ritual

Homecoming

Almost two years ago, I heard a call from within, and even though it was a scary one, I answered. This was a very clear call to shift the way I offer my medicine and gifts to the world. It needed an update, a refresh, and to realign with my authentic Self - a Self who had been changing all along, who was waking up into a new chapter of her life. I paused the part of my work that involves in-person private psychotherapy clients, and followed my gut and heart into a soul searching expedition.

This time has been (& is) a gift — rich with quiet, deep self inquiry and fiery, raucous dances with my inner teenager. I’m catching up to who I’ve been becoming on the inside over this past decade when I was keeping my head down in parenting-a-tiny-human mode & in career mode. This discovery time precipitated my family’s upcoming move to Boulder and juicy personal developments. Since last June, I've been part of an ongoing council and ceremony designed to take a deep-dive into how I can walk as my medicine. It has become so clear to me, through that experience with a tribe of soulful women, how much we need each other's reflection in order to adequately see ourselves.  

I am relearning how to value BEing as much as (or more than) DOing. At a dinner party, wouldn’t we all rather be asked “who are you?“ than “what do you do?“ Sure, I’ve got artsy side gigs here & there, I do some remote supervision and consulting work, and I’m momming nonstop, but without clients walking into and out of my office, “work” has been less visible. A few weeks ago my daughter asked, “Do you even have a job anymore?” Honestly, the question struck a nerve... likely because of my own accidental indoctrination into & expectations about work/worth culture, and also that she may have already absorbed some of that bullshit just by breathing the air. So, I took the opportunity to talk about the importance I place on reevaluating, reinventing, recreating — on BEing. On aligning, centering, and getting into right relationship with the Self. How it’s a socially unsanctioned and radical act in our current culture. How it’s the opposite of glorifying busy-ness. And how slowing down to listen is an extreme privilege I absolutely recognize and for which I feel immense gratitude. While putting “work” on hiatus to explore myself (& as a biproduct, how I can most authentically be of service in my next “professional” incarnation,) I hope I’m inadvertently modeling for my daughter the supreme value of simply walking as one’s medicine in the world.

I feel so much more ME, and it is only from that place that I can know what is mine to offer, and offer these gifts wholeheartedly. I’m trusting that the service/doing part will unfold, once I’m settled in my new Boulder digs, and with divine timing. And for now, I gotta finish packing up my studio and dusting off my wings... almost time to fly!

Making Mabon Magic

The upcoming autumnal equinox (in the Northern hemisphere,) or Mabon, is a perfect opportunity to create a ceremony to mark a seasonal transition. Ceremony is a sacred and active prayer that opens communication with spirit. It can be as modest or elaborate as you'd like, as long as you infuse your ritual with clear intention and heartfelt meaning. Here is a loose guideline for a very simple, personal autumn equinox ceremony:

1) Gather materials: You'll need your journal, a piece of scrap paper, pen, candle, lighter, favorite scents (oils, smudging plants) and any other objects that speak to you in this moment (stones, bells, photos, jewelry, flowers, etc.) 

2) Carve out a sacred space. It can be in your home or yard, the forest or beach -- anywhere! You may wish to create a small autumn altar on a shelf, table, or near your yoga mat or meditation space. If outside, you might use a stone or tree stump as an altar, or create a beautiful spot at the base of a tree. Place your special candle on your altar. You might also include seasonal objects you've gathered, such as leaves, acorns, stones, fruits.

3) Set your intention for autumn. Reflect on what you want to manifest by writing or making art in your journal. Then write a your intention statement on a small piece of paper to use in ceremony. You may wish to flow with the energy the fall equinox offers naturally, such as:

  • Recognizing and honoring the balance of the light and dark within you, as there are equal hours of each on this special day.
  • Harvesting, expressing gratitude for, and celebrating the bounty and abundance from the seeds you've sewn earlier this year.
  • Soulful planning for the cooler, darker, introspective months ahead. The seed you plant now can bloom next spring.
  • Making a commitment to open your inward eye during these darker months, discovering more about your unfolding, authentic self.
  • Replenishing yourself - mind, body, and spirit. As reflected in the plant and animal life around us, we are also moving into the time for dormancy, hibernation, rest, and renewal. 
  • In this season of roots, spend time honoring your ancestors, calling on them for guidance or protection. 

