Loves Comes in All Sizes, Shapes And Forms

Recently, a very wise man said to me, “Love is really everything. Everything in this Universe is Love.” I’ve been a “student of love” for most of my life 🙂 and I consider his statement to be simple and true. Everything boils down to Love. I thought about the various ways Love expresses itself.

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I realized that when I’m with Serenity, the horse, she is a 1000 pounds of pure love expressing through her body and personality. By the same token, when I’m cuddling with my 8 pound tiny wisp of a kitty, Athena, she is also the expression of love in her tiny, warm, purring body and sweet emotions.

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The pure love, emotion and pride captured in this photo I took of my dear “Navajo family” as the father of my “Navajo nephew” hugs his son upon his son’s graduation and preparation to leave the reservation to go to Harvard.

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My 13 year old Toyota Rav 4 (120,000 miles and still going strong ) is, perhaps, an unusual shape and form of Love. But this little vehicle drove me out of the conflagration of 9/11 in New York City to safety. Then, she faithfully drove me to and fro, commuting back and forth to New York City, during a certain phase of my life, 3 hours each way with nary a mishap. She brought me down to my new home in Florida, 7 years ago. And she is, to me, like a member of my little family and I wouldn’t trade her in for a new, fancy vehicle for the world! Also, having no car payments allows me to use those resources to help out folk who might need a helping hand now and then.

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This photo is of Danielle Petrie,  just one of my beloved yoga teachers. She is poetry and inspiration in motion! She amazes me  and loves me every day! I think about these women and men who teach us yoga with patience, love and non-judgment as they hang their personal troubles on “a hook by the door”. I am so grateful for all I have learned about my body and the spirit that resides in my body through their gentle, very loving instruction.

Also, I have begun to have girlfriends again! After a long time of being independent and career oriented I observed that all my friends were men.  Now, I’m adding the love of girlfriends to this equation.  There is Laura, a noble, beautiful and talented woman who helped me acquire my Texas land and who thinks I am wise, kind, beautiful and strong.  There is Danielle, pictured above, who is tender, magical and such a very real and powerful woman.  There is Casey, who is training me on the glorious horse, Serenity, who is a wonderful, funny, loving, beautiful woman who loves that her horse loves me and has bonded with me.  She generously acknowledges the gentler, softer difference in her horse since I’ve been riding her.  Tremendous love all around.

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Of course, there are all the shapes, sizes and forms in our biological families. Here we all are at a family reunion a couple of years ago. Some in this picture are now stars in heaven shining down with love as they journey on the other side of this earth life.

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I’ve been abundantly blessed to also have a family that “adopted” me. My Navajo family has shown me unconditional love and acceptance. Even though I am from a completely different world, they don’t care about that. They love me and surround me with love. My “Navajo grandmother” and “sister” pictured here have been truly like the grandmother I never knew and the sister I never had. God showed me His love when He filled in those empty, longing parts in my soul with these two loving women.

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There is always romantic love, of course. I’ve recently accepted the love of a wonderful, kind, honest, supportive man of integrity. Sometimes when it is so easy and so drama-free, it is hard for romantic love to feel as wildly romantic as the love we think we feel for people who perhaps really don’t love us in return. This has been one of my biggest lessons in recent times, as I was more than once pulled into an ongoing painful situation with a man that didn’t love me but wanted me in his life.  The fact he didn’t love me and loved someone else created all sorts of unnecessary stress and sadness for both of us. In fact, I didn’t even recognize myself as I would melt down with uncontrolled and toxic emotion. It frightened me and caused me to have tremendous self-doubt. It feels just plain good to have a man in my life who loves me pretty much unconditionally.

Life has recently put people and books into my path that all have to do with Love. Reading The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz has been an inspiration as it gives a” how-to” for joyful love of self, others and God. He writes, ” You can be loving all the time. This is your choice. You may not have a reason to love, but you can love because to love makes you happy. Love in action only produces happiness. Love will give you inner peace. It will change your perception of everything. You can see everything with the eyes of love. You can be aware that there is love all around you. When you live this way, there is no longer a fog in your mind…Happiness is the lost paradise…This is the future of humanity.”
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Love is the essence of God and our Universe.

