!

Here is my first attempt at digital art: beyou  I created it to encourage myself in my journey as I learned to speak up for myself.

I used these creations to help me process what I was working through at therapy and at home.  bindourselves

 speak truth super hero


Pretty soon, I started making memes for others,when they needed encouragement as well: drythemall


Some memes came to me as messages in meditation havecourage

like this one that I wrote about in the post Have Courage. Speak out and this one that was related to me by a fellow student in my Core Shamanics class fire

This one was inspired by current events

(the historic Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage).

marriage equality

Most continue to express my thoughts and feelings as life has continued to evolve.



(I couldn’t decide which one I liked better here.)


This one is a self-portrait showing myself what it would look and feel like to have achieved my goal of trusting myself and allowing blessings into my life, as I wrote about in a previous post.

worthy Empathy 

The last few memes have honed in on some quotes by figures I admire and am learning from. These messages inspire me so much that I want to create art incorporating them and share them to inspire others.

Including this last one that I just made today.

transform sex

Thanks for letting me share here once again. I really encourage you to explore a new art form. Push your boundaries, and express yourself.

And have FUN!


As many of you know, I am in a transition period in my life, a bridge so to speak. This has been an incredibly healing and powerful weekend. I need to write about it to help me continue processing what I have experienced. I’m sharing my reflections here in the hope it will help someone as they are transitioning through their own bridges.


The weekend of healing and insight began Friday evening at a Moksha Magick gathering. It was the first time I had seen my former fiancé since he moved out at the end of May. I knew that seeing him might be hard, but it was both easier and harder than I had expected. It was easier in that it wasn’t as awkward as I thought it might be. We were able to come together in Moksha and let it be exactly what it needed to be. It was harder because by the time I got home, I was much more raw and emotional than I had anticipated.

There was so much that was left unsaid. I played games on Facebook for hours trying to get myself to wind down. As I was trying to convince myself that I really needed to go to bed, I came across a post from one of my Reiki students with a suggestion for a simple new moon ritual of releasing. It was perfect. I combined it with the intention from the Moksha Magick ritual for emotional strength. I asked the Goddess to give me the emotional strength to release my longing for the relationship that now belongs in the past.

Cool, I thought. I’m being given the emotional strength we raised energy for already. Well, yes and no. Writing “longing for the relationship” on a broken piece of pottery and burying it did give me a sense of action and peace. But the next day, I found that I was continuing to replay the evening and then add imaginary conversations in my head.

At a private healing circle that day, the thought of the broken relationship brought up tears that I thought had already cried themselves out. The tears and the support I received were healing. I acknowledged that I still needed to spend time with what I was feeling and why I was feeling it.

The weekend culminated Sunday morning, sharing Conscious Movement with members of a tribe who made me feel right at home. This was only the second time I had danced and moved with this fabulous group. Some of them I had met briefly before, and some of them I shared space with for the first time.

I surprised myself this morning by being on time and the first one there. When I walked in the door, the comforting smell of sage greeted me, followed by warm, enthusiastic hugs from the organizers. As I warmed up with the music, it felt so good to be in a supportive, accepting dance space with the beautiful souls coming through the door.

The theme of today’s session was Bridges. The fabulous Kathy Oravec, facilitating through music and movement, helped us to find and express the bridges in our lives.

Not long after the opening circle, I found myself in a situation I rarely encounter: I felt lost on the dance floor. I wandered aimlessly, without feeling the music in my body. I kept coming back to a blanket that had a pile of small scarves and some toys that were there for us to move with if we felt like it.

It popped into my head to create a bridge with the scarves. I laid some scarves out end to end, thinking that the bridge I was creating was a bridge into the next chapter of my life. This was a bridge to a life where I feel comfortable and confident on my own. I went back to the blanket and found a little car, then sprawled next to the scarves. The car drove part way up the scarf bridge in time with the music and then turned back towards the beginning. I moved the car back and forth, making progress little by little, until it jumped the track and took a completely different bridge into my new life.

I felt accomplished and proud of myself, but sad too. I missed AumJah. I thought about how much he would enjoy this gathering and how fun it would be to share it with him. There were these huge floor to ceiling windows encasing the room in a semi-circle. I thought about how much he would like those too. I drifted to one and looked out at some trees. They seemed to be inviting me to join them. So I went and gave one a big hug, finding comfort in its solidness and peace. I cried and gave them my sadness, my longing, my pain. I sat with them until I felt that I had expressed all I needed to in that space.

Then I went back inside and flung myself into the dance. I smiled, I played, I connected with people, and instead of feeling lost and wondering what to do, I lost myself in the dance, knowing exactly what to do.

I found more bridges. The first was the dance itself: it created a bridge to my feelings, the sadness, the joy, the connection. The second bridge was the tribe gathered to share connection through the music and movement. They made me feel so welcome and part of them, embracing me physically and energetically.

I will surely spend more time with all of these bridges…and count myself blessed.




Holding Space – A Sacred Gift

I’ve noticed the expression “holding space” to be gaining popularity in the last few years. I’ve heard it so many times, and the practice comes so naturally to me, that I was surprised this term has caused confusion for a lot of people when it is mentioned in passing.

