Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Frozen Surfaces

I am in awe of the beauty outside my office window: a white wintery parking lot; the wetlands glazed over and the heron walking on the surface of the water like a prophet; the men gathering around tailgates sharing stories, preparing to embark on their 2 weeks on the tugs. I sit here in my cold office, feeling quite alone today.

My world feels small right now. I have a wonderful community I am part of and an incredible women’s circle. I cannot remember the last time I revealed my true self in conversation with any of them, other than my mentor. I have a job where everyone seems like a big family, and yet not one of them knows who I am at heart. I have created this whole world which avoids what I fear most in life – interaction with other human beings. Imagine living a life where the simplest conversation required so much effort, and so much worry, that afterwards you feel almost stunned or dazed. It just wipes everything right out of me. Why? It is not that I don’t deeply desire that interaction, I do so much it hurts. I live in a continual state of worrying about what others think of me and I am tired.

I tell you this today because my invocation for the coming year is complete self acceptance. No more hiding who I am. I am who I am and I am OK. I accept that it is difficult for me to engage in dialogue. I accept that I fear interaction. I accept that the only place I feel comfortable revealing this to you is here in cyberspace. I accept that I am so full of worry and anxiety most of the time that I have little energy for anything else. I accept it but I do not like it. I know that I cannot move forward without seeing and accepting these aspects of myself.

From a favorite song of mine:

“There’s a fire at your feet
but you got fire in your belly,
grip your trust between your teeth,
you’re ready.
There’s no way out but through
and somewhere it shifts and you are new
Glossy blue black beautiful
Deep inside
And strong, strong, strong.”

Juliet Wyers "Clear"

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Guest

What a revelation. I have struggled, fought, and pushed away the ghost of my children’s father that often enters our home, especially when the children return from their time with him. He is not welcome here, my mind says. I worked too hard to get him out of my life. Why does he continue to show up, again, and again, triggering both myself and my husband? How do I get him out for good? Boy was I blown away this morning when my therapist suggested I give him the best seat in the house. Huh? Are you kidding? The point is that he is here, regardless of how much I push him out. The idea is that if we can welcome him, or rather his energy, all of the effort I put into pushing him away can be recouped. The idea is if I can truly welcome him, find acceptance for what is, and treat him as a guest, then suddenly I go from victim to empowered. Can I do this? I don’t know. Supposedly I have within me the heart of the Buddha. The heart of the Buddha is big enough to hold the whole world, right? So maybe I can do this, but I am not sure about the best seat in the house. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Culture Change

I don’t know about you, but I love it when different parts of my life parallel each other in such a way that I know there must be some mastermind behind it. Life cannot just happen to be that coincidental. I am in one of those times now.
I am fortunate enough to have a job I really love. I work at a very cool place that I still get giddy when I think about it. I work for a tugboat and barge company on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Tugboats are cool, Tugboaters are cool too. They are just the sort of salty fellows you imagine when you think of tugboats. There is a strong sense of family here. The operation has been in business since the early 1900’s. There are many here who can site their lineage for several generations of working on these very boats. It’s all very nostalgic. When I walk down to the dock in the early mornings and look out over the magnificent river as the sun rises and the fog lifts, I can barely believe it’s real.
One of the most vital functions of my work is to facilitate culture change. What exactly does this mean? I am often asked what I do and find myself struggling to have the words to describe it. I decided to look up some definitions:
Here are some relevant definitions for culture:
An integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for symbolic thought and social learning.
The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group.

And for culture change:
The shared beliefs, values, and behaviors of organizational members become the target of the change process.
Enlightenment resulting from intellectual development.

