Retreat with Amy Kessel & me: Coming Back to Center


I want to let you, my lovely friends, know about something that’s happening next month. I’ll be attending, and offering a session, at a beautiful retreat in Port Townsend, Washington. Led by my friend and colleague Amy Kessel, the Coming Back to Center retreat is a small group retreat for women (at the most, 12 of us) during the time of year that naturally draws us inward, even though the demands of the time can take us further and further out of ourselves.

For Amy, a retreat is:

“the palpable relief of switching to “off” for a period of time so I can access the parts of me I rarely experience while I’m  “on”, and so I can fall in love with those parts once again.  A retreat recharges my vitality, my creativity and my sense of wellbeing.  Retreating produces a shift in mindset that spreads outward to the edges of my life, bringing me back to center, where I belong.

I answer the call when I’m hungry for soul connection.  Retreating from the world enables us to tap into spirit, to truth, to our deepest source of strength and wisdom.  We all – every one of us – need this connection in order to thrive.” 

Just the images from the site speak to my body – I immediately feel everything just relax a bit as I imagine and feel the sense of peace, solitude, and stillness that will come during this weekend.

And, I will be leading a movement segment. While I could call it dance, it is not dance as many of us know it. Really, it’s an opportunity to let the body move and make itself known as the doorway into wholeness, wisdom, and the here and now. When you come to know the body as a vessel of knowing it can completely change your relationship with life itself.

Take a moment to listen to a short conversation that Amy and I had about the retreat. At the end, you’ll hear that she welcomes you to get in touch with her if you have any questions or thoughts about the retreat, even if you know you cannot come.

Of course, I’d love to meet any of you who feel this might be right for you. It’s going to be a beautiful, full and rich long weekend.

[audio:|titles=Interview with Amy Kessel]

Amy (at) AmyKessel (.) com


The Seed in Upheaval


Amidst the death, upheaval and chaos of destruction in Egypt, Tunisia and other places around the world, something new, something not yet seen or known, is coming into being.

Like a seedling pushing up through the ground, this new way is strong and resilient, not because of its size, for a seedling is tiny, but because of its strength, tenacity and resilience. These come from the very source of life that is midwifing a new way. The ever present energy of life is pushing forth and through.

Life encompasses the totality that we see held in the opposites, and everything in between along the continuum they create: the masculine and the feminine, death and birth, light and dark, hardness and softness, destruction and creation.

This morning, I came across this post by Filiz Telek, a woman who is passionate about “awakening the presence of sacred and possibility in human heart and spirit”. I love what she writes about and how she writes it. In her post, she shares this video, and the words she shares with it are quite beautiful. She holds this video with such tenderness and honor, in the same way she holds life and the sacred feminine. In Filizat’s words:

Listen to her, she’s saying “I am the meaning in the middle of chaos“
As the old system falls apart and chaos unfolds – and it is very likely that it will touch us and our loved ones too – we will need these heart songs, we will need to ground ourselves in her calling for wisdom and courage. I remember Neda, the young Iranian woman who was shot dead in front of our eyes as she was demanding freedom during Green Revolution in Iran. She was silenced, but now Amel is singing for her too and for all of us:
I am free and my word is free.
May our heart songs bring the freedom and unity consciousness that for so long, we have been waiting and longing for.

I, too, feel compelled to share the video here, because it is such an indication of what I wrote about yesterday, that being human is a vulnerable proposition. And,

This video spoke to me so poignantly of what is happening all over the world, and what is happening in my own being: something strong, and fierce and beautiful is pushing up through, trying to be born. It has to push up through so much of what has been in place for decades, so much of what has been created to keep things the same. Yet, the force is powerful and I know it is relentless, and that it will not be denied.

Upheaval is here, both within and without. I also share it too, because the woman singing, Amel Mathlouthi, is a symbol of the courageous soft power of the Feminine, standing in the middle of chaos, singing of new life.

Watch and listen and feel what is stirring within you, what new life is pushing through you to come to the surface and grow. It is so evident, that we are one. Like our brothers and sisters in these places, we, too, feel something stirring, something coming, something new. May it come with peace, may we begin to trust Life, that Life itself is change.

Thank you, Filizat, for sharing this with us.