Let’s start with some examples of what holding space looks like:


1. I’m meeting with an elderly woman who has recently lost a substantial amount of vision. My purpose here is to help her regain independence by learning new ways to complete tasks in her everyday life. She says that is her intention for the meeting as well. Her real purpose is to “be heard.” Until I have shown that I can honor her as a human being as a whole, she doesn’t trust me enough to get to the business of learning new skills within a scary, disheartening situation. My agency may be paying me to teach, but my first job is to listen. I hold space as my client tells me not only the story of her vision loss, but the story of her life. I don’t zone out. I stay fully with her. I ask occasional questions to help me understand her underlying needs about the situation, but I don’t try to dominate the conversation. By the time we end the session, she feels respected, and trust has been established. We are ready to move forward as a team.

bed   2. I have recently called off my engagement. I am bouncing back and forth between anger and despair. My sister has come to visit with the main purpose of holding space for me during this difficult transition period. When our conversation leads to tears once more, she gently asks if I want to find solutions or if I just want her to hold space. Through the tears I gasp, “hold space.” I go into my room and throw myself on my bed and wail. She comes in and sits beside me. When I am ready, I take her hand. She silently comforts me for a long time until I am done. Instead of talking about moving on and that I’m better off, she asks what will help me feel better: hugs, watching a funny movie, singing, dancing…? She is honoring where I am and what my needs are.


3. My 10 year-old son is sent home from school after trying to chase another kid down with a baseball bat. (This one was hard, but also really important. I would say in general, holding space for someone we’re really close to is hard because our emotions tend to get in the way of their emotions.)  When I get to the school I give him a hug. Once we get in the car, I ask him if he wants to talk about it. He shakes his head, and we drive home in silence. At home, he immediately goes to his room and slams the door. I hear him crying inside. Once (and only once), I ask him if I can come in, but he says no. I respect that. I honor his wishes, and I wait, holding space by giving him space.  When he is ready, we do have a long talk. Had I pushed, had I not held space for him, and made it clear that I was honoring where he was and his emotions, that talk would have been much more frustrating and much less productive for both of us.


4. A small group is doing a ceremony for the healing of childhood trauma. Close friends have been invited to witness the the ceremony and support those taking part in it. Some people may be uncomfortable because they don’t know what to say or do or where to look. They do not need to say or do anything. Being there for their friends, fully present, and not turning away is exactly what is needed for those who are conducting the ceremony to feel safe and heard.

So what is holding space exactly? By examining the common threads in the above examples, I bet you can piece it together now.

Holding space involves:

Being fully present: Don’t let your mind wander onto what you are going to say next or what you could be doing instead. People can sense when you are with them and when you are just keeping up appearances.

Honoring where the individual is and their emotions: If they are sad, acknowledge they are sad. If they are angry, acknowledge they are angry. If they are hopeless, acknowledge they feel hopeless, without trying to change it.

Listening: Again, really listening, being present with the intention to understand, not only what they are telling you, but why.

Cultivating an environment of safety: Eliminate distractions. Go to a quiet room. Let them know you are turning off your cell phone. Assure them that you will keep what they are sharing between you (and keep that promise). Make it clear that you honor them for sharing what they choose to share, and that you’re not judging. If you have had a similar experience, briefly share it.

Allowing and encouraging the expression of strong emotions: Rather than trying to cheer up the person you are holding space for, reassure them by saying things like, “it’s okay to cry.” “I can see that you’re angry.” “You have every right to feel that way.” Notice that, “I understand” is nowhere in there. Although you may have a good idea what this person is going through, you have not walked in their shoes. Implying that you have, may be taken as the opposite of supportive.

Limiting verbal interjections: Holding space does not need to be entirely silent (although if the other person is not speaking, that may be a good idea). Affirmations that you are listening can be helpful – “uh-huh,” “okay,” “I hear you,” can be a way of communicating your listening and full presence. Questions to clarify can be helpful up to a point. Keep any sharing of similar experiences short and to the point.

Holding space does not involve:

Giving Advice: After they have had an opportunity to express themselves, you may ask if the person would like your perspective or help in finding a solution. Ask only once, and abide by their response.

Judgement: There is absolutely no point in suggesting how things could have been done differently or comparing the situation to anyone else’s. This will only make things worse. Make it clear that you accept them and care for them for who they are.

Trying to fix things: Again, you may offer to speak to someone or do some action on the person’s behalf, but it could very well be that all they need you to do is hold that space.

Your ego or how you would handle the situation in their shoes: Just because the person does not approach the situation the way you would, that is no reason to invalidate their approach. Just because they do not want your advice, your touch, or even your presence, has less to do with you than it does with them. Honor and respect where they are in that moment.

As I mentioned in the 4th example, sometimes we are asked to hold space within a group. This sometimes seems to be the unimportant, extraneous position when others seem to be doing more “important” things. Holding space in these situations can be just as powerful as in one-on-one situations. Most of the same guidelines apply: being fully present and honoring the process is a valuable contribution.