What I am facilitating is a change in consciousness within our organization. I can think of no clearer way to describe it. Barring some tragic event, this process usually takes a long time, dedication, desire and willingness of at least the critical mass of employees.
Why is there a need to change the current culture? Just like individuals, organizations grow over time and with experiences. I told you about the generations of employees here. There are many beliefs, values and characteristics that have been passed on from generation to generation. Many of these still fit the current paradigm. Many are in need of change. For example, back in the days before the dams were built, tugboaters had to push their tows upriver through dangerous rapids. They were commended for getting the job done as quickly as possible, regardless of the risks they took. It was a little like the wild west and there was a thrill in beating the odds. Now things have evolved to a place where safety is valued more than speed, efficiency or valor. Well, this is true for most anyways. There are a few renegades still around who will put safety on the back burner, but for the most part, the culture around this has changed. There was a time here in the past and under different leadership, that the employees were treated with little respect, especially in certain departments. After years and years of this type of leadership, the group began to act like a dysfunctional family. There were secrets that were not spoken. Communication lines broke down completely. There arose a belief that the leadership would punish employees for bringing light to safety concerns. It became a very “us versus them’” culture. After a time the leadership changed, but the culture was stuck in this old paradigm. This is where I came into the picture along with a few others, tasked with facilitating a change into a new, healthier way of being as an organization.

Over the past year I built relationships and attempted to insert myself into the culture in order to get a clear picture. I chipped away and chipped away at getting people to talk. We had meeting after meeting where the group would sit in silence, unwilling to speak their thoughts. This group had been beaten down. I found ways to feed their sense of importance and value. Things have recently begun to show the beginning signs of a shift. A few brave souls have started talking, and authentically at that. I knew they had it in them. They are still very skeptical, but at least they are opening up to the possibility that things have really changed.
I started the job at about the same time that I and my children moved in with my partner, now husband. When we moved in, my husband and I both held this vision of our home being a place of safety and peace. We desired a place where we were free from violence. We had both come from an abusive past and found each other through our common threads of this past and held these values in very high esteem. Somehow we believed the children would fall right into line with this family culture we were creating. Boy, were those some rose colored glasses. We did not take into account that they were still living half time in a very different culture, where aggression and even violence were part of life. I also did not take into account how absent I had been with my children after my divorce, while I was working through my own grief and trauma.
We have chipped away and chipped away in attempt to lure them into our paradigm. It is very slow going. We see a family counselor. We have meetings where we all get to speak our thoughts and feelings. My husband and I continue to process though our own past traumas that resurface again and again as we do this relationship work. The children are still skeptical that this ideal is even possible, and that there is a healthier way of being.
My personal challenge with this pursuit of change, both at home and at work, is finding peace with the present. It is so easy for me to slip into thinking that since we are trying to change, that now is somehow flawed. I am always reaching for this idealistic goal of perfection, of enlightenment. I do enjoy the process, and the gifts are endless. It is a daily practice, however to value the present moment for the perfection that it already is.
This morning I walked down to the river to greet the day. I looked to the East, toward the rising sun. The clouds lingered above and obscured the direct rays of the sun, but the light made its way though enough to let me know it was there. The result was breathtakingly beautiful. I felt a long moment of Ananda - supreme bliss.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Isn’t the sun always brighter after a rainy day?
Last night my daughter went to her room to do some art. A few minutes later I checked in and her brother was sitting next to her on the floor doing art alongside her – in HER room. This never happens. They stayed in there and were absolutely silent for a good hour. Then Zach emerged proud of his accomplishment and meandered off to bed.

Zach’s Collage "The Art of Being Present" (from my little Buddha Boy)

A little while later Grace emerged with a grin on her face. She handed me a paper that said “To Mom, From Grace”. I flipped it over and found that she had created a very thoughtful collage for me. She explained all of the parts and why she chose them. It was quite thoughtful.