4) Open the ceremony by marking the time as sacred using a symbolic act. This can be done any in any of the following ways: Crossing a threshold; lighting the candle on your altar; sounding a bell, gong, drum, or rattle; using a scent to bring you into the dreamtime (diffusing or anointing with essential oils, lighting sage or palo santo, misting rose water, etc.)  

5) Now call your guides into the space. Your personal guides might be your spirit guides, angels, gods/goddesses, animal spirits, ancestors or any un/seen entity that feels good and clear to call on in support of your highest good and your intention.

6) Cast a circle, calling upon all directions. You can do this however you prefer. I like to speak the following:

Facing east: "Spirit of the east, great spirit of air, cleanse this space."

Facing south: "Spirit of the south, great spirit of water, bring peace to this space."

Facing west: "Spirit of the west, great spirit of fire, energize this space."

Facing north: "Spirit of the north, great spirit of earth, ground this space."

Directed upward: "Great father sky, protect this space from above."

Directed downward: "Great mother earth, nurture this space from below."

7) Say your intention aloud and/or meditate on it like a mantra. Allow the intention statement to flow through your body in both directions -- inhaling the earth's energy up from the bottom of your feet (or base of your spine if sitting) from root to crown until it ascends from the top of your head to the heavens. Then exhale it down from crown to root, grounding your intention into the fertile soil of the earth.

8) Place the small paper with your intention on your altar. I often place mine under a candle or a stone to ground and enliven it. 

9) Close the ceremony circle by offering gratitude to your guides. Also you may want to repeat or reverse the act you chose for opening your ceremony, such as snuffing the candle or herbs, sounding the bell, or crossing back over your threshold. 

10) Allow the ceremony live in you as you move through the season ahead. Interact with your altar and/or journal, revisiting your intention and noticing the ways you are actively manifesting it in your life. 

Saying goodbye

carryyourheart

Saying goodbye to someone we care about is difficult, and it's never, ever perfect. As a culture (or maybe as a species,) we're just not that good at it because it doesn't feel great, and we're pleasure-seekers by nature. We all handle goodbyes differently, in ways that might have been modeled for us by early caregivers or ways relationships may have ended without our having a choice in the matter. Almost all of us have some degree of woundedness around goodbyes, whether they've left us with feelings of abandonment, anger, confusion, and/or grief. So when we say goodbye as adults, we might protect ourselves (often our younger child selves) in subtle ways that are not entirely conscious. We may belittle the meaningfulness of the relationship, skip over or avoid the goodbye by ghosting, say a breezy or empty goodbye because our true vulnerability is too difficult to show (or may be unsafe to show, in some cases.) We may be in denial of the goodbye, using a "see you later" mentality even when we won't actually see them later. We might linger, delay, or hold on in small ways so the goodbye isn't final. We might focus on unpleasant memories of the relationship, place blame, express anger, or unconsciously need to make the other person 'wrong' so we can emotionally withdraw so the ending doesn't hurt as much. We might drop a bomb (aka - big piece of news or big new emotion) at the end of a relationship on our way out the door so there isn't time to process it together. We might feel all of our real goodbye feels, but avoid eye contact or even the in-person parting. Some of us prefer to write a heartfelt letter to express our feelings about the ending. We may put the other person on a pedestal of admiration or shower them with compliments or gifts when parting. These are just a few examples of the limitless ways many of us defend against the pain of parting.

Let me be clear: None of these behaviors are "bad" or "wrong" -- it's just how we human beings self-soothe around something really, really hard on our hearts. They are all brilliant adaptive strategies we've learned and practiced in order to cope with something difficult, unpleasant, raw, or sometimes threatening. Whichever strategy you've used in past relationship endings, it is okay because it has served and protected a vulnerable part of you -- likely a younger part. Honor your inner wisdom around it, while also examining it to see if you still want and need to do goodbyes in the way you have historically.