Light Upon Light

The Light Is Within Each of Us
The Light Is Within Each of Us

The days are short now. The bright sun of summer is a far distant memory. Add fog, cloudiness, rain and suddenly I find myself getting the light from bulbs rather than rays. Yes, I live in California, but even here this time of year brings a decidedly different orientation to light.

For most of my life, I’ve leaned towards the sun for my light like a many-limbed plant, hungry for nourishment. It’s only been in the last part of my life that I’ve discovered the rays inside.

In the most difficult moments, I’ve stumbled around in the darkness inside. There was a reason I hadn’t ventured in willingly. That darkness is really dark. The rays aren’t apparent at first…at least they weren’t for me. I fumbled in this darkness many, many times never finding anything remotely resembling the light outside that I was so familiar with.

One time in particular, these inner rays finally broke through. It was in the midst of one of the most heart-wrenching experiences I can imagine – my grandson’s fight for his life, which began when he was twelve hours old.

When the light broke through, there were no bells and whistles, no sudden chorus of voices, no wildly evocative images, no mystical experience. There was only a deep darkness that gave way to radiant rays so bright, that my heart knew it was held, held by something so much greater than anything my mind could imagine. And in this holding, I discovered a strength born of a thousand suns.

This radiance came when I let go of my struggling. My baby grandson, my first grandchild, lying in a full size bed so completely covered with hospital trappings,  that we could only stroke his fingers or one cheek.

I was at the end of the many ways I had found to cope in life with difficult things. What I had tried didn’t work. I desperately wanted to be there for my daughter and son-in-law, someone who could provide loving support and nourishment. I wasn’t much help if I couldn’t be there for them.


I marched myself right down the hall to the hospital chapel and went inside, closing the door behind me and vowing not to leave until I was able to come out in a different frame of mind. I vowed I would come out able to be really available to them, to my grandson and to whatever lay ahead. I don’t know how long I was in there, but I prayed. And prayed. And prayed. I had never been someone who prayed like this, but it was completely instinctive.

I prayed to be shown a way to let go of my struggle, to let go of my neediness so I could be truly a source of nourishment for their needs. My fighting the whole thing was simply a way for me to not want to feel what was happening.

In the deepest moments of my prayer, I stopped asking and I began to listen, really listen. And in the listening, I opened to the grace that was already there. Light upon light.

I didn’t come out enlightened. I didn’t come out as mother of the year. I didn’t come out knowing the right things to do or say. I did come out knowing something deeper was holding me. I came out having reconciled that in that moment Lucas was as Lucas was. Accepting this didn’t mean at all that I couldn’t pray and hope he would get better; it didn’t mean I was happy how things were. I did mean I wasn’t fighting it any longer.

And when I was no longer fighting life, life began to move through me. I was available. I could be with my daughter and son-in-law. I could sing to Lucas, read him stories, hold his finger, stroke his cheek, hold my daughter, hold the space.

I could sit in the waiting room for hours on end as procedures came and went, able to be with the not-knowing, able to witness other young parents and their babies, some of them surviving, many of them not.

I could say hello to the little ones who live at Children’s Hospital, those who have no hope of ever leaving, feeling my connection to them rather than allowing my discomfort, my not wanting to take it in, my wanting to fix it and make it different get in the way of what was there…their beautiful souls.

The three months Lucas was at Children’s Hospital in Oakland seemed an eternity, but he survived against so many odds that they called him the miracle baby. They do amazing work there. He is now almost ten. Talk about light; this boy is radiant.


For me, this light has come in the letting go, in the surrender, in the giving up of what I thought should have been. It’s come in the genuine desire to let go of my wanting so that I could serve another. In those moments, what was born was born through me into life.

For me, this light is strength, but not strength that breeds pushing and striving. It’s strength that flows.

Sometimes with the day-to-day life stuff, this inner light seems distant; yet when I come back to now, back to what is really happening, it’s always here. It always was here.

Image courtesy of Narrow on Flickr, under CC 2.0.


SupportStoriesButtonThis post is part of the Support Stories – Strength From Within at Square Peg Reflections, by Karen Casterson. Be sure to take a moment to read some of the other inspiring stories about finding strength from within.