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We Are All A Little Bit Messy

543 I was having a long, rather “dramatic” phone conversation with someone very dear to me the other night.  I was sobbing, doubting myself, doubting God’s purpose for me and generally expressing the kinds of things one expresses when one has been snowbound for days with no human contact and way too much time to think 🙂  In the midst of my self-created drama my friend quite simply said, “We are all a little bit messy.”  At which my sobs transformed into huge laughter.  I guess the irony of my being MORE than a little bit  messy at that moment and the simplicity of that statement added up to hilarious!

Having been an opera singer most of my life, life often imitated art in that my relationships, work and state of mind sometimes verged on the extreme. I found myself working hard to hide this  I would try to appear “normal” even when emotional storms were raging inside.  I would present a front of pleasing people, politeness and positivity when sometimes, internally, I was riding out turbulent seas.  You artists know what I mean when I speak of the blessing/curse of being extremely sensitive, needing to stay very open to all input and inspiration creatively and walking the tightrope between balance and imbalance.  It is challenging, satisfying and how we’re hard-wired.

As the years went on I grew to understand myself better, matured, grew wiser and grew to love myself more and, thus, others more.  I worked hard on self-knowledge and personal responsibility.  I “processed” a lot of the childhood hurts and traumas that had shaped me (as I continue to do).  Life became more evenly balanced…for the most part :). But like all of us, sometimes I can indeed be a little bit messy and my goal is never to be ashamed of this but to embrace the strength and courage it has required to live the life I’ve lived.

I was on my own at a very early age.  I wasn’t really nurtured. I had the talent and heart of an artist.  I did everything by myself without much help or support.  I knew fear, hunger, cold and despair.  I didn’t lead a “normal life” of marriage, home and children.  I was lonely and alone so much of the time.  I realize I’ve carried no regrets for my choices but a nagging feeling of shame that I wasn’t “like other people”.

In recent months, I’ve come to a deeper understanding of why I had to experience all these things.   Life is showing me how I can now apply all that those experiences taught me to help others on their way. This is becoming more and more clear as I develop my next phase of creating sanctuary.  Life is giving me opportunities daily to give sanctuary, even before I’ve created my actual location.  So, yes, I’m still “a little bit messy” but I’m on a clear path.

This quote from Paul S. Boynton, author of Begin with Yes was my inspiration for these thoughts.  He writes:

” The most Beautiful People
We have Known are Those Who have Known Defeat, Known Suffering,
Known Struggle, Known Loss,
And have Found their Way Out of the Depths.
These People Have an Appreciation, a Sensitivity, And an Understanding of Life
That Fills them with Compassion,
Gentleness, and a Deep Loving Concern.
Beautiful People…Do Not just Happen.”

On this Valentine’s Day, I give thanks for all of you that are “a little bit messy”. I give thanks for all of you that became beautiful people through “finding your way out of the depths”. You are the heart and true symbol for this day of love.
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Clarence Odbody, Angel 2nd Class

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Last week I pretty much felt that God hated me. I had lost trust in a beloved friend and it felt to me that God was giving all good things to anyone and everyone but me. I felt that all my efforts to be a Clarence Odbody, Angel 2nd Class, to my beloved friend had been tossed aside in order to appease a more demanding entity. And, yes, okay, I was certainly indulging in a "pity poor me party" along with my grief at being misled by this friend.

But then, the skies cleared unexpectedly and beyond expectation. Even though my friend had made choices that left me saddened… in other areas I began to see that my dearest wishes to be a human angel were being realized.

In the area of my work which includes hiring and training new hires for my company, I was completely surprised at our annual party by an honor presented to me by our Director of Operations and supervisory staff (all of whom I had hired and trained) in which they expressed their gratitude for my leadership…accompanied by a standing ovation from company employees, almost all of whom I had trained. This was followed by private, individual expressions of gratitude for the ways in which my influence had changed their lives. A "Clarence" moment for me!
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Then, in another arena, my dear girlfriend, who is in an abusive marriage, sat me down and told me that the violence was escalating. She had enough courage and trust to tell me this. When I told her it was finally time to explore the path of self-defense, she listened and agreed to allow me to bring her to my tactical instructor to educate her in all methods to defend herself and her children when (it’s not “if” but, frighteningly, “when”)the situation escalates. She also allowed me to provide her with the means financially to escape. I was able to be a “Clarence” once again!!