As a therapist, goodbyes are something I think about a lot, because therapists tend to experience them a lot when it is time to end with a client. Our goodbyes ethically and legally need to be complete closure of the relationship. In the field of therapy, a goodbye between a client and a therapist is called "termination," though many shudder at that term, mostly due to the connotation around death. (Death is another type of goodbye our culture still has a hard time talking about, but that's another blog topic for another day.) Therapists aim say goodbye to our clients intentionally, and model what a healthy, conscious, authentic goodbye can look like. As therapists, we sign up to hold space for and honor whatever emotions, defenses, or projections (mostly unconscious) the goodbye brings up within each client - each scenario so unique and uncharted.

Therapy is a microcosm for how a person does their life outside the therapy room, as well as a safe rehearsal-ground for what might be possible in future moments outside therapy. In the spirit of personal growth and rehearsing new ways of being, when a relationship between a therapist and client comes to an end, therapists can invite clients to engage in an ending experience that hopefully feels honoring and real - even if this way of being feels new, weird, and perhaps pushes against a growing edge.

Sure, even the most intentional, conscious, healthy goodbye can still create a degree of longing, awkwardness, sadness, discomfort, or disappointment. That goes for both sides -- therapist and client -- because we're all human and sensitive and evolving. The difference is that therapy (and the ending of it) is in service of the client, and it is the therapist's job to process our own issues, in our own healing space and time, around endings and perhaps around the personal impact of what we're being asked hold in the service of each client. This is why self-care for healers is an ethical imperative. Even when co-creating a conscious goodbye experience in therapy, old habits may still play out, perhaps depending on a person's degree of readiness for change or the degree of woundedness around endings. In my therapist and human heart, I genuinely welcome and meet this with deep empathy, and I express it when given the opportunity. Growth can be so clunky and beautifully human for all of us, and we're all here to help each other grow. When closure is done with presence, authenticity, gratitude, vulnerability, intention, openness, and even ritual and celebration, goodbyes can be tremendously healing.

The next time you are putting closure to a relationship of any kind, it's an opportunity to engage in a conscious goodbye, whether you have always done so, or whether you just wish to do it differently this time. At the very least, it's a chance to explore your relationship to "goodbye" and what your mode of operation has been around endings. To be authentic and frank in expressing your feelings when parting ways, and honoring the shared time and space of a relationship, is healing to the heart.

Making space for a creative home

This blog entry is a repost of an article I wrote, which was published in Grounded Magazine in their Autumn 2014 "Make" issue. I'm revisiting it on this Spring Sunday morning, as I listen to my now 3rd grade daughter in her singer-songwriter creative zone in the other room. Unfortunately Grounded Magazine is no longer being published, and I wanted this piece to live on, so I will share it here with you. Wishing a spacious and creative day to you and yours!

creating-with-kids

My second grader and I linger at the table after breakfast on a brisk Autumn morning. I sip my light and sweet slow-drip and watch my mind fill with a Sunday to-do list: return emails, grocery shop, send birthday card. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch a twirl of our handmade driftwood mobile near the window. For the next few moments, my thoughts flip-flop between warm days along the coast and plans to pick up butter and stamps.

Meanwhile, my daughter is grabbing a jar from a nearby shelf and is intensely engaged with acorn caps she collected on a walk yesterday. With profound focus, she is stacking them, lining them up, closely studying their shape and texture. She perches one between her thumb and pointer finger, declaring, “A perfect size for a fairy hat! Hey Mom, let’s make flower fairies!” Her proposal abruptly snaps me right back into the present moment, waking me from nostalgia for days passed and plans for the day ahead. One of the most profound gifts our children offer is reminding us to return to the present moment.

“Let’s make flower fairies!” is my daughter’s way of inviting me to enter her world of imaginal play and creation. She wants to connect in the most natural way children know – through immersion in the flow of creative expression. It’s so sincere and beautiful, and my iPhone is buzzing and there are dishes from breakfast and wet clothes to be dried and.. and.. and…

As both a mother and a mindfulness-oriented art psychotherapist, I have learned the deep, lasting, and mutual benefits of making art alongside our children. I can say, from personal and professional experience, this practice is not easy in modern parenthood. When we sit down to draw with our children, it’s either the ding of our inbox or the relentless voice of the inner critic distracting us from true absorption in the activity.

Slowing Down

A creative home life requires making mental space and time much more than it demands an expertly appointed craft room. Cuddling on the couch with a bag of seashell souvenirs and a spool of yarn from the junk drawer to create a garland will be meaningful as long as we are able to be fully present in those moments. Our undivided attention is what fills children up most. The added benefit is that if we really show up, it can be deeply gratifying for parents, too.

