Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Our Work Will Take Us To Surprising Places If We Approach It With Our Heart & Mind Wide Open...

"Listening to your heart is not simple. Finding out who you are is not simple. It takes a lot of hard work and courage to get to know who you are and what you want."
~o~ Sue Bender ~o~

Dear Ones,

This has been one of the most difficult, and interesting, journeys that I have ever been on.

Last time I wrote about all of the changes happening within and without, dreams unfolding, what life at the cottage really is and what it means, and how I, personally, in my own unique way, am connected to the world.

Going Deeper...

I am in the middle of one of the most intense times of my life as there is not a day I am not in at least one tele-class or tele-seminar, my work is being read and I am being mentored by more than one person in different aspects of my business and my life so that I can finally, at 58, begin to fully take responsibility for myself and my life and my finances and my future. Until now my entire life has been viewed through a pair of murky, coke-bottle-thick glasses wherein everything was distorted as if by funhouse mirrors and all I could see, all I could feel, were all of the broken, abused, fearful places inside of me. There's no way you can build a foundation for a future, a solid, secure future, for yourself, and those you love, and all that is important to you, unless you are peering at it all clearly, through glasses with a brand new prescription. 

I am getting new glasses, both literally and figuratively. I am going to see myself and the world in a whole new way...

One of the interesting exercises that I have created for myself is to carry about a huge notebook which is part journal, part dreamcatcher, part collage, part vision board, and a catch-all of sorts, and what I have wanted to do is find all of the pieces of myself that I can. I am doing this because I really want to see, discover, all of the parts of me that were hidden behind those hazy images of brokenness and fear. And, I find myself shocked to say that there are quite a lot of them.

Shocked. Yes I am downright shocked.

When you get used to seeing yourself as a broken thing you stop trying to reach for your dreams, you imagine that you will never be able to _______________,  your world shrinks to a narrow perimeter around yourself in which you and a handful of things can fit and the whole rest of the world simply ceases to exist. Now do understand that I don't mean that from that place that you are you can't do and care about a lot of things. I have, and as I said last time I care very deeply about things in the outside world, and do everything I can to help in any way I can all of those that I can reach. But since then, less than a week ago, I have come to the startling realization that there is space between here and there. I don't see myself, because I don't want to be -- at least for now, and in this moment with eyes wide as saucers looking at the world in a whole new way, who KNOWS what I might think/feel/see/long for in the years to come -- a wild adventurer who travels far and wide, and with 9 animals and who knows how many more could come into my life, I have made a choice to stay centered in my home base with these little beings that I love, that are my family. HOWEVER I might tiptoe beyond the borders of this carefully guarded world I have hidden in. Maybe. And the thing is not whether I ever do, or if I simply choose to expand my world here with little jaunts out into the world, the things is that I have realized that I have a choice.

I know, most of you are out there reading this are thinking, "Duh?" I can assure you that not for one single solitary second did I consider choice a possibility, because when you view yourself as a broken, fragmented thing, limited in scope in a thousand different ways, you don't see choice as an option at all, it really isn't a word in the lexicon of your life as you can see it as a broken person.

I looked in the mirror somewhat startled and I said to myself, "Well, gee, let's see, you are 58, you are round around the edges, you have a lopsided smile from the Bell's Palsy that never went away, but, well, (and here I will spare you the laundry list of all-too-often-written-about reasons why I couldn't do this, that, and the other from past experiences, to mental/emotional states of being, to what felt like bodily limitations...) gee willikers, you're not such a bad lot, and you're smart, and you're kind, and you love and care so very much. So let's take a look at what I have to work with, what's been holding me back, and where I want to go from here."

As I write about this in the weeks and months to come, and because I want you all to share the journey so that you, too, can see that you are a being of limitless possibilities and there is no reason you can't do every single thing you want to in some form or fashion (I'm teaching myself this so bear with me if I wobble a little, but gee, I'm even giddy as I wobble because even wobbling feels good! It sure is an improvement over standing in the corner covering my eyes and hiding!), I'm going to write here all the steps, revelations, discoveries, exhaltations, salutations, whoop-de-doos and la-di-das that come up. I'll just put down here, somewhat shyly but here goes, a BIG thing that has been holding me back and it didn't even occur to me until the last week, and it was after I wrote about doing the Dragonfly Cottage website for 7 years, and I was remembering, then, what I felt so deeply that caused me to finally bring a close to something that I loved so much.