Grace’s Collage for Mom

Notice my favorite Rumi poem - "Out beyond the ideas of right doing and wrong doing, there is a field. I'll meet you there." Ok, I have to admit, she completely redeemed herself for now. Isn't life juicy?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Behind Anger

Last night my children sat in the living room preparing to watch “Underdog”. We needed some downtime. Zach has a flu bug. Grace is 13. I had worked all day. Rick had a painful visit to the dentist earlier in the day. Grace told Zach to scoot over and not breathe on her. This was understandable since he was sick. Zach said something about the movie and she told him he was spitting on her when she spoke, even though he had moved 3 feet away. He may have been letting the spit fly as he spoke, but it wasn't intentional. Grace has this way of speaking to her brother that just reeks with resentment and exageration. Zach became defensive and said Grace was being ignorant and criticizing him for being sick. They were both right in their own minds. They bantered back and forth until they reached my critical mass and I sent them both to their rooms. Then they turned their hostility towards me instead of each other. They did not feel justified in their imprisonment, but I sure felt better.
After a little bit I told them they may return and eat their dinner and that we could watch the movie providing there was no further bickering. Zach was totally cool with this and seemed to have moved on. Grace refused to speak or acknowledge my presence. She did say at one point during her confinement that I do not listen to her. I told her I would listen to her after we all calmed down but this was not good enough. “It will be too late!!!” she screamed. Oh to be 13 and female again. I am so glad to be 37.
She also made a sly comment under her breath as I sent her to her room. She grumbled “Why do we have to do this every night?” I felt like saying “Because you are mean to your brother every night”, but I felt that would not be beneficial. The problem is that she does not see how she treats her brother and that it is difficult to define. What does that “tone” sound like? How do you describe the anger and resentment that lingers behind the words or that “look” that says I hate you? How do you tell a child to stop feeling what they’re feeling? At the same time I see Zach suffering because of her feelings towards him. I don’t know what to do.
The family counselor said something very helpful the other night. She said that anger is not a primary feeling; there is always a feeling behind it. I know this also from my work with NVC. SO what is behind Grace’s anger? Is it fear? If so, of what? I have spent the past few months trying to find a way for Grace to see how she is treating him. I am realizing this may not be the best path. She may never see how she is treating him and even if she does, how does that help with the anger itself? I am hoping now to find out what is beneath the anger. I have no clue how to excavate this truth. Any ideas?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Saint Sophia

The pre-story:
Very soon after I moved to the farm with Rick, I awoke one morning to find this beautiful kitten sitting at my front door. I fell instantly in love with her. She had a collar with a bell and so I figured she belonged to someone. Over the next week she stayed very close to our home and followed Rick and I everywhere. I felt like she was choosing us to be her family. Every time I would hear the little bell on her collar jingle I would smile. We began to call her Sophia. I wrote this passage in my journal during that time.

August 12, 2008

I had an awakening moment with Sophia last night. I let her in the house at dusk as the coyotes were howling from the field. I fed her some dinner and I sat down to meditate. She ate a little and came over to me and rubbed up against me and then laid down on the ottoman in front of me and fell soundly asleep. I looked at her and wept. This tough kitten who has survived coyotes, bears, owls, hawks and racing cars; this tough kitten whose senses are so acute and on guard to stay alive, who is clever and wary, is resting sweetly here with me. She trusts me. And I thought: all this kitten really wants is a full belly and a safe place to sleep. Isn't that what we all need? I thought of the reptilian part of the human brain and how if these basic needs are not met, we cannot function from the higher brain, the higher states of consciousness. How many of us live life from this place of survival? When Sophia rubbed up against me and looked into my eyes I wasn't sure who was more grateful, me or her. I couldn't help but let her sleep in the house last night. I put her in the laundry room and she slept all night in a pile of socks on the dryer. I wonder if that's the first night of safety she has had in quite awhile. I love this sweet kitten.

I realized, somehow from this experience, that I have this great gift right now in partnership with Rick. I am getting to know myself and I am awakening more into this life. I couldn't do this very well until my own basic needs were met. I think to feel loved and truly seen must be among our basic needs for survival, and I don't think I have felt seen and loved for who I am until now, at least not for a very long time. This man loves me even though I am not perfect. This man loves me even though I sometimes live from this place of survival even now. This man loves me even though I am just being born into living fully. This man loves me even though I bring a whole collection of ghosts and family with me. He loved me enough to buy a farm with me in the beginning of our relationship because he thought it was our best chance at making it. He is willing to see me for who I am even more than who thinks I am. I think sometimes I am the lost kitten in our relationship that needed a safe place of refuge so that I could come home to myself. Now, with a full belly of gratitude, I can see how much I am loved. I can feel safe to "be" with myself, and to "be" present in this love. I know now that I do not need to be "worthy" of love, I just need to "be". I know I've said this before again and again…but each time the groove grows deeper and more real. And now I am starting to believe.

