Archive | Essays

Connecting to Your Creative Heart by Anna Oginsky

Albert Camus wrote, “In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.” While I wholeheartedly agree with Camus, I am finding it harder and harder to turn away from the world. The world is demanding! My life is overflowing with obligations. Slips of paper with reminders scribbled on them and to-do lists are literally busting out of every book, calendar, and bag I own. Yes, I desperately want to turn away from all of it, but sometimes I wonder: What will happen if I do?

Almost nothing.

When I returned from my first ever art retreat experience, the fact that everything I feared leaving behind was right there waiting for me when I returned came as a big surprise to me. After just one day back at home, I wondered if it was true that I even left? Was it a dream? Nothing really changed while I was away. When I returned, my children still needed me. My husband still wanted me. My dog still barked at me. There were still groceries to buy and meals to make. There were still appointments to make and playdates to keep. All the pieces of my life were still intact.

Nothing around me changed, but I was different. I changed. I changed a lot. I left for the retreat feeling overwhelmed, tired, and fearful that I had made a big mistake in investing this time and money in a retreat, of all things. It seemed impractical, indulgent even. I felt unworthy. Simultaneously, I was exploring new territory in my life at that time. I was healing old wounds and growing into a new way of living my life. I suspected there was a whole other way of moving through my days, but I couldn’t seem to access it. A retreat seemed like a great way to, at the very least, try something new.

When I returned from that retreat, I was lighter. I had the air of a child who just came in for the night after a day of playing outside — soaking in sunshine and inhaling fresh air. I was still tired when I returned, but it was a different kind of tired than I was used to. I felt it in my body, my mind, and my spirit. Just as a growing child needs sleep to integrate what transpires during the day, I needed sleep to integrate what I was learning.

Attending that first retreat was so powerful for me that I decided to create something like it for others. I had envisioned creating something similar at other points in my life, but it never seemed like the right time to pursue bringing those visions to life. Upon my return, I set to work imagining what I would offer, who would be involved, and where it would take place. Slowly, all the details fell into place and it was only up to me to make it happen.

One of the challenges I find in being creative is that it’s not always easy to know which path to take. There are always so many options! Turning away from the world not only allows us to understand the world better, it also allows us to understand ourselves better. In the time spent at that first retreat, I remembered the dreams I had previously. Away from my everyday life, I could see that what once seemed impossible was quite possible. Rather than causing my life to fall apart, attending that retreat helped my pull my life together in a new, more meaningful way by creating space for me to experience something new, different, and wildly inspiring.

As I begin making plans for this year’s retreat, I am feeling that same, familiar pull back to my lists, my calendar, and my obligations. I again wonder what will planning this retreat mean for me? How can I make it meaningful for others? What will happen if we all get up and leave our everyday lives for a few days to retreat into art, nature, writing, and each other? Now I can anticipate the answers to these questions. I know that to better understand myself and the world around me, I must turn away from it all. I know the same is true for others. I also know that we will all return to our homes changed —refreshed, renewed, and wildly inspired.

To learn more about The Heart Connected Retreat, visit here.

About the Author: Anna Oginsky

annbioAnna Oginsky is the founder of Heart Connected, LLC, a small Michigan-based workshop and retreat business that creates opportunities for guests to tune in to their hearts and connect with the truth, wisdom, and power held there. Her work is inspired by connections made between spirituality, creativity, and community. Anna’s first book, My New Friend, Grief, came as a result of years of learning to tune in to her own heart after the sudden loss of her father. In addition to writing, Anna uses healing tools like yoga, meditation, and making art in her offerings and in her own personal practice. She lives in Brighton, Michigan with her husband, their three children, and Johnny, the big yellow dog. Connect with her on her websiteTwitter; Facebook; or Instagram.

Patience and shuffle the cards – Miguel de Cervantes

I have a tarot client who lays her hand on the deck (usually after I’ve been fiddling with it), takes a deep breath and says, “Ok. Go ahead.” She’s done this for a decade worth of readings, and I swear, it still makes me twitchy.

No shuffling? No cutting? You’re just gonna let me *gulp* READ for you?

Of course, because she’s the Zen master of all things, the readings are always accurate. The cards are always where they should be.

I have another client who smooshes my cards around on the table in one huge pile. She pushes and pulls them, stacks them into an untidy pile and says, while idly making all of the face up cards go face down again, “Go for it, honey.” She says this with a giant grin on her face because she knows it drives me bonkers.

Of course, because she is the Captain of Chaos, the readings are always accurate. The cards are always where they should be.

I think that shuffling (or not) of the cards lends a certain amount of ritual to the reading.

It gives the client time to breathe. To touch the cards and do something with their hands. I ask my clients to “Shuffle til you feel like you’re finished”. During this time, I play with my stones or close my eyes and breathe in and out and try to disappear from the table. When they’re finished, they’re noticeably calmer than they were when they first sat down for this reading.