Dragonfly Cottage was a very gentle, non-sexual, lesbian website as I said last time, meant to help and support other gentle women who needed a place to go, as I did, coming out in midlife.. I had no life experience outside of what I had known in 45 years, and I was afraid of men because the abuse in my past had been extensive, but something rather startling to me happened during those years. Men started writing to me -- sweet, gentle, innocent, gay, straight, scared, wanting and needing someone to listen to them too. I just couldn't get over it. It stayed with me for some long time, and yes there were the loonies out there that I deleted or blocked, but honestly, for the most part, they were just very kind, gentle men that also needed someone to listen to them, and care. And I listened, and I cared, and in the end I had to close the website I had loved so dearly because I felt a strong need to open my heart to a wider world, to be more inclusive, that my work needed to be for both women and men. I was right, but in the years just after the website closed a lot of life-things happened including my mother's long battle with cancer ending in her death in 2009 which brought up a tremendous lot for me and changed my life dramatically, and I kind of sunk back into the comfort of all women groups. 

I love to be part of women's circles, women's tribes, I love howling at the moon and celebrating my femininity and womanhood for all it's worth. There's something about a sisterhood with other women that you can't get any other way, and I will always have those circles and places of comfort and support in my life because they are so nourishing to me, but, with my work, I have to include everyone. 

We all have tender hearts. While I am divorced I was married to the gentlest, sweetest man in the world, I could not have had a better father for my children, and we still care deeply about one another today. I have a son whom I adore with my whole heart and two son-in-laws who are like sons to me as well. I have two beautiful grandsons. My 2 best friends are gay men. How, then, could I shape my work around women only when my heart is big enough to hold everyone? The doors of my heart are opening wider and wider every single day, and there is no turning back now. Now I know. I haven't figured out how to do it all, but just getting this far is so huge I simply cannot tell you. 

I said it, there, I said it out loud, and I am a little teary, and a lot relieved, and I am sinking back in my chair with a kind of sigh that says, "Finally..."

My work is about love. I took the name Maitri, as I have written, to be a guiding star, so that I would always remember what my work was supposed to be about. My work is about compassion and loving kindness, for the world at large, and even more, for the tender hearts that we all carry. My work is to turn the mirror around and hold it up for you so that you can see how beautiful you really are. You have to look past every single thing you have seen as negative or limiting. I don't say "I am fat, or I am overweight," both of which might be true in some people's definitions (and I'm not talking about health issues or taking care of oneself, which I'm very well aware of and working on in my life...) because they bring about negative, hurtful, fearful feelings. I say, "I am round around the edges," and I am. I am very soft, and cuddly and I cuddle and love a lot in a sweet and tender way. My grandson hugs me real big and says, "You're so soft grandma!" and it just makes me smile from ear to ear because as a little boy he may be feeling a physically soft Grandma Maitri, but I think what he is feeling even more is the very soft center of who I am, and that will not change when I weigh 100 pounds less. I love how soft I am inside. I accept myself. I fully truly completely love myself as I am today, because if I don't love myself as I am today, just exactly as I am today, I won't be able to make any changes, physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, or any other way. Accept yourself today. Love yourself today, and the world is your oyster. 

If there is one quote that I have always related to most strongly, felt most apt in describing myself, it is Charles Dickens, "... secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster." And that has always been me, has always been how I saw myself, how I felt inside, a bivalve, tightly shut. But... my shell is opening, and there is a pearl inside, and oh gracious me, it is irridescent and glimmering. I am a pearl, round, and luminous, and glowing. I am my own light, and I will illuminate the path before me in the months ahead while I shape the real destiny I was meant to live.

Good Lord, I'm alive, I'm happy, I'm giggly with joy, I've got so much work to do everything in me is spinning and I FEEL GOOD. 

I am holding the mirror up for you now. Look deeply and with compassion. Look tenderly, with love. Feel gratitude for this life you have been given, and think of ways to celebrate all that you have, and look for ways to love yourself more deeply. Write down, really fast, everything that you are, every single thing that you can think of that is true about yourself WITHOUT USING ANY NEGATIVE LANGUAGE, DESCRIPTIONS, OR IMAGES. Turn your version of "fat into soft," be very gentle and kind with yourself, and see what that really means inside of you, and see how good it feels. I see you. I see the real you, and you are more beautiful than you can begin to imagine. 

You are so very dear to me...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Answering Questions That People Ask & Laying The Foundation For New Work & Dreams...

"We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be."

~o~ May Sarton ~o~

Maitri and Meyer's parrot, Sierra... 