Holding space for someone is a gift. It is a powerful act. More than that, it is a sacred act. The next time you are called upon to hold space for someone, instead of squirming uncomfortably or wishing you could get on with your day, thank them for allowing you to give them this gift.



Being a Container: Holding Space for Others

Understanding How to Hold Space

 What it means to “hold space” for people, plus eight tips on how to do it well

by Heather Plett

What it means to “hold space” for people, plus eight tips on how to do it well

Dreaming Big


As usual, I sat down to write an entirely different post. As usual, I’m going to take the advice of writing about what’s on my mind and in my heart in this moment.

In the last few weeks, I’ve felt as if the ground beneath my feet was constantly moving, and I didn’t know which way to look.


 Last weekend I had a series of beautiful experiences at a women’s healing retreat I co-lead. The women there helped me to identify my feelings of confusion as a loss of identity. I’d lost  sight of my passions. I was so determined to keep putting one foot in front of the other, that I had forgotten why.

So here is my why:

Singing, Dancing, Teaching, Reiki, Moksha Magick, Meditation, Oneness, yoga, Guiding people in their healing and growth, Playing Games, Laughing, and most importantly, feeling connected with the Divine.

It has been my plan for the last several months to find a new house to rent that will perfectly meet my family’s needs. One that will allow me to do my teaching and healing work in a home with its own separate working space. Right now I am doing this work in my living room, and it disrupts the lives of my kids, and it’s really not set up in a way that is welcoming to clients and students.

In a couple days I’ll be going to look at a house in the Village of the Arts, a community within Bradenton zoned to allow artists and other creative professionals to live and work affordably within a supportive community. The more I think about it and dream about it, the more I think this is exactly the kind of place I want to be.

I want to not only expand my teaching on energy and spiritual work, I want it to be a place where I can share my love for singing, dancing, yoga, etc. So now I’m looking at ways to make Circle of Light a community meeting place as well as a place for learning. It will be called Circle of Light, Unlimited.

So whether this particular house I am going to see works out or not, I trust that the Universe will provide the perfect place for us to live and grow.

Post Script: I did rent that house. Circle of Light Unlimited! opened its doors at the end of October 2016.



Learning to Allow


I am taking a journey right now. Well, I consider all of life a journey, but this is a special segment. For the month of June I am taking an online course called the Journey of Yes with the amazing Stephanie Gagos. I have been on similar journeys with her before.  Six days a week she gives us a prompt to help us embrace whatever we are saying Yes to. This time around the thing I am saying Yes to is Allowing…

Allowing the things that I ask to flow into my life to come to me instead of blocking them…allowing healing, allowing prosperity, allowing feeling, allowing trust, allowing confidence, allowing independence, allowing community, allowing the perfect house…

I would like to share with you some of what I have experienced and learned on my journey so far.

As preparation for the course, Stephanie asked us to make a commitment to our Yes, something that we would follow-through on throughout the course. I chose to post a gratitude list everyday. My reasoning was that one of the best ways to allow more blessings flow into our lives is to be grateful for what we already have. I have found this to be true during the last few weeks. The more I find to be grateful for, the more my life flows.

Here are some examples of what I have been posting:

May 31st

Today I am thankful for…
– Teaching Reiki classes independently again and giving my students exactly what they needed
– My children being incredibly helpful and cooperative all weekend while I was teaching
– Time to reconnect with the kids
– Sleeping in
– Connecting with Creator
– J.O.Y.
– Facebook
– Healing
– My work
– Buckwheat pillows

June 2nd

Today I am thankful for…
– Yoga!
– Reiki
– Facebook games
– Journaling leading to tears and shouting and release
– Making a nice dinner for me and the kids
– Having timeto nap…and doing it!

June 7th

Today I am thankful for
– Mira and the shamanic journeying she facilitated
– Sleeping in
– Reading
– Getting stuff done around the house
– Getting caught up on progress notes so that I’ll be free to take the kids to Busch Gardens tomorrow

June 16th

Today I am thankful for…
– Having energy
– Getting so much done
– Learning how to change an aerator
– Reading
– My Lighthouse Job
– Inquiry about classes in Miami
– Chocolate

Notice that some of these things might be considered big or special, and some of them might be considered quite ordinary. All of them are blessings, and the more we acknowledge our blessings, the more open we are to receiving even more blessings.


On day 2 the prompt was to write about a day in the life of our Yes. This is an exercise I have done several times with Stephanie and with others. This was the most clear my vision of my goal has ever been, and that is so exciting to me. Here is what I wrote:

Since I have allowed everything into my life that I want, I wake up around 9 am feeling well-rested and perfectly healthy. I take my time getting up. Do some yoga and then talk with the kids about our plans for the day. They are on summer break and plan to enjoy the day. I go out and work with one of my visually impaired clients in the community. I come back home and have lunch. By this time, we have the home we have been waiting for. We have a two-story house with three bedrooms upstairs. There is a nice, big back yard to play in and have bonfires. Downstairs in the front of the house is a large room I use for teaching. There is a smaller room off to the side to do Reiki and spiritual counseling in. In the back of the house is the kitchen and living room. On this day I meet with a couple of clients for healing and spiritual counseling. I have a waiting list, but keep my schedule to the right balance of seeing clients and having time to relax. A healthy and delicious dinner is prepared by my part-time cook and cleaning lady. After dinner I do dishes and play a game with the kids. After they are tucked in, I check my email and see that two more people have signed up for the spiritual development intensive I am teaching this weekend. I spend time browsing information for a cruise I am planning to take with the kids and then make plans to see a play the following weekend. I am prosperous, happy, healthy, and whole.