So(u)l Food


image ‘Silence Talks‘ by lepiaf.geo, Flickr

Silence is a sounding thing, to one who listens hungrily.  ~Gwendolyn Bennett

I sat down to write this post on New Food (again, today’s post is part of a blog challenge I have accepted for December). The challenge has been great for my writing, as it forces me to sit down and write each morning, something I have been finding hard to do as I painfully contract through the birthing of my book.

Blogging is such a great practice because it forces you to let go of so many of the normal strategies of resistance. Especially blogging every day. When you are committed to getting it out there, you do it, but the life-cycle is short enough to learn the discipline to do so. At least for me. At least so far.

So my process of writing for this challenge has been to look at the prompt the night before, go to bed with it in my consciousness, wake up, make my tea, sit down to write, and stare out the window at the dawning of the day over the hills of Tilden park. We live, literally, across the street from this beauty. It is food for my soul, this green beauty before me. Ah, there it is. Food. Back to the topic at hand. Food. New Food.

What new food did I find in 2009 that I hadn’t know about before? As I consider this, I think of Sol Food, a great place in San Rafael that serves up the most delicious Puerto Rican Cuisine. You gotta check out their web site just for the fun interface, great music and beautifully detailed descriptions of their food. I opened the site and have the music playing in the background. It’s a mixture of music and kitchen sounds from the restaurant.

But, I knew about Sol Food in 2007, so it doesn’t count (if I stay true to the challenge).

In fact, I didn’t discover any new food in 2009. Not in the traditional sense of food. However, (if you read my blog regularly, you’ll know I had to go here), I did discover, more deeply, a new food for the soul (emphasis on more deeply).

Food for the soul. Just as important as food for the body. My new food for the soul is Silence. Yes, Silence. For some reason, actually not for any reason at all, Silence has grown to be a staple in my diet for my soul. Like my body craving chocolate, my soul craves silence. Anywhere I can find it. Silence. Beautiful deep, rich, dark silence. The kind of silence that pulls you into its center, your center.

I gobble this silence up. When I sit gazing out our window at the park. When I hold my grandbabies while they sleep. When I lie in Savasana. When I meditate.

Now, I actually found silence, before 2009, too. Obviously. But, silence is so much more than we think it is. I have come to experience is the deep, rich, dark silence that is at the center of everything smack in the middle of noise. And life. And chaos. That is the new food of 2009. This delicious manna for the soul that nourishes me to the deep center of my heart.

I experience this silence in dance at the height of chaos. While driving down the most gnarly highway in the Bay Area, 880. While changing the dirtiest diapers ever smelled. While standing in the grocery store check-out – okay, this one is a little harder to get. And, even while eating at Sol Food – one of the nosiest restaurants around.

Silence is here all the time. Just tune in to it. Feel it. You are swimming in it. Let it hold you. I find this food for the soul to be the most nourishing of all.

ps if you are still reading, something really funny just happened. I JUST NOW (at the bottom of this post) realized the pun inherent here. Sol Food. Soul Food. I just now got it. I think this joke is on me! As I went to title this post, I noticed I had started with the title Sol Food, thinking I would write simply on that. Then, as always happens, the post wrote itself, circling back to the beginning. Love it when that happens!

This post is part of Gwen Bell’s Best of 2009 Blog Challenge

Day 12: New food.


The Challenge is Now


In every advanced mammalian species that survives and thrives, the adult female grows fierce when the cubs are threatened. And we….? ~Marianne Williamson

We women are protectors of the children and of the earth. Look at the love in this woman for her child.  You can feel it.

In the Iroquois tradition, it was women who held the key responsibility of deciding whether or not to go to war, for they considered, fully, the effects of war on the children, on the generations ahead, and on the earth itself. We love our children. But we, today’s women, have been deeply conditioned out of trusting our own instincts, our feelings, and our fierceness.

Earlier this year, there was a story in the NY Times about women in India who could not feed their children. I remember reading it, and looking at the accompanying photos of these beautiful women with their starving children, and realizing just how deeply we have been conditioned to believe we have no power. What stopped these women from doing ANYTHING they could to feed their starving children? When I wondered this, I turned the question back on myself. What stopped me from doing anything to feed my starving children and grandchildren? It’s not that they don’t have enough food. They do. For now. But, and this is the important message that is now coming out loud and clear, we women know deep inside that there is something horribly wrong with the way things are in the world. As Marianne Williamson expressed, our cubs are threatened. We are all threatened. We feel it in our bodies, for we feel the wounding of the earth and all children in our bodies.