Dear Ones,

Things are changing here, morphing, with the seasons, from an old Self going through the transformative process of woman into Crone, into Wise Woman, bringing together, at this juncture in my life, all that has come before, allowing the mature fruit to create a medley of  new flavors and textures, while still, at the same time, going deeper into what is, and not changing, visibly, to the outside world. No tossing the life I have created to the winds and sailing off to new lands, no, I am content to go deeper into this terra firma, and offer, from here, right where I am, all that I have to give. This has brought up a great many interesting things for me, and I would like to share with you both the new dreams and new work that will be coming out of the cottage, as well as answer some interesting questions that I am often asked, and that I have been asked again since the last newsletter went out on Sunday. And do sign up for the newsletter -- it's free and if you subscribe to the newsletter you will be receiving a free eBook in November and many other free gifts to come!

First -- and for ease I will put these into question and answer format -- questions that people often ask about Dragonfly Cottage and my life here...

Is Dragonfly Cottage a real place, in fact, is it real at all?

Ah, yes, and yes, and so much more than that.

You see, in 1999, in fact on the night of my 45th birthday, which was a fluke, not planned, and yet... we know that nothing is really a fluke... (4+5=9, the end of a cycle), I moved from my married home of 25 years into a tiny white cottage set up in the trees with a little picket fence around it. It was a shoebox compared to the large home I had left, but it felt safe, a port in a storm, a place where I could practically stand in the middle and reach out and touch all four walls. It was actually a garage apartment, as they are called now. They were servant's quarters behind the big mansions of the old south. The windows were hidden so deeply behind enormous trees I would reach out and hang bird feeders in them and watch as I worked at my desk, the wild birds eating just feet away from me. It was a time of loss, disorientation, a crumbling of everything I knew and loved, of all that was familiar. I was, like the Phoenix, crashing and burning, very nearly unable to rise from the ashes. But then... then the miracles began to occur.

Everywhere I went there were dragonflies. Places where there should not have been dragonflies, at times of year there should have been no dragonflies, there they were. They follow me to this day. The dragonfly is my totem animal, my teacher, my protector, the wise one who sits lightly on my shoulder and whispers in my ear. In Native American spirituality the dragonfly leads one out of illusion and into truth, out of darkness and into light, it is about death, transformation, rebirth. I became the dragonfly, and he led me from the brink of death back to life, literally. It was in that moment in time that I named my little cottage Dragonfly Cottage, and I created a website that had a 7 year run and over 1500 women came through the virtual cottage doors to sit with me in my kitchen and have tea while we talked about all manner of things. At 45 I had not only left a marriage I had come out a lesbian, had a loving and gentle parting with my husband to whom I am still very close today, and as my children grew through college and into their own lives I moved through the transformation that I wrote about for many years on the website called "Dragonfly Cottage," to help other lesbian woman find peace and grace in their lives. It was non-sexual, gentle, supportive, spiritual, artistic, and based in the precepts of compassion and loving kindness. The women were amazing and we helped one another through times that were hard for each of us in our turn, and celebrated joys and wonders, worked through the struggles that would ensue in any human endeavor, and always came back to a gentle place. Dragonfly Cottage wasn't supposed to merely be my home but a sanctuary for women around the globe and it was one of the first of it's kind with 15 mailing lists and a stable and growing community for some long time. I will always treasure the women that I met and the lessons that I learned during those years, but when the website closed Dragonfly Cottage, here, the one I am sitting in, was still very real. It was a physical space as well as a state of mind.

From that little cottage I moved 7 times from April 1999 to February 2010 when I came to roost in the Dragonfly Cottage I was meant to live in all along. The studio where I work is here -- I am writing to you from it right now -- and the large gardens I create, the fiber I spin into yarns and weave, knit, crochet, and create large fiber art pieces, it all happens here. The many rescue pugs and parrots that I write about are around me here as I type this, and at the same time I am working on a book whose purpose is to teach others to find their own "Dragonfly Cottage," however that might manifest in their lives and whatever name it shall have. The book I am writing is called Finding Dragonfly Cottage, and I write the story of how I found and created (and continue, daily, to create) my Dragonfly Cottage as well as how you can find and create your own.  

Dragonfly Cottage, for me, represents a haven that we create for ourselves so that we might be all that we were meant to be, in all of our glory, despite our circumstances, and even if no one else understands, we must live our lives in a way that works for us, even if no one else approves or understands. This can only come from a place of total love and acceptance, and it is rooted in the Buddhist teaching of maitri, the name I took as my own, legally, in 2005, when we were finally divorced. The name that would always remind me that my work, my life, were to be centered in compassion and loving-kindness, and, as is true in the teaching of maitri, we must first find compassion for ourselves. You cannot give from an empty well. You have no compassion to give to the world around you if you have not found it for yourself. When you do you can create the kind of place that will nurture you and allow you to flower into all that you were meant to, and from there life will unfold in ways you could heretofore not have imagined. So it has happened for me, after a long journey, and the journey continues on, and will continue on until the day I die.