The best way I know how to enter into creative space with children is to slow everything down. Slowness is the antidote for the modern din, like an inverse yoga pose to balance all the rushing around. We can use the slow pace of the natural world as inspiration for the rhythm of our creative home lives. Step out for a family walk to absorb the colors, light, and offerings of each season, opening all senses to the experience.

Dancing with the earth models deep, meaningful living for children, reaffirming that each beautiful detail is worth honoring. When we experience the world through a child’s perspective, we are able to tune into the hundreds of colors on the skin of an apple. We can recall the magic of watching yellow and blue paint mixed to a vibrant green for the very first time. Slowing down each step validates a child’s inborn need to investigate the process. In preserving this innate gift, we challenge our own glorification of efficiency and multitasking. Bringing mindfulness to our experiences heightens the ordinary into something extraordinary. It allows space for us to feel something and to respond to it. This is what art is meant to do.

Making is our birthright as human beings. Children are aware of their inherent ability to create and are visibly enthusiastic about the life-affirming magic of putting something new into the world. Often adults have abandoned our inner makers for more socially sanctioned pursuits. The gabby inner art critic we carry can rest when we dive into a project with our children because they don’t expect us to be Martha Stewart or Wayne Thiebaud. Above all, they want to connect with our smiling eyes and benefit from seeing our committed engagement with the creative process.

Setting the table

Art materials are food for the soul. When preparing a creative activity, whether for my art therapy adult clients or for my young daughter, I imagine I’m hosting a special dinner party with an intention of making my guests feel cherished. Much like a chef pairs specific flavors so as not to clutter the palette and overwhelm the senses, I edit the selection of materials. The menu varies, but the setting is always deliberate and the meal nourishing.

I prepare the space with intentions of simplicity, beauty, and rhythm. I let in natural light and fresh air, assessing the space for distractions that could pull my family away from creative absorption. I turn off and cover electronic screens. I sweep away clutter that interrupts the eye. If I’m distracted by the worry that the “meal” will be messy, I simply cover the floor with an drop cloth, put butcher paper or oilcloth over the table, and we don smocks. If I still find mess to be an obstacle, I don’t cancel the party; we dine al fresco instead.

Just as I would select food at the market for dinner, I incorporate natural materials that are local and in season into our buffet of creative offerings. This reinforces a child’s attunement with the rhythms of the earth and helps parents come back home to these inner movements of the soul. Natural objects account for half of the “art materials” in my home. We gather acorns, sticks, shells, stones, leaves, flowers, and pine cones and store them in large, clear jars on a dedicated shelf.

Rather than a huge collection of art supplies, I invest in fewer, high-quality materials that promise a powerful sensory experience. Aside from basic paintbrushes, scissors, and glue, a few of my favorite art media are Stockmar beeswax crayons, liquid watercolors, Lyra Ferby colored pencils, wool roving, a variety of yarn and string, and white paper (140 lb. for painting and 80 lb. for drawing.) Knowing each type of art media holds an inherent metaphor, from the yielding way watercolors blend together to the resistance of a sharp pencil on paper, I purposefully select materials that will help balance the current mood.

Combining earthy items with traditional art materials makes for an elegant creative provocation — an art invitation without the intention of a specific product, inviting experimentation and free self-expression. I sometimes set up a provocation before my daughter comes home from school or prepare it before bed, so it greets us in the morning. Some favorite pairings on our art table that offer limitless possibility are:

  • leaves + clay
  • driftwood + acrylic paint
  • smooth stones + ink
  • acorn caps + wool roving
  • twigs + yarn
  • flower petals + clear contact paper
  • pine cones + colorful pompoms
  • a wildflower bouquet + colored pencils

Trusting the process

Children feel held when there is rhythm and appreciate a time each day or week devoted to making. Co-creating a ritual to mark creative time as sacred will bracket the experience as heightened and special, like lighting a candle or ringing a bell to begin and end art sessions.

Embracing an experimental mindset when making with children helps us to honor the process. This doesn’t always mean letting go of the idea that we might create a product or a useful craft; rather, it allows for meandering, messes, and mistakes along the journey. I trust that the art materials will tell us which way to turn next, and I listen to them with focus and wonder so my daughter might do the same.