People generally get readings when they’re anxious or nervous or wondering, and the anticipation can ramp that up. The simple process of shuffling a deck of cards can lend them calm and a seemingly mindless task to distract them from their worries.

This simple act is more than just rearranging of the cards, or putting their energy into them. It’s a meditation and a ritual that allows them to be wholly present for their tarot reading. That’s what ritual really is, after all. It’s a tool or an exercise that makes us be mindful of what we’re doing.

When the bell rings in a Christian church, it’s time to pay attention to the altar because magic is happening there. When Muslims are called to Salat five times a day, they literally walk away from the mundane, face the direction of their holy land, and place their physical, mental and spiritual selves in the hands of their god.

The act of lighting a candle for a Pagan. The act of touching the beads in a mala. Even mundane tasks have rituals that bring a touch of the sacred to them. Every night, I tuck my kids into bed. Every night, I tell them I love them so much, and to have good dreams and tell me about them in the morning. I kiss their foreheads three times. Every night. This ritual has become sacred in our house, because it is ours. It’s an active and physical show of love and trust.

Whether you are spiritual or not. Whether you sling cards or not. Whatever your day looks like, I encourage you to notice those places where ritual has entered. What drives it? Why do your rituals continue? What is it, precisely, that your attention should be focused on?

Noticing your rituals will help you turn your head toward those things that require your full attention, and will help you pull a little bit of the sacred into your day to day.

About the Author: Melissa Cynova

Melissa CynovaMelissaC_Bio is owner of Little Fox Tarot, and has been reading tarot cards and teaching classes since 1989. She can be found in the St. Louis area, and is available for personal readings, parties and beginner and advanced tarot classes. You can Look for her first book, Kitchen Table Tarot, is available for pre-order and will be out April 8th.

Melissa lives in St. Louis with her kiddos, her husband, Joe, and two cats, two dogs and her tortoise, Phil.

She is on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Go ahead and schedule a reading – she already knows you want one.

Note: Image is from the Little Monsters Tarot Deck

Word Medicine by Cathleen Delia Mulrooney

Weekend morning. I wake early and creep downstairs into the kitchen, setting the kettle on the burner and stretching my neck, my arms, my hands, shaking sleep off. Two cats circle like shadows around my feet, waiting for their breakfast–sleek and silent as the kettle starts its slow hiss and boil. Out comes the mug. The tea. My mind begins its checklist of the day ahead and the dreams behind. Because it is a weekend, the steaming mug travels back upstairs to my bedroom with me and I set it on the corner of my desk.

I settle myself in the chair, get the notebook and black ink pens out, and stare out the window, my breath a slow breeze through me. My gratitude is immediate as I rake my eyes across the neighboring field and distant tree line, still winter-stark and bare, waiting for spring. I let my eyes wander, cataloguing signs of the season shifting, watching for hawks and vultures drifting high, and geese who flock to the field all winter, their broken cries cracking the silence open wide. Squirrels erupt along the tree branches and the black cat from across the street stalks them for any misstep. Deer often graze when the field is high, bookmarking sunrise and sunset with their nervous energy. Foxes sneak past at dusk–but now, morning is just getting started and the scene is quiet but for a few crows circling, silent and black as the ink in my pen. My pen starts to move across the page. Meditation. Memory. Magic.

When it is warm out, the glass is thrown open, echoes of an old poem, “outside the open window, the morning air is all awash with angels.” Angels. Animals. And the first moments of peace I’ve had in days.

People will tell you to choose a job you love and you’ll “never work a day in your life.” But they don’t account for those like me who’ve chosen a job they love that makes them work harder than even seems possible. I am a teacher. My job is full-time, August to June, with those two infamous months off that many say make this career-path “easy” and me “lucky,” as if I am the one responsible for the academic yearly calendar. Yes. Those two months are wonderful. Like most teachers, I find them essential for recovering, recharging, and reflecting on the classes I had and the students I served all the best ways I know how. But, “easy” and “lucky” are not the words to describe how it feels to be responsible for the education of every single student who shows up in my classes with a whole history and agenda of their own.

I teach six classes this semester at the same community college I’ve been teaching at for over sixteen years now. I have 100 students I plan for, grade for, guide and (hopefully) inspire each and every day. I teach writing, so my job can’t be just assigning multiple choice quizzes or tests and calling it a day. I have the task of working with them on essays from brainstorming to multiple revisions, equalling hundreds of pages of reading each week. The emails are endless, as are the questions. I have no teacher’s assistant or co-teacher. This is a one-woman show that runs all day every day, and a couple of evenings, too. I am overwhelmed daily. I am also inspired daily. Impressed. Moved. Full of love, concern, and hope. When I leave campus each day, my bag is full of things to grade or long-range plans I am hoping to work on in between meeting the needs of the three young adults I am a single parent of–also no assistant or partner there to share the weight–a one woman show running 365 days per year, 24 hours a day. Also a job that leaves me full of love, concern, and hope every day.