As I read this article, I felt rage that these women had no hope to feed their children, and complete wonder at how our conditioning is so strong as to kill the instinct in us to do whatever it takes to get food in the mouths of our babies.

A beautiful woman, Diana Stone, has written a book that will be released in the spring of next year. She came to speak to our Institute of Sacred Activism workshop in September. She told us that the Iroquois have said that women must stand and speak. It is time for women to stand and speak.

The time is now. I have heard this too many times to be able to hold back any longer.

The time is now. For women to speak. For women to stand and speak, to voice what they are feeling.

The time is now for me to speak, as a woman, as a mother, as a grandmother.

We are facing this challenge each and every day. What greater challenge could there be than the end of the world in the way we have known it to be. I stepped my toe into the waters with my post on Living Gratefully. But that was not enough.

Enough is enough. I spent the afternoon, yesterday, with two of my three grandchildren. When I look at them, I wonder what kind of world they will live in. I wonder how long they will get to live. I wonder how much suffering they will endure, simply because we, people who have the ability to do something about the state of affairs we find ourselves in, have done nothing to really stop the anguish of the earth, to stop our own greed, to stop our separate ways.

Yesterday, I received this long quote from a dear friend. It is an excerpt from a book she is reading, Wisdom’s Daughters (2002), which contains the words of Women Elders of Native America. The woman whose wisdom follows is Vickie Downey of the Tewa Tesugue Pueblo.

It is the time of the feminine. With a woman that is what we feel. When I look around at the different women, I see sadness and a heaviness within themselves. What they are experiencing is what the earth is experiencing — her sadness and heaviness because of the way her children are living today. Women, they have that; the feeling is there in their hearts more so than the male people, cause the male is always doing things. The male also has to realize that he has a female part to him and he has to start feeling that same feeling.

Women have to be recognized. The words of women have to be recognized. The women will come out. It might be prophesied or doesn’t have to be prophesied, but the feeling is so strong that women will come out and voice their feelings. Whether people want to hear it or not, it is going to come because it is meant to be. It is that time.

Most women can’t comprehend what it is. They feel it. It is like a depression so they go to psychiatrists, therapists, trying to figure it out. Or it turns into physical ailments. Feelings into physical ailments. So they don’t know. They know something is going on but they cannot pinpoint exactly what it is.

As people, as native people, we are trying to do our best to tell the world this is what is happening to you. This is what is happening to us. This is what is happening to the earth. No matter how many words we give them, how many books we give them, how much information we give them, it won’t help them until they finally decide “well, I am going to accept this. I am sick. I am a sick society. I am a sick world. I am a sick person.”

When we do that we can heal. Then we turn around and we help each other. Then there will not be homelessness. Then we won’t have hunger. We won’t have wars….

So, the message is coming through loud and clear. This is the challenge, and it is here, now.

The Dalai Lama recently surprised listeners when he said, “The world will be saved by western women.” We women in the west, have the more power, resources, and connection to each other than women have had anywhere in the world for many, many centuries.

All over the world, now, women have the ability to voice what is happening, to stand and speak, whether it be to each other, to their neighbors, to their government, or to each other through. We can speak through many means, which blogging is but one.

Two great quotes have been swirling in my head for some time, now.

You must learn not to be careful. Diane Arbus

You were once wild here. Don’t let them tame you! Isadora Duncan

These words take me back inside, where my feelings and instincts as a woman reside. My fierce love was tamed, made dormant and silent. But we were once wild here, and we are still wild within.

What will it take to stand and speak, to grow fierce and vocal?

Image by Yogendra174, Flickr

This post is part of The Best of 2009 Blog Challenge (by blogger Gwen Bell):
Day 9 Challenge. Something that really made you grow this year. That made you go to your edge and then some. What made it the best challenge of the year for you?


Moments of Grace


I’m participating in Gwen Bell’s The Best of 2009 Blog Challenge:
Day 8: Moment of peace. An hour or a day or a week of solitude. What was the quality of your breath? The state of your mind? How did you get there?