So yes, Dragonfly Cottage is a very real place, and so much more.

A Question That Comes In Various Forms With Essentially The Same Meaning...

I am often asked some variation of this question: "If you live so cut off from the world how can you/do you care about the struggles in the outer world, war, famine, the world financial crises...?" and on and on. Somehow people think when I write about living a contemplative life with animals and beautiful gardens, reading, writing, working from home and seeing few people, that I am somehow cutting myself off from "the real world" and don't care what happens there, and this couldn't be further from the truth.

My truth, as I have often written, is that due to a past whose dark history, and subsequent mental and emotional struggles, make living a "normal life" in the world impossible for me does not negate deep caring, concern, and working in any way that I can, from where I am, to give to the world from an open heart. When I talk about "finding my Dragonfly Cottage," and wanting to help other people find theirs, I am talking about learning how to create a world for oneself, no matter what your life circumstances, going against the grain most likely, against much of what our society deems "normal" and if you don't fit that norm you are one of the misfits, and you can live bouncing from one way of being to another trying to fit in until you bounce yourself right off the planet, or you can learn to create a place that works for you. None of us will be creating the same kind of place, but the goal for each of us, with this work I'm doing, is to come to total love and acceptance for oneself and then to create a life from that place that echoes to the heavens all of the beauty and love that you are.

Yes, I care. I spend a great deal of time in prayer and meditation for others as well as myself and my loved ones. I donate what money I can and as my business grows I will look forward to donating more, but the work that I do will come from this place and that will always limit some of what I am able to do, while continuing, every single day, to open limitless possibilities for the income that I need to live, and care for my animals, and family and loved ones, and charities I care about, and tend this life I have created. No matter who we are, what we have come from, what we struggle with on a daily basis, we are still miraculous beings here on this earth with a purpose, but as with the teaching of maitri, wherein you cannot give compassion to another before you have it for yourself, you cannot fully live the life you were meant to live and do the work you were meant to do, bringing all of the gifts and talents you came to the life with, up and out into the world until you have a firm foundation to move forward from. This is my work. And it is no longer a dream as it has been for so many years, I am doing it.

Moving Forward...

In the newsletter that I sent out Sunday night, which you can read here, I quoted a woman who was for decades my Muse and in the last 3 years of her life a dear friend and mentor, May Sarton. May taught me much in our all too brief time of knowing one another through long phone calls and letters, and of her many books, her journals were the ones that meant the most to me and brought us together, and the journals grew out of her memoir, Plant Dreaming Deep, whose title came from a poem that May had written called "after du Bellay."

"Happy the man who can long roaming reap,
Like old Ulysses when he shaped his course
Homeward at last toward the native source,
Seasoned and stretched to plant his dreaming deep."

This poem means so much to me for so very many reasons, but now, at this time of year, and at this autumn season of my life, I have planted my dreaming very deep, and, no longer just dreaming, I am taking very real action to carve out not only a life for myself where I can feel safe, but a very real way that I can make a living and give the gifts that I have, now rooted in this earth, in this cottage, with these animals, with countless friends around the globe, I can write and teach and do my own form of coaching that I call "Deep Listening" which will help people bring the disparate elements of their lives together and weave them into the place where they, too, can finally land, take root, and plant their own dreaming deep.

And so now I am taking several classes, writing my book, preparing my first eBook to send out to my mailing list (There will be free eBooks that will be precursors to larger eBooks and courses that I will be teaching online. Simply sign up for the newsletter on the right side of this page to receive them.), designing my first class, getting ready to create podcasts, and by next year I will be taking clients for special private sessions via phone and e-mail.

I have been told that I could not make a living if I didn't leave this place, pound the pavement, travel the world promoting my book. Well I have learned that this isn't the case, I have learned from a wide array of teachers that with the technology we now have I can live the life I must and give the gifts I have to give from this cottage I have worked so very long and hard to create to be able to live in this world at all, and at the same time pour out all that my heart has to give, and there is so very much. I want to show others, like myself, who, for whatever reason, have been, as long as they can remember, the square peg in the round hole, that there is indeed a place for us, and we can love ourselves, celebrate all of who we are, and give back to the world. I am here doing it. My deepest wish is that I may help those who need it do it as well.