On day 4, we were encouraged to find a gesture to help us embody our Yes. I chose to hold my arms up and open, ready to receive all the blessings wanting to come into my life. It is trusting that everything I need and desire will be provided.


A few times a day try to stop whatever I am doing and hold my arms up and open. I say (out loud) something like “I am ready to receive. I am open. I allow the wonderful blessings I have asked for to come into my life.” Giving voice to my Yes is an important part of the healing and integration process.

For day 6 we were asked to create a self-portrait. I thought about using crayons and making what I call my “gingerbread people,” but instead I decided to go digital. I played with a picture my daughter had taken of me on PicMonkey to create this sepia version here as well as the final product I submitted which is at the top of this post. I added the words “Ask. Trust. Allow.” I have been using these words as an affirmation and reminder to myself. A supervisor at one of my first jobs out of college used this as part of her email address. I find it to succinctly sum up the process I am endeavoring to embrace.

June 10th was a turning point for me. One of my “allowings” is to allow myself to feel and express my feelings, whatever they may be. Well I had been feeling depressed and sad. I allowed myself these feelings, but I also wanted to express feelings of peace, empowerment, and joy. The prompt for the day was to write a love letter to myself. I was able to write from the heart, and by doing so, I was able to find all those feelings. Here is my love letter:

Dear Niki,
I want to let you know that you made the right decision. Even though you are sad and angry and hurt about the end of the relationship with AumJah, you did what was right for you, and that is so important. It was honoring yourself. I honor you for doing that.

You have come so far since last April. You embraced the Awakening instead of shoving it back down. You have learned to identify and express your emotions. You have learned to trust yourself and stand up for yourself more. You have released a lot of shame and fear. You have learned to communicate your needs and feelings. You have spoken out about things that are important to you. You have advocated for yourself and others. You have sought and utilized the tolls and support you need.Wow! That’s a lot!

I’m so proud of you. But beyond that, I love you.

I love your compassionate heart, your healing hands, and your genuine smile. I love that you can meet people where they are and appreciate them for who they are without judgement. I love the way you express yourself: song, dancing, writing, art – all of it.

I love you Niki.

I love you. I love you. I love you.

Release Doubt

Day 17 was about releasing. In order to allow what I want in, it is necessary for me to make room by releasing whatever is getting in the way. For me, a big part of this is doubt. I had already received this image in my mind while working with the gesture of opening my arms to receive, so for this prompt I found an existing image to overlay with the words “I release doubt.”

But I knew there was more to this one. I decided to do a meditation to find out what doubt looks like. I am learning about shamanic journeying so I employed some of the imagery associated with that path and asked a spirit guide to show me doubt. Natural-PearlsHe immediately took me to a room with a huge oyster holding a gigantic pearl. That pearl was doubt. It starts as an irritant, a speck of dirt, something that seems of no consequence. But as we embrace doubt, we nurture, we help it grown, eventually we come to cherish it. This makes it so much harder to release the doubts than if we saw them for the irritating, non-help dirt particles that they are.

Thank you for allowing me to share my journey with you. I look forward to sharing whatever I encounter on the rest of my journey.

Thoughts on Grief

Grief is itself a medicine. –William Cowper

I have been thinking a lot about grief lately…I’ve been thinking about it because I have been grieving.

In the past I have reflected on how we grieve about things other than the death of a loved one. The last few weeks have brought those thoughts into sharp relief. Obviously we do grieve those who have passed to the next world, and that is very important to do. I wrote about the importance of grieving of death in community in my previous post where I shared about the memorial for my nephew Galen, who was stillborn. In this post, I want to take time to acknowledge the grieving of other losses.


I am grieving the loss of a relationship, the loss of a man whom I love who has moved on from my life. I was engaged to be married to Guru AumJah. Our wedding date was set for Thanksgiving Day of this year. However, on May 27th, we parted ways. Even though our parting was my decision, it was a difficult one, and I have been working through the stages of grief since that day.

I had a great day today. I worked with clients, read quite a bit of the fifth book in The Game of Thrones series, and made some super delicious french toast for the kids and me for dinner. But there was a moment when I was working with one of my visually impaired clients this morning, that the loss reared up and struck me hard. I was teaching this lady the bus route to Venice Beach. I really enjoy teaching bus travel, and I was having a good time despite the heat. We got off the bus and started heading for the boardwalk that would take us to the water. I was describing the surroundings to my client when I looked over a noticed the spot that AumJah and I had shared an intimate dinner just about a year ago. I felt as though I had been punched in the gut, and the grief cycle began again.

The grief cycle as we know it today was originally published by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her seminal work: On Death and Dying in 1969. The five stages of grief (Denial and Isolation, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance) have come to be widely accepted the world over and applied to all forms of grief. However, Kubler-Ross based this cycle on her interviews of terminally ill patients, and she developed these stages as a result of their experiences of their own dying process.