I have chosen the job I have and the children I have (not that I expected to be a single mom when my family began, but then, life is full of surprises). Both my work and my children provide me with the fuel of life I need to run on. But burnout, in both the role of teacher and of single mother, is a very real concern and is something I constantly have to work against to be the teacher and the mother my kids all need me to be.

This is where my weekend morning rituals come in. This is where the waking early, hot tea, writing at the desk, and staring out into that field must be. The first twenty minutes of my writing is just brain drain–concerns, struggles, and self-doubt about whether I am doing a good job at either of my beloved occupations. But eventually, I tap into that third vocation I am called to–the writer in me sings out, full-throated, still alive in me in spite of everything.
My weekend morning ritual of time spent writing does more than stave off the possible emotional collapse from my weekday demands. It allows me to access all of the most vibrant, powerful, alive parts of who I am.

I once imagined a life for myself where all I did was write, spinning out entire invented universes from the blooming tip of my pen. I’d travel at will. I would sequester myself in the woods or alongside a mesa or a mountain or beside a tide-heavy shore, living to create. Undisturbed. A Virginia Woolf Room of Her Own dream. I still have this fantasy sometimes. I’ll teach, but teach less. My children will grow more fully into adulthood. The writer I am will take up the space she’s due.

But even this dream only works when teaching, motherhood, and writing coexist. I, quite simply, couldn’t do without all three. Yet doing with all three is staggering. This contradiction frames my life and challenges me in ways only another person working within constraints like mine could ever understand.

The pressure, the ache, and the exhilaration of these three things have taught me the profound power of self care. For me, it looks like a quiet desk by a window overlooking a field full of life. What was a weekend morning routine has been infused with a significance that makes it sacred to me. Perhaps the only line between routine and ritual is how desperately the person needs it. My ritual renews me, offers me moments of grace, and fortifies me for another week of balancing everything. Weekend mornings are my ritual. Words are my medicine. I wake early. I brew the tea and open the windows when I can, looking for angels. I channel the determination of my students, the love of my children, and the power of my imagination to slip from the sunlit field in front of me into the wild expanse of my salvation–my flawed, imperfect writing life.

Cathleen Delia Mulrooney

cathleendeliamulrooney_bioRestless. Sleepless. Book-lover. Wordsmith. Deep roots. Prodigal heart. Teacher. Guide. Wanderer. Witch. Tea, tarot, hot baths, stitchcraft. Curator of narrative relics, remnants, & curiosities.

Cat is also a freelance writer, editor, and teacher. Her poetry, fiction, essays, interviews, and reviews have appeared in a variety of online and print publications. She has been teaching writing at the college level since 2000, and has facilitated creative writing workshops in elementary schools, high schools, prisons, and private organizations, as well as workshops exclusively for women to write their body and tarot-based narratives.

Through her Queen of Cups Tarot community, she offers private, group, and online tarot readings. Find her online at http://cdeliamulrooney.com and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/queenofcupstarot/

Counting My Losses by Sheryl Cornett

Lately I’ve been losing things: car keys, umbrellas, reading glasses, a cherished leather coin purse bought in London’s Camden Market twenty years ago. I kept only British pounds sterling in that purse, as a reminder that the next trip “home” to the Bloomsbury neighborhoods was just a few months away. I go there regularly to escape the oppressively humid North Carolina summers paying my way by teaching and writing.

Classes finished, deadlines met, I wander daydreaming through Regent’s Park or along the Thames’ South Bank leg of the Jubilee Greenway. I walk miles when in that beloved city, and my fit bit holds me accountable like an exercise partner. We have a daily conversation, in real activity-tracking numbers, about how life-giving and liberating these miles are. I record the miles in a moleskin journal as an affirming reminder-log. We check in with each other often.

So, last month when I climbed out of an airport shuttle at five in the morning, I heard the leather coin pouch tumble out of my bag, spilling change on the asphalt. I searched hurriedly in the dark for the three-inch purse. American Airlines was announcing Now Boarding, creating panic as I scoured under the oafish sixteen passenger van—but the purse apparently fell into a black hole.

Let it go. You can get another one next trip.

Later that same trip, the fit bit disappeared from my bra where it was snuggly clipped in place. Somewhere in Dallas Fort Worth’s ginormous Terminal D it worked loose and went AWOL. I hope someone who really needs one found it.

This loss is a reminder to all that I’ve been counting as well as losing in the past year.

I count steps-into-miles, as I mention. I track dollars, British pounds sterling, and euros while teaching study abroad. I count numbers of students in my classes and the number of semesters taught: autumn, spring, and summer, seventy-five semesters to date! I count calories and carbs; check my weight and blood pressure, mindful of the fluctuation of each.

I count pages and chapters written by me, and those read and re-read by me, written by my favorite authors and sister-writers. I count psalms and poems by friends dead and alive that resonate in my soul like music that lingers and won’t leave the room; poems that bring joy and wisdom and a place to share our humanity. Louis MacNeice’s lines from Autumn Journal surface to remind me that my “vitality leaps” among “[t]rees without leaves and a fire in the fireplace.”