This morning the piece below pops up on my Google home page. The story is confirmation of all I felt last night. What a glorious moment of clarity. I think maybe there is some vision of us in this and some calling in here for me too. I believe this parallels the vision of the land we've both had and maybe calls in a little of the vision I have had for land all along. I'm not sure what that means quite yet, but I am curious. But first, I must continue saving myself.

Celebrated June 2nd
Every mother wins the "Mother of the Year" award in her own family, but if a vote were taken for the "Mother of the Thousand Years of the Byzantine Empire," the unanimous choice would be a valiant woman named Sophia who turned a personal tragedy into a triumph of the spirit. She symbolizes motherhood in the purest sense, sanctifying the role all mothers play in the daily grind of raising a family, elevating the mothers of the world to a sacred level in the eyes of God and giving them their due recognition in the divine plan of the universe. A woman acquires a spark of divine grace in bearing a child, and thereafter in caring for it she labors not only for herself but for the property of the Almighty as well, for we are the children of God.

The after story:
We did not know at that time that our Sophia carried 6 kittens in her belly. We brought her into our home and she birthed her babes in Zach’s closet. We watched them grow and we learned about mothering from her. She is an excellent mother. The kittens all found good homes. We kept one for our family. When I look at Sophia now I still feel that smile come onto my face like it did in the beginning. I love this sweet mama cat.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Girl Garden

On our farm my daughter and I have a special garden – the “Girl Garden”. My husband and son also have a “Man Garden”. This week, as summer winds down, the girl garden has gone through some transformation. This was our first year tending this palette, and the artist in me had to make some adjustments: adding delphiniums and peonies, moving lilies, and adjusting perennials so they are just in the right spot. We finally finished a glass bottle retaining wall we’ve been working on all season. We also created a nice wall around our tea garden in an effort to keep our mint crop under control.
As I was gathering the last of the bricks from the front of our house, I passed an angel statue seated on a wall on the side of our house. This statue is the one I received as a condolence when I lost a baby girl at birth – Gabrielle. Gabby was Grace’s baby sister. She was the sister that Grace had eagerly awaited the arrival of when she was three years old, and unable to understand why we did not come home with her. This was Grace’s introduction to mortality. Her death became one of the foundational pieces of Grace’s life story and one of her deepest sorrows. I knew in the moment I passed the statue that this garden was also for Gabrielle and I hoped a source of healing for Grace and me.
I brought the angel into our garden and she changed the energy of it all – it was as if she brought the garden to life. I felt Gabby’s presence there. I said to myself, “Now it is our girl garden, with all three of us girls.” Now it felt right.
Invigorated with a sense of new life, even as the autumn approached, I found myself inspired. I remembered a statue of a heart goddess given to me by a dear friend. She belongs at the entrance, I thought. Then I remembered a statue of Mother Mary that Grace’s great grandmother had given her. Yes! She will stand in the west, in the tea garden. I realized about then the power of this girl garden. It was becoming more than I had imagined. It was not just a garden for Grace and I and now Gabrielle, but one that honored the divine feminine in life. It was a garden to honor Gaia. It was becoming a Girl-Goddess garden.
I have searched for ways to heal the part of my female line that feels small and weak. I have worked hard to overcome the lingering effects of an abusive past. I have grown into a woman who understands the value of her femininity and hopes it’s not too late for her daughter to value hers. I have longed for a way to honor the feminine in myself that is, like the Goddess, strong and creative and beautiful. I have wished for something solid to share with my daughter to honor womanhood. We have found a little piece of this through our creation and enjoyment of our Girl-Goddess Garden.