However, what made me think about writing about these other forms of loss that cause so much grief was when a close friend gave me a book called Glad No Matter What by Sark. This book does not tell us to be Pollyannas all the time or to brush our “negative” feelings under the rug. It gives a map for how to express our feelings  when we’re “not glad at all” so that we can then shift into a real gladness, in fact a fuller and more complete gladness than we would ever be able to get to if we had not experienced and expressed those other feelings first. I haven’t gotten all the way through it yet, but I definitely recommend it. Sark starts with giving a “feelings menu” and the section of the book most linked to that feeling. Since grief was what I was feeling, I flipped to that section. I was really disappointed to find that she 0nly addressed grieving the death of a loved one. Besides being disappointed,  I felt irritated, and even a bit angry. So here I am expressing disappointment, irritation, and anger, and by doing so, I have become to feel empowered. Thanks Sark!

The loss of a job, a move away from familiar circumstances, even the anticipation of loss can cause us to start into the grief cycle. Some of us get so disoriented we never find our way out.

I have worked with a lot of blind and visually impaired adults who have gotten lost in the first four stages and seem never likely to emerge into acceptance. I have also had the privilege of watching many others regain their sense of control and well-being. The first part of acceptance is just to accept that the denial, isolation, anger, bargaining, and depression they are experiencing are normal – that anyone going through similar circumstances would feel the same way. That is often the turning point.

That has helped me as I weave my way through this grief process. I have accepted that all my feelings are normal…although I must confess that I had forgotten the isolation that is paired with denial. I have certainly gone through days when I denied myself the comfort that other people could offer me. On the other hand, there were days when I knew that the support I would find in the places and activities that I enjoy was just what I needed – even though my inclination was to stay at home and play Plants vs. Zombies. There have been days (and I’m sure there will continue to be) when I have given into the depression and let myself cry in bed. There have also been days that I have reminded myself that it’s okay to let go and move on – to enjoy myself in the experience without needing to have someone by my side.

I sit typing this alone. I will go to bed alone, and get up alone. That’s okay. However, one of the really important things that AumJah helped me to understand during our time together is the importance of sharing. Thank you for allowing me to share these thoughts with you.


Finding Solutions through Empathy and Compassion


I’ve been thinking a lot about empathy and compassion in the last few days and what these ideas mean to different people. I’m not going into all the variations I have encountered. I just want to share what my definitions are as a stepping stone to connection and problem-solving.

Empathy is a critical tool for us in connecting with others. To me, empathy is being able to understand what another person is feeling and why, even if you might react to the situation very differently. To take it further, empathy that is expressed gives the gift of being heard and understood. This is true even if all you have to offer is, “that sucks.” In fact, sometimes it’s better if we just leave it at that.

My definition of compassion is being able to accept someone for where they are in any given moment. It is seeing beyond yourself. It is being able to accept the choices others make for themselves. Compassion is being able to see people as human beings first rather than enemies, or their labels, or as someone beneath you.

Jane Nelson, Ed.D., author of Positive Discipline and many other books and research studies on the subject, strongly advises “connection before correction” when dealing with children. To me this step of connection is essential for all of us. In order for us to be heard, we must first connect and let the other person be heard fully. She addressed correction in the context of correcting a child’s behavior, but really she is talking about finding a solution that works for everyone.

parent and child

This is nothing new I am sharing here, it’s just where I happen to be right now. So since I’m here, I’m bringing you with me. Some of these things we need to hear over and over again until it finally makes sense. Some of these things we already know, but need a reminder. Some of these things are just so obvious that we think we get it until we realize we didn’t really. So I’m going to lay out some steps here about connecting in order to get to a place where solutions can be found.

1. The first step is listening – really listening and trying your very best to understand the other person. Something I have found that helps me to really listen (especially when the other person has a lot to express or is just long-winded) is to ask the other person to pause while I write down what I am thinking. That way I don’t have to try to remember until it is my turn, and I can be really present with them.

2. The second step is reflecting or repeating back what you heard in your own words. It is important to use your own words and phrasing so that it is clear you are not just parroting back what the other person said without understanding.

3. The third step – and this is the crucial one that is often missed – validate those feelings. Convey that you understand why that person is feeling the way they do. So in order to honestly validate, we must have empathy. We must be able to both identify and understand that other person’s feelings and then communicate that. We must be able to express our acceptance, but we can only do that if we have true compassion.

Now it may be we can stop right there. If the other person you are communicating with is a stranger you just met or someone you know in some kind of professional capacity or something, you may not have a need to share your feelings and be heard. Or it may be that a partner or family member or friend was just hurting, and you were holding space for them. Okay great…but…if this a relationship problem of whatever kind that needs a solution, continue on to step 4.

4. The fourth step in connecting through the model I am presenting is reciprocation. Now it is our turn to express what we are feeling, for our partner in communication to reflect back what they heard until they get it right, and to validate your feelings, and demonstrate compassion through the expression of acceptance for where you are in that moment.