Segue here to the biggest loss of all this year—loss of a spouse through divorce. The fit bit represents this in a quirky way: my former husband used to be (a lifetime ago), my walking partner; in fact, that’s how we courted back when we were both broke and single parenting.

The fit bit that went AWOL at DFW surprised me with its loss, at how unmoored I felt.

I realized it has been—for quite a few years—my most steadfast walking companion. A way to make sure I’m actually getting as much exercise as I tell myself I am, something that a walking or jogging buddy can confirm or challenge. It’s also my creative thinking, and head-clearing, and list-making time. Random thoughts of gratitude often bloom in me while getting in my steps. I also vent, sort out teaching conundrums, and compose emails while taking paths through the urban college campus where I work; while meandering through country parks and river walks.

So, in counting my losses along with these other things, I’m finding that counting them mindfully, being intentional and aware of the letting go, of the moving on is, in fact, cutting my losses in the best way. There are fewer and fewer flash floods of anger mixed with sadness. Let it go. No marinating regrets, no festering bitterness. The absence of a regular walking partner is a small shadow in the big-sky clouds of divorce. The silver linings are the friends, colleagues, and (serendipity!) even my adult children that I now call or who contact me to make a walking date, when schedules allow. What a gift! And how hard to get consistently on the calendar.

But my friend the fit bit is always available.

Earlier today, I laugh in sudden awareness of the beauty of solitary walks as well as the companionable ones.

It’s bright mid-winter, I’m trekking the Thames Path at high noon along Oxford’s banks. I spy a kingfisher swoop into the woods; the river scintillates in wavelets. I breathe in, lift up my face to the pale sun. My heart is firmly fixed in this moment. Then I remember: I’m meeting my daughter (who has flown to England to visit me on this research trip) on the other side of the river for a hike further along this same footpath. We’ll go the full eight miles to a neighboring village and then stop for dinner at a country pub. We’ll sit by the open fire for several hours sometimes talking, sometimes staring at the flames. After writing a few letters and postcards, we’ll catch the last bus back to London.

Cutting losses has evolved into counting blessings: the gifts of faith, family, and vocation.

The riches of friends and fellowship. The treasure of genuine, healthy relationships and the ongoing healing they confer; the gift of life fully lived, apart from another’s emotional and financial behaviors that, for many years, stormed my days like a cycle of North Carolina hurricanes. Luckily, I found a fit bit on e-Bay for the right price.

We’re back in stride, the pair of us. We’ve moved forward through the stained glass autumn leaf color into the sculptural beauty of winter-trees without leaves, into the next season of finding “gains” better than those losses; in counting joys, pleasures, and the blessings that abound if only I have the eyes to see their numbers.

About the Author: Sheryl Cornett

Sheryl Cornett teaches at North Carolina State University, where she is the 2014-2017 University Honors Program Author Scholar-in-Residence. Her recent poems, stories, criticism, and creative non-fiction appear in Art House America, Southern Women’s Review, North Carolina Literary Review, Image, Pembroke Magazine, Mars Hill Review, and The Independent Weekly among other journals and magazines; and in anthologies such as In a Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare, The Global Jane Austen, and Christmas Stories from the South’s Best Writers. Visit her at www.sherylcornett.com

How I Start Each Morning by Felicia C. Sullivan

When you live in an era where smartphones have become appendages, conversations are emoji-based and reactive, and we’re suffering from information overload and choice paralysis, it can be challenging to sit down and just think.

Attention, not information, is our greatest commodity and it seems as if everyone’s vying for a piece of our day with news alerts, notifications, emails, texts, status updates, and phone calls. They want us and they want us now, and sometimes it can feel downright exhausting to be a participant in such a frenetic culture, during such a divisive (and frightening) political time. Yet, in following the law of diminishing returns, it is possible to know too much, to be too connected, to hyper-publish and battle in 140 characters or less—all at the expense of our sanity and the art we need to so desperately and fervently create.

Sometimes you might think, why bother? I’m just one more cog in the wheel, another voice amidst the noise, but I think it’s healthy, even necessary, to withdraw from the world, create and share that which is real and honest, and be guardians of our time as much as we can.

Although it seems as if people are up and tweeting 24 hours a day, I have found a pocket of time, in the early morning, where I can create something that has a longer, and more potent, shelf life than a status update. Waking early also helps me set an intention for my day. I normally wake at 5 and I don’t bolt out of bed. Instead, I lie awake for 15-20 minutes, calmly breathing, cozying up to my cat and mapping out the day ahead of me. This slower pace allows me to consider each task deliberately and with intention and on a more practical level I don’t feel like I’m having a panic attack before my morning coffee.