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a mother and a grandmother. I am a mother to two daughters, who are mothers to two sons and one daughter. My grandson is eight and his brother is 7 months. My granddaughter is 15 months.

My younger grandson was born in April of this year. The journey leading up to his birth was filled with moments of many emotions, but most noticeably trust, hope and yes, fear.

His brother, who is now eight, is a most amazing soul. He was born with a heart defect that went undiscovered until he was about twelve hours old. What unfolded after that discovery, was enough to make any human being wonder about the grace of God, or lack of any grace at all in the world. What this baby, and his parents, endured, made me question, at the deepest level, if there is a God. In the middle of the darkest moments of this baby’s first three months in the hospital, one full month in critical condition, I railed against God, not understanding at all how I could be at peace with what my beautiful first grandchild was having to endure in his first days and weeks of life; and, what his parents were having to experience. All I wanted to do was keep them safe. But, I couldn’t.

At one dark point, I took myself into the hospital chapel, shut the door, and swore I would not leave until I could ‘be with’ the way things were. I knew I wasn’t any good to anyone until I faced what it was I was unwilling to face. I prayed. I wept. I prayed. I begged. I wept some more. And then, exhausted with my own fighting against what was, I finally began to pray in earnest. No longer were my prayers about asking for what I wanted. In my exhaustion, my prayers were prayers of surrender. They were prayers of letting go. They were prayers of vulnerability, of complete opening to hear, really hear, what might be there all along, just waiting for my receptivity.

Finally, when I was quiet, open and receptive enough to hear, I heard a voice tell me that, in this moment, all was well. All was well. And with the voice, came a deep, undeniable, peace. The kind of peace that passeth all understanding. In the midst of one of the most painful moments of my life, I felt the kind of peace that moves beyond all measure of description. In this peace, I was able to go back out into the world, into the Intensive Care Unit, and really be there with, and for, those I loved.

Eight years later. My grandson is doing better than anyone could have imagined, considering the lifelong complications he faces. I won’t go into details, as those are sacred, private things that only he and his parents have the right to share. He is a most precious being, and such a teacher to us all. Life hasn’t been easy, but the peace comes when I don’t fight what is.

So, in the days leading up to this most amazing boy’s brother’s birth, I watched his parents prepare for the arrival. They were so excited and so courageous. The decision to have another child had been made with a great deal of conscious contemplation. The doctors all said the chances were good that this second child would be fine, yet they stressed there were no guarantees. There never was a definitive conclusion as to what had caused my first grandchild’s heart defect.

Early on a Tuesday morning in April, I sat in my grandson’s room as he slept. His mother and father were at the hospital, ready to give birth. My other daughter had just called to tell me that her sister was beginning to push, and that the baby, a boy as well, would be born at any time. As I waited, I sat again in prayer. For some unexplainable reason, I didn’t beg for all to be perfect, or just as I wanted it. I asked for all to be well. It’s not that I had somehow learned to be holy and accepting of all things difficult. I hadn’t, and haven’t. Yet, in this moment, when the chips were down, I was led back to the peace that defies description. I was led to open my heart to the eight-year old miracle sleeping in front of my eyes, to the miracle that he is.

As I sat in prayer, a presence, thick and deep, filled every atom of the bedroom. It filled every cell of my body. It was Grace, pure radiant Grace. It bathed us both in Its light. Grace stayed for the better part of what I believe to have been two minutes, although time left when Grace arrived.

I was pulled from this presence when my phone rang. It was my daughter calling to tell me her sister had givem bith to this new little boy. He had arrived and he was fine. His mother was fine. The birth was easy. All was well.

In this moment, I felt as if the weight of eight years had been lifted from my body. In this moment, there was such relief. In this moment, there was peace. Twelve hours later, when all was still well, I was holding this new little one in my arms, knowing that there is, indeed, Grace.

We can’t get to peace. We can’t get to Grace. Grace is always here. Grace is always holding us. It is when we let go of everything we demand of it, that we find ourselves filled with the peace of Grace that is beyond definition.

image attribution:   JamesH. is now Near Earth, Flicker
/ CC BY 2.0

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