If any of these steps cannot be met on both sides, true connection is not taking place, and you are not ready to move on to the last step.


However, you may be ready for a break. A couple months ago my therapist gave me a really excellent tool for helping me to realize when it is time for a break. She told me about the acronym HALT: Hungry, Angry*, Lonely, Tired. If any of these conditions are present, the conversation is not going to be productive. You are not going to be able to come from a place of empathy and compassion.

*Note: Sometimes we need to express our anger in the moment, and that is perfect. However, if the anger is controlling you, if you are not able to express yourself without physical or verbal violence (name calling, put downs, blaming, or shaming) then it is time to HALT.

Use HALT at any point in the conversation it is needed, not just when you get to step three or four. If you don’t think you will be able to come back to the conversation in a short period of time, make an appointment to continue later. Don’t let the problem get swept under the rug just because you’re not feeling as bad about it for the time being. It will rear its ugly head bigger and badder than it did before.

Anyway…If you can get through all four steps (with or without repetitions and breaks), you are now ready to move on to step five.

5. Finally, time for the solution! To some people finding the solution is the hard part, but when the first four steps have been given adequate time and attention, the solution is often easy to find. Your empathy and compassion for your partner in this process will help you understand why they have come up with the solution they have and vice versa. You can often see alternatives to both plans and find a solution that works for both of you.


I would love to hear your definitions of empathy and compassion, and anything else you would like to share. So please post your comments below or send me an email.

Be Blessed.


Happy Awakening Day


Just over a year ago, April 14th, 2014, I had a revelation that changed my life forever. My journey has led me through confusion and pain since then, but it has also brought me a greater state of wholeness than I have ever known. Today I am reflecting on what I have been through and what healing still needs to be done, but mostly I am CELEBRATING!


Some of the following story may be painful to read, but one of the things I am celebrating is that it is no longer difficult for me to write.

I have been so blessed to have my lover, my friend, my partner, my teacher, my student, my confidante, my fiance – AumJah – in my life. We have known each other for several years, but we did not become romantically involved until Thanksgiving Day 2013. Our sexual joining was a joy on so many levels. The bliss we were able to share with each other is beyond words. We found though, that at times, our love-making would change from loving passion to powerful healing. I would cry and feel a huge emotional release, but I couldn’t figure out why. The moment would pass, and I would go back to my life.

One Sunday night after this scenario had occurred, the moment did not pass. I felt uneasy and sick to my stomach all through the next day. I left work early. I rushed home to AumJah upset and confused. “I feel so ashamed, but I don’t know why,” I told him. “I feel icky.”

Looking back on it, I am overwhelmed with gratitude about what he did next. He held me and comforted me, and then he asked me if I wanted to find out why. I said yes. I laid back on the bed, and AumJah helped me to reach a meditative state. We then walked backwards through my life a few years at a time. We traced the icky feeling of shame back through my 30s and 20s, back into my teenage years. Each time we regressed further, the feeling of shame increased. When we went to 17, the feeling was potent, almost palpable. We went back to 13, and the feeling of ickiness vanished. I saw sparkly bubbles, and I felt radiant. We moved ahead again, this time to 14.

The sensation of shame slammed into my core, and I doubled over on myself. I saw myself in a dark bubble of scum covering my whole body. The part of me that throbbed and squirmed the most was right between my legs. It took me several moments to comprehend what my subconscious was showing me. I saw hands reaching into my vagina. With horror I finally managed to whisper, “They violated me.”

After that, I somehow came back to my room and to AumJah. He held me and and rocked me, knowing that no words were needed right then.

In the year that has passed, I have learned many things. I have remembered more and more about the series of rapes perpetrated by a group of at least four men (none of whom were related to me). I have chosen to call this experience of remembering and healing The Awakening. I have wakened to many things about myself and my life. I have experienced doubt, depression, and shame. I may write more about that part of the journey later. For now I want to tell you how I celebrated.


AumJah and I built a fire in the back yard. We shared a bowl of ice cream. Then I wrote in my notebook all the things I could think of that I am able to celebrate as a result of The Awakening. After I wrote down each gift I was celebrating, I lit a candle. I lit 25 candles last night, and there are many more that I didn’t think of, but those lights still shine in my life. Here is what I wrote:

– Confidence

– Taking Control of my life

– Expressing my anger

– Speaking my truth without fear of judgement

– Sharing my story

– My inner child (At this point I picked up the doll I have been using for inner child work. I sat her on my lap and told her that I would give her time and attention. I kept her with me for the rest of the ceremony.)


– Self-Compassion

– Unlocking the artist me

– First-hand knowledge that can help others

– New directions for my ministry

– Greater depth of understanding and sharing

– Ability to identify and express my feelings

– Greater ability to express my true self

– Releasing the hurt and shame

– Healing my body

– Getting rid of physical and metaphorical baggage

– Learning the joy of true sharing and community

– I am Gold (I’ll post about this more later)

– Becoming an even better Mom

– Standing up for myself

– Knowing Grace (my unborn daughter)

– Loving me

– Learning to let go

– Trust in myself and the Universe

– Coming to this point of appreciation

So happy Awakening Day to me. As hard as this journey has been and continues to be, I wish you your own Awakening Day and the courage to embrace and celebrate its precious gifts.