Since I have to balance the demands of an always-on consulting practice with novel writing, I tend to devote 2 hours every morning to anything that will move a personal or creative project forward. I’ve found that setting aside time for creative work, even scheduling it, rarely makes me feel resentful of the work that “pays the bills” because everyone now plays harmoniously in the proverbial sandbox. My morning time isn’t simply about writing, rather, it’s about all the things I need to do to bring a project to life. On good days I write. I never worry about the quality of the work (that’s for later when I’m breaking out my pen and feeling particularly surgical); I only care that I’m working. I close out my WIFI because I’ve found that texts and notifications still find a way to weasel me away from the page.

I know the world is out there, possibly aflame, but I’ll get to it in due time.

On the days when I’m blocked, I focus on research, organization, brainstorming, writing exercises, reading, or editing—all essential tasks that are needed to complete a project. At the end of the two hours, I feel productive regardless if I’ve written a single word. My morning process focuses on creation and organization and the evenings are devoted to review, editing, and refining. And the cycle continues anew on the following day.

The information culture is pervasive, so much so that you can get caught up on clickbait, fake news, hot takes, and opinion pieces that are simply noise. After I’ve spent time creating or working on a project, I make a point to read long-form articles and essays on everything from politics to brain science. I think we’ve shifted to writing that’s sometimes too succinct, and I feel relieved in the moments when I’m able to spend time reading through a comprehensive, thoroughly researched point-of-view. Doing this makes me less reactive and more methodical and thoughtful in all my tasks throughout the day. Even if you have 5-10 minutes, listen to a podcast during your commute, read one long-form article, take the time to allow your attention to linger. I’ve also found that I’ve regained the attention span I previously lost.

Remember a time when you were able to read a book for hours and not have the TV blasting or dealing with the blow-up that is your smart phone?

I often think we make too many goals and to-do lists, which invariably set us up for failure. After I do my ‘thinking’ work and read, I write down one thing (yes, one) that I want to achieve for the day. The task will be specific and realistically achievable. For example, I hate organizing my bills and bank statements, so I’ll devote an hour to the task. Regardless of what happens in the day, I know that it’s probably feasible for me to complete one task.

Creating, reading, and intention-setting –this is how I start each morning. Some days, it works beautifully and I’m productive. Other days, I’m tethered to my email putting out a fire. However, what matters most is that most of my days are comprised of the former instead of the latter. Most days I’m focused on living mindfully and that seems to even out the days that erupt in total chaos.

About the Author: Felicia C. Sullivan

Felicia C. Sullivan is the award-winning author of the critically acclaimed memoir The Sky Isn’t Visible from Here (Algonquin/Harper Perennial) and the founder of the now-defunct but highly regarded literary journal Small Spiral Notebook. She maintains the popular lifestyle blog lovelifeeat.com. Born and raised in New York City, she now lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Follow Me Into the Dark is her first novel.

The Magic of Gathering by Natasha Reilly-Moynihan

How is it that we come to know one another? One could say it is the moment we first meet and exchange pleasantries and yet, is what we learn in that moment enough to say we know someone? How is it that we truly come to know one another? We find each other inside stories. When we gather together with someone or with a number of others to tell our tales, we are seen and we see others in the most authentic light. After attending a recent gathering, I discovered that within a community of kindreds there lives the magic of true connection and belonging that we all seek.

The acceptance or extending of an invitation to come together instantly opens the door for infinite possibilities to arrive in our lives. As we invite people we know alongside people we have only dreamt of knowing to join us, a beautiful, diverse group assembles to share their truth which electrifies imagination and conversation. In those inclusive spaces, we can talk about the things that make us unique just as we are free to discuss the things that make us different. We are safe to share issues and find creative solutions. The most stunning part of our conversations is when we push beyond the things that we think divide us to find the many similarities that connect us. The differences and the similarities give way to a celebration of our humanity.

Within the communities we build, we practice not only heart-centered sharing but heart-centered listening.

In taking the time to deeply listen to someone, we are reminded that we are not alone. We listen knowing that we are being given a wonderful gift when someone grants us permission to truly see them. We build a trust with people who may become lifelines for us in moments of great joy and tremendous challenge.

Gathering allows us to not only share talents and passions with one another but it permits us to create our tribe. As you find your kindreds, the possibility that someone may inspire you to make a dream come true simply by sharing their story or vice versa increases significantly. The support and encouragement that develops helps serve as a reminder that we all have wings and together we can fly.

So often our society tells us that we have to “go it alone.”

If you want to make something, get out there and make it happen. “Don’t depend on anyone else”, we are told,” you can do it.” Yes, we can do it but often times what people forget is that we need one another to make it happen. We need the stories, the connection, the encouragement, the resources and most importantly, we need the nourishment that can only be found within our creative communities.

A community of kindreds is like a well of creative goodness. Coming together with people provides sustenance for the soul. So many of us work in isolation, creating works that express what is in our heart. That work is powerful and necessary but so is stepping out of that space and into a community of kindreds.

Becoming part of a community that believes all are welcome and anything is possible has such a powerful effect upon people. It provides a constant reminder that you can create the life you want, you can make your dreams happen and, while you are building, you have the support and love of a community of friends.