Like all cycles, each creative process winds down to completion. Together, we clean our materials with respect and care. We set aside time to reflect upon what we have made, as this part of the creative process allows for integration and meaning-making. A child’s art holds his or her stories, emotions, worldview, and self-concept, so we treat the art with the same respect as the artist. I withhold my opinions and projections, being responsible to ask my daughter open-ended questions about her process and her creation.

When the candle had been snuffed or the bell has been rung, my daughter is often recharged and seamlessly moves into solitary play. My to-do list is still waiting there for me, and I face it feeling more balanced, satisfied, and connected. In my maker-momma bones and my art therapist heart, I have intimately come to know the value of mindfully making creative space where flower fairies can fly.

A story of flow: Birth of the SoulSpace Oracle & my Etsy shop

Wow, I wasn't expecting this, but today I opened an Etsy shop! I attribute this whole manifestation to the concept of flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (looks like a mouthful but is pronounced chick-sent-me-high) discovered that people find genuine satisfaction during a state of consciousness called Flow. In this state they are completely absorbed in an activity, especially an activity which involves their creative abilities. During this “optimal experience” they feel “strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities.” And well, that's sort of how my offering an oracle card deck for sale on one of my all-time favorite sites happened. I have been an avid collector of oracle or divination decks for at least 15 years, and for the past decade I've been wanting to create my own deck for my own personal use. Each time I purchase a new deck or when I pull my daily card or spread from a favorite deck, I've always had that thought in the back of my mind that it'd be so meaningful if the cards I pulled were my own creation. When I saw the extraordinary artist, Tara Leaver, offering a 2-week ecourse to create your own oracle deck, I was sold. Two weeks seemed doable, and like just the spark I needed to light this fire under me. So I dove in, and one day I set up a bunch of little bits of watercolor paper, not knowing where I was headed with the art... just trusting and listening to the materials and playing. No audience in mind, no product in mind.

And it was FUN! I got truly absorbed in the flow of the liquid watercolors oozing on the page. And just like that, 30 images were created. Next, I sat down with each little painting and listened to the art. This is something we art therapists do (and teach our clients to do) quite a bit. I listened (with a sort of ear turned inward while my eyes were fixed on the image) until a word came for each image. I had an intention that the flavor of the words might give a 'how I want to feel' sort of vibe that I had found last summer while reading Danielle LaPorte's Desire Map. A few images had other ideas in mind, and produced more shadowy elements, which I completely welcomed in, as they offer balance and wholeness. I used little alphabet stamps to spell the words on the bottoms of the cards.

I went on a trip to L.A. that weekend, and I brought the cards with me because I felt like they may not quite be finished. While I was in the hotel room one day, I drew a little bit on each card using both black and white inks. They suddenly felt complete -- in an easy, flowing sort of way. And they were already so satisfying to pull a card-of-the-day, and know it was my very own creation.

I began to post photos of the cards on my professional Instagram page, and to my surprise, I received inquiries about where they could be purchased. As a healing arts practitioner who provides a service, I hadn't thought of myself as one who offers products or sells my art, but it got me excited to think of doing so, so I followed that whim with humble curiosity. A quick google search provided many options for self-publishing my deck, and a chance conversation with my neighbor afforded me a scanner to borrow one afternoon to digitize the images.

Scanned. Uploaded. Ordered. Shipped. Poof! This was happening... and with oddly less effort and more serendipity than I've felt in a while. This is what happens when flow is underway... we can ride the wave and take a stance of allowing, just watching it unfold. I watched this oracle deck come into being almost all on its own, and I love it when that sort of magic aligns.

And now my little 30-card deck is for sale on my new Etsy shop, Art and Soul Space. The SoulSpace Oracle, aptly named after The SoulSpace Series, an ecourse I'm teaching in self-care for healers, where we use oracle cards and art as a part of everyday micro-self-care rituals. My first printing of this deck is a small run, as an experiment, just for fun. If I get a great response, I'll reprint, and perhaps even create a 'part 2' adding cards to this deck. I'm thrilled that it's out in the world, and the biggest thing I had to do to manifest it was to get out of its way and allow it to happen.