In Memoriam

I had planned on posting this piece sooner, but it hasn’t been the right time. However, it is important to me to post it – to get it out there. It’s important to me for two reasons: one, I want to share the service I wrote so that others can use it (or parts of it) if it is helpful to them, and two, I’m just pretty damned proud of how I was able to let Spirit flow through me in order to express what was needed.

I wrote about the experience of communion surrounding the death and birth of my nephew Galen in a previous post. My sister, Galen’s mother Ashley, has also shared some of her thoughts on her own blog, including what she read at the memorial.

galen n ash

I knew that funerals and memorials were an important part of my ministry, but I hadn’t had a chance to put it into practice until about a month ago. Little did I know that my first experience into this kind of service would be so close to home. On February 25th, 2015, friends and family gathered together to say goodbye to Galen. It was another moment full of both pain and blessings.

Baldwin-Fairchild Funeral Home provided cremation services and the place for the memorial free of charge. That was a blessing right there. And in a way, the ritual of funerals and memorials are in themselves a blessing. In this western culture, these few moments in these contexts are often the only times we allow ourselves to give over to mourning, and especially to express our grief to the outside world.

This mourning, this communication and embodiment of our grief, is healing. It may be only the first step on the journey of healing, but it is critical. Without the exploration of our grief and the expression of it, we are held in that moment indefinitely. Our bodies may move on and participate in the world around us, but we will never be able to be fully present in the moment of now without being fully able to mourn.

So I took to heart the potential of healing in this moment as I wrote the memorial. The writing of it was healing to me. The tears flowed as I wrote my heart, but I also prayed for guidance that my words and actions would provide what Ashley and the other mourners needed as well.

I feel I was able to do that. So please, if this will help you or someone you know in the loss of a baby to stillbirth, do use it however is best for the circumstances.

Memorial Honoring Galen

Thank you all for being here. We gather together to express our love and appreciation of Galen and what he has shared with us. And we gather together to share our grief with one another. It may not seem like it, but grieving in community is a huge gift to all involved. It is so very, very important. Ashley has appreciated the outpouring of love and support that has flooded in since she announced that Galen had already left this world before he had fully entered it. The support she had in person at the hospital during her long, difficult labor was powerful, beautiful, and life-affirming. The support she has had through texts, phone calls, Facebook messages, offers to help at home and with Aiden (Galen’s six-year-old brother), as well as monetary support, has been astounding. We are beyond grateful.

As we come together in this sacred time and place, I invite you to join me in the opening song. We’ll sing it through four times.

Opening Song
The River is Flowing (traditional)

The River, She is flowing,
Growing and flowing.
The River, She is flowing down to the sea.
Mother, carry me, your child I will always be.
Mother, carry me down to the sea.

I’ve thought a lot about what I want to share today. I keep coming back to two things: the Great and Powerful Love that has been shared and multiplied a hundredfold surrounding Galen and Ashley and Aiden in the last few months and days; and the deep, deep need to express our grief.

Malidoma Patrice Somé is a West African diviner and medicine man. He was also educated in the west and holds multiple post-graduate degrees from Brandeis University and the Sorbonne. In his book Ritual: Power, Healing, and Community, he expresses his bewilderment at his first encounter with expression of grief (or lack thereof) in the west, noting that “people appear to pride themselves for not showing how they feel about anything.” He goes on to tell us that in his culture “grief is seen as food for the psyche. Just as the body needs food, the psyche needs grief to maintain its own healthy balance.”

In a way, our grief did feed us as Ashley labored to give birth to Galen. During those long, exhausting hours, she sometimes gave her full concentration to the rushes, the contractions, to bringing Galen into the world. At times she despaired and would momentarily give in to the overwhelming pain and unfairness of the situation. At times she distracted herself and the rest of us (there were sometimes up to seven of us there supporting her) with her musings and her irrepressible humor. But the times I will cherish the most are the times we actively shared our sorrow. Our tears co-mingled in a holy communion of love too beautiful to describe.

I also want to acknowledge Aiden, and his loss. He expresses his grief and distress in ways that may be confusing to us adults, but as his six-year-old self, he experiences those feelings every bit as much as any one of us here. And he still has the feelings of displacement and change that any new big brother experiences, especially since he is only able to be with his mom for short periods each day as she begins her recovery. Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers as well. As you’re able to, let him know that you care and that you see him as an important person.

At this point, Ashley’s Dad, her sister Crystal, and then Ashley herself shared their reflections about Galen and what he had brought to this world. You can read Ashley’s reflections here.