About the Author: Natasha Reilly-Moynihan

Natasha Reilly-Moynihan is a writer and artist who is part of The Local Community Initiative, a program to grant resources and online support to new and beginning community gatherers. For more information or to apply, visit jenleeproductions.com.

 

Thin Places by Julie Terrill

I heard about a Celtic belief that this realm and the next are separated by a veil that is substantially thinner in sacred sites. I was immediately intrigued and began researching how to experience these ‘thin places’ for myself.  It didn’t take long to discover that it is almost easier to find information on what a thin place isn’t than what one is. Thin Places are often holy sites but not all holy sites are thin.  Thin Places are generally quiet; not flashy or showy. If there is a gift shop it is likely not a  thin place. They are often not easily accessible. Okay… but what are they?

As a photographer I was unsure how I would capture this intangible element that I didn’t entirely understand but trusted that I would do so in a way that was representative of my experience.  I had a list of suggested sites gleaned from many hours of research. The town of Mountshannon and nearby  Inis Cealtra, or Holy Island, had somehow managed to elude the books and websites I had referenced.  I learned of it from our host while checking into our cottage the day we arrived in Ireland.  She gave me contact information for Gerard, the boat captain, who has a tiny kiosk at the Mountshannon Harbor.  There he schedules boat rides and sells photos and books on the history of the 50 acre island, most of which he authored.

The island’s artifacts, spanning in age over 6,000 years, illustrate its long existence as sacred ground. Dating back to 4,000 BC, Pagan bullaun stones with carved depressions to collect water are found across the island. There are five churches in various states of ruin and excavation as well as grave stones dated from 898 AD through present day. The island is peaceful, enchanting and bucolic, with cows grazing while they, too, walk the historic pilgrimage path around the island.

In Killaloe, Linda my travel companion, and I both felt deeply connected to a stone chapel built in the 6th century along the banks of the River Shannon. Saint Flannan’s Cathedral was built 700 years later at the south end of the chapel,  an ornately carved screen separated the two spaces. We entered the chapel in reverent silence. Occupying the otherwise empty space was a scattering of ancient stone artifacts, including a high cross and a large stone inscribed in Viking script on one side and Ogham on the other. The massive wooden doors slammed shut behind us and a reverberating din filled the stone walls. The acoustics were amazing. I began to sing very softly, quite surprised that my voice carried through the building. Just as quietly, Linda joined me and our song echoed through the chapel.

Stone circles dot the Irish countryside and predate Christianity, originating in the Bronze Age dating 2,000 – 4,000 BC.  Just standing amid these stones is bucket-list material. But placing my hands on the altar stone in the center of the circle, I was overwhelmed with an indescribable connectivity to the countless hands that had been laid on the same spot for six millennia.

Some sources I researched cited the Cliffs of Moher as a thin place. This seemed counterintuitive to me. Between the cliffs and a huge bus-filled parking lot, is a large visitors center with several cafes and a numerous of gift shops. Instead, Linda and I parked in a dirt patch several miles from the visitor’s center and its throngs of tourists. We walked alongside livestock pastures, traversed a number of stone walls and hiked in relative solitude as a small rise gave way to an Amuse Bouche for the eyes, there to delight and entice us with the promise of what lay ahead.  We arrived at a mossy bluff where the earth, sea and sky intertwine forming the beautiful tapestry of The Wild Atlantic Way.  This was an incredible vantage point to photograph the legendary cliffs.  I sat on the thick carpet of moss that cushioned and cradled me. I felt strangely compelled to put away my camera to be fully present.  This was a new phenomenon. I usually felt more present and more me with my camera in hand. Eyes closed and feeling completely at peace, I felt as if I was sitting in the lap of God; a little girl enveloped in the protective, loving arms of my Father.  It was not until the wind stung my wet cheeks that I realized I had been crying. Linda and I remained for hours on our bluff in silence, journaling and knowing we found the undefinable experience we had been seeking.

I do not believe it is necessary to travel to the British Isles for this experience. I think a thin place can be deeply personal. A space where the veil is whisper thin for me may not evoke those feelings for anyone else. I have such a place in the woods of Maine. A fern filled clearing under a canopy of leaves is my place to connect with the earth, myself and my faith; usually barefoot, always with gratitude.  My thin place is not marked on any map or on a list of sacred grounds. I can return there, or to the mossy cliffs, by simply closing my eyes and opening my mind.

About the Author: Julie Terrill

julieterrill_bio

Julie Terrill is a photographer and writer with a passion for travel. For ten years, she’s told stories of empowerment through the lens of her camera in an array of unique landscapes, environments, and projects – from a shelter for children rescued from trafficking in Thailand to Faces of Courage, complimentary portrait sessions she offers to cancer patients in her community. She is a photographer and facilitator at Beautiful You and Soul Restoration retreats.

Connect with her at: JMTerrillImages.com

Spirit Guides on the Ancestral Highway by Jeanie Croope

When you travel down the ancestral highway, the things that cross your path sometimes happen in at the most unusual moments.