Which brings me to this day. I had asked a friend, who is also an incredible horsewoman, to give me some lessons in the finer points of physical communication with a horse, in anticipation of my upcoming retreat, “Literature and the Landscape of the Horse” with author Page Lambert. What I didn’t know is that due to many circumstances in her life, that precious horse was beginning to lose weight and needed some care that was beyond her means to provide, since the woman who had previously been “leasing” the gorgeous creature had had to stop. Enter Clarence Odbody, Angel 2nd Class! I grabbed the opportunity to be a “fairy godmother” to the beautiful horse, Serenity, because, after all, this is my ultimate mission when I create my sanctuary in Texas for horses, humans and any critter needing care. What a perfect beginning!
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God doesn’t hate me after all :)! I have been presented with many more opportunities to serve and be a human angel. Even though I experienced crushing disappointment and grief at my beloved friend’s decisions, I realize, at least, I was able to “Clarence” this person into having a few precious months of their daughter’s senior year of high school. That is an ongoing joy for me!

AND THIS IS JUST THE BEGINNING!!!!!!

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Advent is Expectation, Options and Hope

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I love the Advent season! In the picture above, you will see my little glass Charlie Brown tree with bird ornaments. But the very top bird is a hummingbird…the bird the First Nation considers magic and a bird that opens the heart. I will soon be going up to my Georgia mountain cabin and be decking the halls with Georgia pine and there will be a big tree and lights and all the Christmas accoutrements! But for now, for Advent, I love the possibilities in my tiny glass tree.

We wait with expectation for Christmas. As children, we waited for Santa, made lists, behaved as well as we possibly could and Christmas Eve, set out cookies and milk and listened for reindeer on the roof. In the imagination of our childhood selves, we traveled into glorious fantasy and pure magic. As we gained more experience, we began to look at this time as a preparation for a spiritual re-birth while celebrating the birth of the Savior. Sadly, it has also became a time of frenetic activity and stress as we prepare for “The Day”.

With even more experience, I now look at this time of Advent as fraught with possibility. I recently heard a marvelous sermon that asked what we would want on our tombstone, while sharing inspiring, touching and just plain funny epitaphs. But the point was that we are creating our lives each day and creating our “movies”. We can actually choose to have an expectation of wonderful things happening. The sermon spoke of Mary and the Annunciation and how absolutely astonishing it must have been for her, as a woman, in that culture, at that time in history, to be told she would be the most blessed of women! We are “allowed” to expect amazing things in our lives.

So many of us feel “stuck” in relationships, in locations, in jobs we abhor. What Advent tells us is that there are options. There is so much more for which we can reach! Advent brings the expectation of salvation and glory.

A friend finally opened up to me today about the abusive marriage she is in. She feels completely trapped and stuck, yet she is mature and grounded enough to see the truth for what it is. As we spoke, we began to explore her options. Suddenly, we had a slew of options, ideas and ways of getting her “ducks in a row” to get out before it’s too late. I was able to share my own experiences of having been in a verbally abusive relationship in which I almost completely lost “me” (Cutting my hair off with cuticle scissors was a good indicator that I was “disappearing”).

Another cherished friend also suffered through years of an abusive marriage. This friend somehow got themself out and slowly but very surely is rebuilding a wonderful life for themself. I know this friend is going to fulfill all their potential as a magnificent writer and speaker! All the more so because of their own “travels through Hell”. My friend is now solidly on the road of freeing themself from all that currently binds them, is spreading their wings and we all will be better for my cherished friend’s insight and inspiration!

How grateful I am for that path I traveled so that now I am actually “qualified” to give help, support and advice because I traveled to Hell and came back stronger and more joyful than I ever believed possible!

I also had been through the Hell of 4 years of being stalked and knew the shame that this brought as well as the shame of being abused. I am SO grateful for these experiences! I am so grateful that God and angels were with me the whole way during these descents into Hell. It made me ready.

And that is what Advent is all about! Becoming ready. Ready for all things glorious. We are creating our “movies”. And these movies don’t have to be settling for mediocrity or anything less than the potential with which our Creator endowed us!

Hope abounds in this season. Let us not settle for anything less than the fulfillment of our deepest hearts’ desires! The birth of the Savior is proof that the most wonderful things can happen and we can hope for them, expecting that they will come to pass. We have options and need not stay stuck in any situation that is not serving us. We can “spread our wings and take the sky”. And that, beloved friends, is what I expect for each of us in this season of expectation.

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The Paths We Follow

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I say my morning prayers at sunrise and this morning I was treated to the sight of the sun making this path on the ocean. I smiled to myself because it was a symbol of a recent, very emotional conversation I had had.

I had been sitting in church next to a woman who had complimented me on my singing voice (being a former professional opera singer it’s hard to dampen it…”why–do they shut Me out of Heaven? Did I sing–too loud?” –Emily Dickinson 😇) She inquired about my opera career and somehow, because she was such a good listener, I found myself describing the years of discipline similar to a professional athlete, the constant traveling, the thicker skin one develops, the loneliness, the passion, joy and complete transcendence. I went on to describe how, when one’s passion becomes a business, it can drain the joy out of it. Also, how there were certain aspects of a performing career that I no longer wanted to tolerate. So after years of this career, knowing since I was 3 years old that I would be an opera singer and after grieving the giving up of this path…I set my feet upon a new path.

As I began to describe the new path that is beginning to get clearer and clearer, I found tears springing to my eyes and my heart beginning to swell and I realized, yes, indeed, I am on this path and it too is becoming a passion and a joy. That surprised me! It kind of snuck up on me. The process was subtle.

It began by taking on a new profession, that while, not my first choice, is very satisfying and has allowed me the means to branch out into real estate purchases. I bought a beautiful cabin in the Georgia mountains and began equipping it, furnishing it, landscaping it and creating a comfortable, cozy home on 2 1/2 acres in the woods. While doing this, I began to realize that I wasn’t necessarily doing this for ME. I realized that I was creating a place of sanctuary for others, I just didn’t quite know who those ” others” were, only that it would be a place for them to find sanctuary. a place to regroup, refresh, read, write, walk in the woods, or simply to stare out the window and daydream. It would be a place of quiet, with only the sounds of the wind soughing in the pines, crickets and bird calls…and at night, sleep under the bright mountain starlight. The others are gradually beginning to come there…friends and loved ones who need a time out. It is bringing me tremendous happiness.

Then I was very strongly “prompted” to acquire land in Texas. My first thought was, “Not again! More looking, making offers, going through the closing process… not again!” But tiny miracles began occurring around obtaining this land, too many to document in this particular post. As a result, a yearning and dream I had held secretly began to burgeon inside,

It, again, had to do with sanctuary. I miraculously acquired my land in Texas not knowing that another miracle awaited. I only knew I had begun the process of creating something about which I’m finding myself as passionate as about opera. It will definitely be “a process”. As I sat there pouring out my heart to “the good listener”, I realized I’m closer than I’ve ever been. So what is this new path upon which I’ve set my feet?

Sanctuary again…this time for horses, donkeys, mules, doggies, kitties, birdies…any critter that needs home, food, healing and care AS WELL AS for humans who may require healing of the heart. As I’ve seen other organizations do, I want to put human and critter together to find this healing, this care, this wonderful love. I know it will have to start small and “organically” but already, one of the miracles that occurred was: 3 months before I closed on my 85 acres in Texas, unbeknownst to me, a young couple with children had bought a home and 10 acres adjacent to my land and guess what? They breed horses, care for horses, ride in rodeos. They are willing to teach me anything I need to know. They are kind, generous souls and we’ve become friends. It’s a good start to the beginning of this new path!!! It was a confirmation to me.