Flower Communion
Please come up and take a flower from this vase and place it on the altar. If you wish, you may share your thoughts for Galen and Ashley. After you have placed the flower on the altar, I invite you to take a few moments with Ashley to connect with her and express your caring through a word or a hug or in some other way that you are moved. Once you have done that, we ask that you start forming a circle around Ashley and hold out your hands toward her. Visualize light coming from the palms of your hands. This light is a visual representation of love from Creator and the love you have been sending her this entire time…

As I mentioned at the beginning, one of the purposes of this gathering is to express our appreciation for Galen and the gifts he has shared with us. It is my personal belief that Galen came to this world in this lifetime in order to experience unconditional love and acceptance. He received that in abundance. Despite adversity, Ashley, and those around her, showered Galen with love and acceptance from the moment he was conceived. He received what he needed, and had no more need from this world in this lifetime. His soul may come back for another purpose in another lifetime, but for now, his spirit and his soul are at peace. He received the gift of love that he needed. I would like to share a poem by Mary Yarnall that expresses this very thought:

This was a life that had hardly begun
no time to find your place in the sun
no time to do all you could have done
but we loved you enough for a lifetime

No time to enjoy the world and its wealth
No time to take life down off the shelf
no time to sing the song of yourself
though you had enough love for a lifetime

Those who live long endure sadness and tears
but you’ll never suffer the sorrowing years
no betrayal, no anger
no hatred, no fears
Just love, only love in your lifetime

Galen also gave the gift of love. He not only gave Ashley another way to express her love as a mother, he gave all of us here – in body and spirit – a way to express our love and to come together in community. I remind us all not to squander that gift. Let us cherish it and make it grow. Let us take it with us as we go forth today. Take it into our hearts. Take it into our homes. Take it into our communities and the wide world. Let us take this love that Galen has given us and make it shine enough to light the whole Universe.

Closing Song
Please join me in the final song as we remember to share the love we have experienced today with the all those we encounter.

This Little Light of Mine (traditional)

This little light of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine,
’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!

This little tear of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine.
This little tear of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine.
This little tear of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!

This BIG love of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine.
This big love of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine.
This big love of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it SHINE!

Have Courage. Speak Out.

Speak OUT

I received the above message in early March while meditating with Sri Bhagavan and Sri Amma during a live webcast through Oneness India. It very much speaks to what I am working through right now. There are injustices I have the opportunity to speak to on a personal level. I took this message as a push to keep going in the direction of finding my voice and using it, both for myself and others.

Actually one of those opportunities came tonight. I went to the board meeting at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship where I am a member. I had never attended a board meeting before, but there were two issues on the agenda tonight that I felt very passionate about. I wanted, no I needed, to SPEAK OUT about them.

One issue surrounded a wonderful youth program that was being called into question. The other regarded homeless people sleeping on the Fellowship’s property and how to keep them out.

As I was eating dinner tonight, I barely tasted my food. (I felt bad about that because AumJah, my fiancé, had prepared a really lavish and delicious salad and made sure it was ready early so that we could eat together as a family before I left for the meeting.) As I ate, I stared off into space worrying about if I would get a chance to speak, if I would have the courage and focus to articulate my points, and how the board members would respond. My nervous mind ran through images of me breaking into tears, not having the courage to say anything, getting mad and spewing everything and storming out, being ridiculed and talked down to. I struggled with how the board would vote on the issues I was concerned about, and what that would mean for me. Would I stop attending all together despite my involvement in the community? The thoughts chased each other around and around.

At the meeting, I waited while the board members slogged through routine business. When the agenda item about the youth organization came to the floor, I was really impressed with the amount of research the president had done on both sides of the issue and the way he presented that information to the board. I added my voice to the religious education director’s in support of the program. After a lengthy discussion, the board voted to approve our congregation’s continued involvement. Yay! Victory!

The meeting lumbered on. We reached the issue of homeless people on the property – well, one man who has been sleeping there recently. The president had decided to put up “No Trespassing” signs around the property, which would allow the police to patrol the area more often and ask people to leave.
Now for those of you who aren’t familiar with Unitarian Universalism, we don’t have a lot of dogma. We have seven principles that we use as a basis to come together, and from there individuals are able to pursue their own personal religious, spiritual, and ethical beliefs as they see fit. The very first principle is “the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” We focused a lot on that principle at the service a few weeks ago celebrating the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama. All the while I was thinking, what about the inherent worth and dignity of homeless people? As we sang “how many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man…” the total irony struck me hard. AumJah pointed out the big sign in the back of the sanctuary stating that we are a “Welcoming Congregation,” meaning that we welcome people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. He looked at it and asked me, “If I was gay and homeless, would I be welcome?”

It finally came time that I could speak out about the issue of how we as a congregation treat people who are homeless. I spoke eloquently and passionately. The board members listened politely. Then they agreed with the president about putting up those signs (which they already had in their possession).
So now I do have to figure out the future of my involvement with this congregation. Obviously the issue of homelessness is something that I’m passionate about. I strongly disagree with the attitudes and actions that were put forth tonight. Now what? I don’t know. It is something I will contemplate over the next few days and weeks.

I do know something else. I know that I do not regret my decision to speak out tonight on both issues. It was a huge step. A year ago I may not have done it. A year ago I might have ranted up and down at home, I may have written a letter, but I probably wouldn’t have put myself out there like I did tonight. A lot has changed in that year. I have shown myself how much courage I possess. I have shown myself how important it is to acknowledge my truth to myself. I have shown myself that by speaking my truth I set myself free.

I have courage. I speak out.

I invite you to do the same.

Speak OUT