I’ve always had a curious relationship with the ancestors on my mother’s side, a sense of longing to know them better, physically touch them. I spent much of my childhood time with my dad’s parents, learning to bake at my grandmother’s side, picking vegetables with my grandfather on their farm.

But my mother’s mom died several months before I was born and my grandfather was a rather gruff guy who died when I was 10, taking with him many family secrets. Most of my thoughts about them were filtered through the memories told by my mother and her sisters.

I’d like to think the creative streak that runs in our family came down through Minnie. Her craft was sewing and she would do it hour after hour. All of us kids had little cats made from material that had the front of the cat on one side and the back on the other. Mom would say those cats would line the window sill, straight as soldiers in a row.

As I’ve done some genealogical research over the past year, bits of Minnie’s life have been filled in as I’ve learned a little more about her parents. (I still can’t figure out when they emigrated to America, though! There’s always more to discover. Trying to find records on people named “Wood” and “Granger” in England in the 1800s is not, I’ve learned, a piece of cake!) My fascination with her has continued to grow. Yet the only physical connection I had to this little woman, apart from countless photos, was a stuffed cat.

That is, until one serendipitous moment. Collecting vintage postcards is a passion of mine. I use some in my art, others remind me of places I’ve been or, in the case of the “up north” cards, of the area where my summer house is and where, a short walk away, my mother and her sisters spent their summers with Minnie. I always looked for photo cards that might show the resort where the cottage stood but those that had included house itself were non-existent, perhaps because it was set back further onto the land and in wide shots, the trees blocked it.

As I was going through the alphabetical city list of cards, I picked up those that included lake views and, as usual, most of the cards didn’t appeal. They were too recent. Or they were area attractions that held little personal meaning. They were not the spots on the lake I longed to find.

That is, until I saw one that had a somewhat familiar look. The writing on the front said “Wah Wah Soo,” which was the area of the cottage and it looked like — just at the very top of the card — a bit of the old cottage was visible. Although I didn’t notice it on first glance, I would later discover that an “X” was drawn at the top of the card, with a line dipping into the trees and pointing to a house set back from the shore. It looked very familiar.

I turned it over, surprised to find it had been addressed to my grandparents’ next door neighbor, the woman who served as my baby sitter until I was three. I looked at the faded handwriting in pencil, the date, “Thu., 1940.”

“Dear Grace,

X marks the spot. We have been quite comfortable up here this summer. It hasn’t been too warm here. We will be seeing you all before very long. Love, Minnie L.”

What magical thing brought me to this show — one I often skip — on this day? What led me to this very spot and what was it that brought my grandmother’s handwriting — the first time I had ever seen her handwriting — into my own hands?

Tears ran down my face and I didn’t care who saw.

I’ve long wondered how one can feel so connected to someone they never met. It’s more than a bloodline. It is more than an interest in crafty things or a love of the cottage. I find it deeper and inexplicable. And yet, it is as tangible as the photograph I can touch.

Are we guided by the spirits who have come before us? Do we hear their voices in our heads when we do something we know they’d love? Does their guidance help us form our thoughts and actions, thought we think those thoughts and actions are ours alone?

We’ll never know but I would like to think that’s so. For it seems that Minnie is one of the guides in my life. And with every bit of research — the name on the census document, the death certificate, the marriage license — she becomes more and more real.

My genealogical journey has just started. In less than a year I have found ancestors who were persecuted and died for their religion, another who died in an asylum. I have found farmers and beekeepers, confectioners and shoemakers. I have learned about women who died young leaving large families behind and children who died all too soon. I have even discovered that a dear friend with whom I’d had no sense of family connection was my fifth cousin. But that’s another story.

It has become a quest, this walk down the ancestral highway. It is a dive down the rabbit hole of family trees with deep roots. It can be dark and frustrating and often confusing with information coming from all directions, some spot on, some far off. And yet, with each computer key I tap, there is a sense of those spirit guides, urging me to tell their stories.

And so, down the rabbit hole we go.

 

About the Author: Jeanie Croope

Jeanie Croope bioAfter a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.

A Letter from the Heavens by Christine Mason Miller

I had an astrology reading done for the first time at the end of 2014, right around my birthday. As far as my knowledge of astrological meanings and intricacies before that reading, I knew I was a Scorpio, and that this meant I was fiery and passionate. My husband is a Scorpio too, and whenever we share this, the reaction is always, “Oh, wow!” (I get the impression they think we must have a) fierce clashes, b) wild sex or c) both. Maybe at the same time.) I like the persona of Scorpio—the intensity, the spiritedness—and I’ve always looked at it as something to live up to and honor.

Although the scorpion is not my totem animal—which would mean “I am a very strong person with the ability to inspire others” according to spirit-animals.com—as my zodiac sign, it has been with me for as long as I can remember, serving as a point of reference as I’ve tried to figure out who I am and who I want to be.