Until then I will continue on here doing my work, and right now there is an impatient little blind pug who is indignant because the only time she is not in Mama's lap is when I have long stretches of serious writing to do. Her cushy bed a foot away from me is a terrible hardship for her, so I will close here and pick her up while I reread and edit this entry.

Plant your dreaming deep. You have so much to offer. We all do. Don't let those in the world around you who don't understand sully the belief you have in yourself. You are a beautiful soul, I can feel it from here. Now let's each open the little packet we have in our pockets and put the seeds beneath the earth. The spring will bring more than you could ever imagine...

Warm Regards and Deepest Blessings to All,

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

“Autumn...the year's last, loveliest smile.” ― William Cullen Bryant

“I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
~o~  L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables ~o~

Looking out the kitchen window at the autumn garden, still
beautiful, I enjoy the flowers I always gather for the small
vases always on the windowsill. These are precious days
as soon the garden will go to sleep until spring...

Dear Ones...

Like Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of the much beloved Anne of Green Gables books, I, too, have always loved October. If autumn is my favorite season, October is my favorite month of the year. The time I always called "sweater weather" because it's not quite cold enough for a coat but there is a brisk, enlivening chill in the air that brings me back to life after a long hot summer. Part of me goes to sleep, cocoons over the summer, as I have never been able to bear the heat since I was a little girl, save creeping around, early or late, to water the garden, or go out with the dogs. But then summer passes and autumn arrives and I heave a great sigh of relief and come alive again, filled with a kind of energy and enthusiasm I haven't felt in months. I begin to get work going that seemed impossible when my energy was drained by summer's heat. I take up my fiber work again, my writing picks up, the dogs frolic in the yard making me laugh as 4 little pugs, even tiny blind Penny, romp in the yard a bit, enjoying the cool, dewy grass. Penny spends a great deal of time sniffing about as if there are so many more delicious smells to snuffle in, the little boys, Tanner and Pugsley, 3 and 6 years old, race about the yard at top speed, and 14 year old Sampson tries to follow the little boys but quickly slows down to amble about, walking the perimeter of our fence line, and all three boys seem to think that the best place to do their business are in the new flower beds where the newly planted roses and other fall flowers have just been put in. The just turned over earth must hold great delights, as they travel about, hither and yon.

Sam is always a great help in the yard while the
little boys race about at a mad dash...

I cut brightly colored flowers still blooming, the last of the zinnias and the late blooming cosmos, a few roses in bloom, some little asters blooming for the first time this year, and whatever else I can gather. I love to have a windowsill full of tiny vases of flowers to look at as I stand at the sink in the kitchen doing dishes, looking out over the garden and woods, a peaceful, meditative time.

The little blue aster's first year.

And to turn off the air conditioning that we cannot live without here in this hot coastal region where the temperature may be over 100 degrees for weeks on end and open all the window in the house to fresh air feels divine, the cool breeze rinsing the house clean of summer's stale air when everything is closed up. Last night it got so cold -- down to 55 degrees which was a big drop from the 80's last week -- I had to close the windows and my warm sweet pugs and I snuggled under a big blanket while I sketched and wrote, working on the new eBook, read a little, and finally watched a movie, a favorite of mine that I have watched a couple of times before, Pieces of April. Autumn makes me melancholy in a sweet way and seems to be the time of the year I want to reread old favorite books and watch movies that I have loved and perhaps watched several times before. There's something comforting about the familiar this time of year, and soon I will be able to build fires in the fireplace with wood seasoned for as long as two years, cut from fallen trees.

Late blooming cosmos hanging over the
garden fence...

I find myself lighting candles and lanterns, paging through cookbooks to find good recipes for soups that will bubble and simmer on the stove all day long, and stews for the crockpot to start in the morning and have ready by dinner time, filling the cottage with good smells, spices and meats and vegetables, and there is something comforting about this as I walk in and out of my cozy kitchen, and enjoy the aromas wafting in to my studio while I sit working, as the kitchen opens on to the studio. Next to the studio my kitchen is my favorite room in the house.

My cozy country kitchen...

And now it's time for me to proofread this, publish it, and move on to work on my book. Penny likes to sit in my lap and help me edit. She can't see but she has a great sense of things and just seems to know when things need fixing, and the little boys are asleep in their beds around us, and it is a mellow autumn afternoon, a time of grace and peace, and I watch the birds at the feeders, just outside these windows, before nightfall, which comes earlier and earlier now, just before daylight savings time, and I savor every moment of every day.

Penny, "helping"...

I hope you are enjoying autumn where you are, if indeed you are in a part of the world in sync with our seasons, and if you are not I hope your days are pleasant and happy, full of joys and delights. And I wish you peace, and I send you love. Always.