As I shared all of this with ” the good listener”, the tears now streaming down my face, a song I used to sing started playing in my head …

“Sure on this shining night
Of star made shadows round,
Kindness must watch for me
This side the ground.
The late year lies down the north.
All is healed, all is health.
High summer holds the earth.
Hearts all whole.
Sure on this shining night I weep for wonder wand’ring far
alone
Of shadows on the stars.”
( poem by James Agee, music by Samuel Barber)

May we travel down the new paths set at our feet in wonder and in joy!

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“God Grant Me The Serenity…”

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We are all familiar with the very simple but exceedingly powerful Serenity Prayer:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.”

I pray it multiple times a day. Especially currently in my life, where I have been powerless over a situation that is of great importance to my heart. It doesn’t matter what the “what” of the situation is…only that it is something I yearn for and which is completely out of my hands and in far better hands than mine… The Hands of God.

In this situation, I am very comfortable with the “wisdom” that has been given me to know the difference between that which I can control and that which I can’t. I can only change myself…my reactions, my focus, my choices. And I have plenty of “courage”to change those things. I don’t shrink from truth when self-questioning. But the “serenity”part of the prayer has had me stumped.

I decided to research the origin of the prayer to perhaps find the inspiration I needed to find the serenity of acceptance for which I yearn. I was inspired indeed! The original prayer attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr probably had an oral history predating the written version of 1943 which goes as follows:

“God, give me the grace to accept with serenity
The things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
And the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardships as a pathway to peace,
Taking,as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Amen”

This prayer was written during the direst days of World War II. Niebur, close friends with other anti- Nazi émigrés, Paul Tillich and the never-to-be-forgotten Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose courage and valorous character are legendary, prayed this prayer at a time when it appeared evil was triumphant and yet these men were indeed granted by God “the courage to change that which should be changed”.

I was so humbled when I learned of the true origins of this prayer that I’ve had to take a step back, focus on living and “enjoying one moment at a time”. “Accepting hardships as a pathway to peace”.

I was then reminded of the wonderful lyrics in the song “Pioneer” sung by The Band Perry:
“Oh Pioneer
I sing your song
It’s the hymn of those who’ve gone before and those who
carry on
Pioneer
Your work is hard
But the future of all of us rests on the shoulders of your heart…
…Send the dark but it won’t break me…
…No we will sing

Where are we going
Oh I don’t know
But still I’ve got to go
What will become of us
Oh I don’t care
All I know is I’ll go anywhere
Pioneer”

God, grant me serenity, courage and wisdom. Let me rise above the comparatively small matters of my heart, resolved to be at peace with Thy will and to live in Joy that everything is exactly as it should be and will be perfect in its outcome.
Amen

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Martha Stewart or a Tinsel-Covered Train Wreck? What’s Your Holiday “Style”?

I read this while getting a mani/pedi and started laughing so hard, the whole shop looked at me, slightly distressed😁! I just loved how true, human and funny this
was😄! I was all prepared to blog my own pre-Christmas thoughts…but this wonderful blog HAD to come first😊🎄

Kristen Lamb's Blog

Thanksgiving is this week, but we ALL know Christmas is zooming right behind. If you’re anything like me, you make this super stupid promise to yourself roughly December 24th that you will buy gifts throughout the year, so you aren’t pressed and stressed and ready to stand on a roof with a shotgun holding the entire dish of rum balls hostage…and ALL the rum. No, this year will be different. I will be PREPARED.

*clutches sides laughing*

Yeah….

Sort of reminds me of finals back in college. Next time I am going to read all my chapters AHEAD of time.

Christmas is a magical time of year, but all of us handle the season differently. So what is your Holiday Style? Here’s a helpful little quiz:

1) When cleaning before the holidays, you:

a) Might give the mantel a light dusting just so you don’t look like a show-off. The…

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Compassion

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This week I have been looking at the many aspects of compassion. Merriam-Webster gives the definition as: “a feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble, etc. A sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”

I considered how simply this definition was written compared to the immensity of emotion compassion evokes in us. It is like this enormous, gorgeous rock (that I photographed while spending time with my adopted Navajo family on the reservation) in that is strong, prominent, beautiful, subject to change only after eons of slow-moving, geological action. It resides within us and outside of us.

We feel it most directly when seeing or hearing another being in distress of some sort, whether emotional or physical. One sees an animal suffering on the streets or in a shelter and almost involuntarily, one gets tears in one’s eyes and the desire to adopt every single creature in need. One sees pictures of suffering on the news with cataclysmic events or simply ongoing events, such as famine, and one feels sorrow, one’s heart fills with pain and out comes the checkbook in order to “do something” to make it better. One sees an elderly person struggling with packages or simply trying to cross a street before the walk signal ends and one immediately feels that frailty and nervousness and offers any assistance needed. One sees another human sitting lonely and sad on a bench and even offering a smile or a hello helps to serve that person at that moment.

As human beings, we are blessed with the God-given gift of the ability to feel compassion. Our hearts grow two or even three sizes larger like The Grinch and we feel our humanity at its best.

But my exploration of compassion opened up even more this week as I thought about the compassion we show ourselves. Are we compassionate with ourselves? Do we give thanks when we look in the mirror and see the miracle of our body? Or do we nitpick mentally about some, usually, imagined flaw. Do we suffer for hours about something we said that seemed foolish or may have offended or hurt someone? Do we look at our lives and say, “It’s not enough.”? Or “I’m not making career/diet/relationship/spiritual progress.”? Do we judge ourselves within an inch of our lives on a daily basis?

I’m not saying that self-monitoring, self-questioning and self-realization are not important. But do we do these things within ourselves with sympathy and a desire to help ourselves?

Every single one of us is battling something. Look around and no matter how beautiful, accomplished, wealthy, intelligent, etc. someone is…rest assured they are struggling or battling with something, just as you are.

My prayer as we wind down 2013 and look ever towards “ananda”, bliss and joy, is to let us be compassionate with ourselves…whether struggling in a yoga posture, battling our inner demons, or outer demons for that matter. Let us treat ourselves with that same urgency to alleviate suffering that we feel for others.
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“Back In The Saddle Again”

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I’ve been singing that song a lot to myself lately.  Not the Aerosmith version :)!  The good ol’ Gene Autry version released in 1939.  Of course, like most of us with even a slight, working knowledge of this tune, I basically sing the first line over and over again.  (“Back where a friend is a friend” is the second line of the song but it never quite applies to the situation for which one is singing the first line 🙂 )

It seems that there is a lot of “back in the saddle” type activity around me.  A cherished friend has gone back, temporarily, to a job he’s done all his adult life.  I seem to be hiring and training new hires for our company quite regularly, trying to accommodate expansion.  Another friend just revisited his old stomping grounds in New York City this past week where he was immersed in activities and social events that were completely the same things he did in his former career as opera singer. 

And none of this is negative at all! 

In fact, my friend who is temporarily “back in the saddle” is actually utilizing the time working at something he can do beautifully and with no effort. This is affording him the precious time he needs as he actively pursues his second chapter in life, which is to write and inspire. He is going deeper and deeper into his gift.

At my current job and position, I have been blessed to be able to expand my training and employ the information, inspiration and knowledge from this friend (pursuing second chapter)to enrich and empower our leadership staff. I am going deeper into my role as trainer and ultimately as “human angel”…I hope…

My friend in New York is enjoying the “back in the saddle” yet processing and evaluating the decisions he has made to pursue different avenues. And he is going deeper and deeper into his soul while observing the effects of his decision.

Every time I step on my yoga mat it feels like I’m “back in the saddle again” yet going deeper and deeper.

So what can we take away from “Back in the Saddle Again”? Is it negative to revisit things we’ve done? Is it negative to do the same thing over and over?

I would humbly suggest…No. Because each time we go deeper… we understand more… we have amazing woven threads reveal themselves… we improve… we acquire more depth.

In the final book of Chronicles of Narnia by one of my favorite authors, C.S Lewis, which is titled The Last Battle,after much distress the protagonists finally cross over to a Narnia that is even more rich than the Narnia they had known. And people, animals and Narnian beings are all there in their best form. As they press on, Unicorn, Jewel, encourages “Further up and further in”. Even Mr. Tummus, who was Lucy’s first encounter in Narnia, encourages, “The further up and further in you go, the bigger everything gets. The inside is larger than the outside.”

Ultimately, Aslan informs them all, ” The term is over, the holidays have begun. The dream has ended: it is the morning…Now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

When we get “back in the saddle again” we are experiencing a portion of what is described above, We go “further up and further in” . We go deeper and deeper. The workings of life are wondrous. Embrace them.
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Are You “Surprised By Joy”?

ImageI just reread C.S Lewis’ masterpiece “Surprised by Joy” yet again this summer. The first time I read it was in college. I remember feeling so relieved that I wasn’t the only one who had experienced unlooked for moments of transcendence that took one’s breath away. I had thought there was something odd about me. I began to embrace the idea that we ALL have these moments. “Joy was not a deception”.

In the next years as I embraced the okay-ness of this transcendence, I began to search for it, but it was ephemeral and elusive. I remember experiencing it when I made my professional debut as soloist in the “Resurrection Symphony” (No.2) of Gustav Mahler. Something quite beyond my control happened when, I went from terrified with stage fright, to stepping aside and letting the song pass through me as a vessel. In fact, I barely remember singing. It wasn’t me that had caused people to come backstage in tears. I KNEW this beyond any doubt. They had experienced something for which I was just the channel.

Another time, I was walking in the woods of Montana, on a retreat, when suddenly a deer came crashing through the underbrush. I don’t know what prompted me but in order to communicate with it I began singing…the music of Bach which is the music of the spheres and the music of Mozart which opens the mind to spatial relationships. That deer set itself down by a nearby rock and for about 20 minutes just listened to me. It was astonishing. After I was done and it had left the rock, I went to sit under a tree to think about this extraordinary experience. And there, just under where my palm rested on the ground, was a jaw bone. It was a deer jaw bone. A gift. Breathtaking. Joy.

Among my top joyful, yet bittersweet experiences, was when I buried my beloved cat in the park by the “Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Grey Bridge” (the GW Bridge in NYC). I planted wildflowers on top of her grave and everyday that summer walked down there to see if anything had bloomed. Not much bloomed there that summer. As Fall and Winter came, I visited less often since 9/11 had happened and there was a big police presence under the bridge. Then on Christmas Eve of that year, my then boyfriend spontaneously said “Let’s go visit the grave and let’s bring some of those fresh baked chocolate chip cookies” We trudged down not expecting to get beyond the police guard, but miraculously, a bit of explanation and some chocolate chip cookies opened the way past the police. As we went to the gravesite, we were both speechless! There, in the December frost, on the grave was blooming Queen Anne’s Lace, the only wildflower blooming out of a variety mix that I had planted the past summer. My cat’s name was Regina, which means “queen” in Italian! My then boyfriend, who was a New York City native, could barely speak. “In all my years”. he said, “I’ve never seen wildflowers bloom in NYC in winter!” Joy welled up, surprised us both and we wept with wonder.

My intention in recent years has been to consciously choose Joy. To not only be surprised by it but to look for the joyful aspect in every moment. Lately, this has been particularly challenging, as pressures from getting my Texas land fenced and well dug, getting my Georgia home landscaped, running a mid-sized business. standing by as a business colleague and relatively young woman died of brain cancer have taken their toll.

It’s at these times I re-read one of my favorite passages in C.S. Lewis’ book. “Joy was not a deception. Its visitations were rather the moments of clearest consciousness we had, when we became aware of our fragmentary and phantasmal nature and ached for that impossible reunion which would annihilate us or that self-contradictory waking which would reveal, not that we had had, but that we were a dream.” He then concludes,” (Joy)…was valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer.”

I, consciously, choose Joy. I choose that signpost. If you are “surprised by joy” you are so very blessed. If you choose Joy…you are so very blessed.

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