This week, I listened to my reading for the first time since it took place. I was struck by how clearly I remembered some parts of it and how quickly I had forgotten others. This was my natal chart, so it involved looking at what was happening at the date, time, and location of my birth, all of which tell a story about that particular time and place. Meaning, there was a very specific arrangement of things in the solar system, around planet earth, that were different from any other time and place. We all come into the world this way—with connections and relationships between the sun, the moon and the planets that are specific to the latitude and longitude of where we are born.

Astrology is something I can’t say I’ve even so much as dabbled in, but I think it’s possible I could get hooked on it without too much cajoling. The engineer in me loves the very precise diagram of where things were when I was born, with lines marking their angular relationship to each other. I love the symbols and the symbolism—the woman who gave my reading, Carol Ferris, uses the language of Greek mythology to tell the story in an astrology chart, so different characters were explained in a familiar context. Being able to visualize these characters and their stories was easy, which enabled me to understand their role in my chart.

After listening to my reading again this week, I walked away feeling affirmed. As in, the things that are going on for me right now internally are, in fact, reflected in the story of my natal chart as interpreted by Ms. Ferris. Which is not to say I got to the end of the recording and thought, “Yep, that’s exactly who I am!” but that I saw the connection between my existence and the vastness of the heavens that surround our planet. They say we’re made of the same stuff as stars, right? So perhaps the stars and the planets and the sun and the moon made their imprint on me the day I was born, which, like, fingerprints, might not necessarily determine my fate, but have been part of me from the moment I took my first breath.

In my search for meaning, understanding and awareness, I’ve read books, watched films, discussed, debated, and prayed. Getting an astrology reading was part of that process. It is helping me make sense of some of the forces at play within myself—my longing for beauty, my ambivalence about certain possibilities, the way I love being at home. I don’t see it as a guide that is telling me what to do but as a letter from the stars that says, “You’re doing just fine. Everything will be OK. Trust us.”

About the Author: Christine Mason Miller

christinemasonmillerChristine Mason Miller is an author and artist who has been inspiring others to create a meaningful life since 1995. Signed copies of her memoir, Moving Water, are now available at www.christinemasonmiller.com.

The Magic of Attraction by Krista Davis

Ahh, the first days of a new romance. The flushed face. The inability to think about anything else. The sheer excitement! It seems magical.

You probably recall some of your dating failures. I confess that I am not great at romance. I’m not putting myself down. I can bake a pretty decent cake. I can roast a turkey without taking a valium first. But finding the right guy? Oof!

There was the oh-so-memorable date with a guy who excused himself a little too long and when the waitress asked if we wanted dessert, he all but shouted no! Fine with me. We had been set up by his mother. No kidding. She loved me! He loved the waitress with the top down to there and the skirt up to you-know-where. To this day I am convinced that he went back to the restaurant to pick her up. For all I know, they have thirteen kids, are happily married, and they always laugh about how he met her during a terrible date.

In Mission Impawsible, a matchmaking event is going on. Since the town of Wagtail is all about dogs and cats, it made perfect sense that singles would bring their furry friends to help them meet the right person. There’s some logic to that. If you’re a cat person with half a dozen cats, wouldn’t you want to meet another cat person who understands and shares your devotion to felines?

But since I’m not an expert at romance (cough, cough) I needed to do some research. What exactly attracts us to one person but not to another?

Turns out it’s much more complex than I would have suspected.

Most people know if another person is a potential mate in thirty seconds to two minutes! Kind of puts a fresh spin on meeting someone in a bar, doesn’t it? Don’t be insulted the next time someone spurns your interest because there’s a lot more going on than you realize.

That quick judgment would lead one to imagine that attraction is all about appearances. Not so. It turns out that when we meet someone who might be a potential mate for us, all kinds of things are happening in our brains that we don’t even realize.

We’re smelling them.

We may not sniff each other quite as brazenly as dogs do, but apparently, women are attracted to men who smell like their fathers! That seemed a little weird to me at first but maybe it makes sense. It’s a smell that evokes comfort and security for us.

The most mind-bending thing I learned is that women are attracted to the scent of men who have a different immune system than their own. Clearly, we are not conscious of this. It’s a very primal kind of thing that results in stronger offspring because they benefit from more immunities.

So, in a way, there’s actually a kind of magic going on in the background. It has a scientific basis, but we’re not aware of all the amazing things our noses and brains are figuring out for us.

About the Author: Krista Davis

kristadavis_bioNew York Times Bestselling author Krista Davis writes the Paws and Claws Mysteries. Her 4th  Paws and Claws Mystery is Mission Impawsible, which releases on February 7th. Krista also writes the Domestic Diva Mysteries with a new book due out in June 2018.
Like her characters, Krista has a soft spot for cats, dogs, and sweets. She lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with three dogs and two cats.
Connect with Krista: Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

PS. You can see how my research on the magical power of love and attraction plays out in my latest, Mission Impawsible, which will be in bookstores on February 7th and is available for pre-order. I’m not telling how the matchmaking turns out!

 

Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes