Soul Collage

I could be one of those bloggers who is constantly apologizing for not posting, or I could just get to the good stuff.

I was recently introduced to the profound practice of making soul collages.  Here is the official website:

Soul Collage

There is a lot of information there for you to peruse.  It is a process created and developed by Seena Frost.  It is a creative reflection tool, guided by intuition, that can be used to connect with and understand yourself on a deeper level.  Seena Frost and the Soul Collage website offer resources for creating an entire personal soul collage deck, but I’ve also found making just a single collage to be a wonderful, meditative experience.

The Calling

The photo above is of my first collage, which I’ve entitled The Calling.  For me, it speaks of the very intimate and emotional experience of my discernment – grief and struggle and, ultimately, inner peace.  My spiritual journey over the past 15 years, beginning with leaving the Catholic Church and culminating in a decision to enter seminary has been both heartbreaking and joyful.  I’ve had to let go of many ideas and beliefs, while also finding truth and solace in new ones.

The process of soul collaging, as shown to me, is to begin without any preconceived notions of what you should be making, without any specific goals in mind of where you want to end up, without even an overarching theme in mind.  It is a process in which you let the images speak to you, arrange themselves and embody the non-verbal inner self, the divine YOU.

I’ve done it both in a group and alone.  In a group setting, there was power and meaning in the discussion of our collages with each other after creating them.  Being asked to interpret what appeared in the collage led to some deep revelations.

Music of My Soul

Music of My Soul is a collage I did alone, at home, with soft music playing and candles burning.  It was a time of quiet contemplation and contentment, and when finished, I spent some moments just observing what I had made, without any effort to “describe” or interpret.  It was a wholly different experience, but none-the-less Holy.

I’ve been doing collages for many years, but soul collaging is unique in its approach and guiding principles.  At this time in my life, during such a momentous transition, I appreciate the insight gained from this gentle communication with my soul, and look forward to building a portfolio of sorts, to both chronicle this journey and continue to guide me in a life of authenticity and compassion.

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Tales From the Afterlives

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Today…something a little more lighthearted, although no less thought-provoking.  I just finished reading Sum: Forty Tales From the Afterlives by David Eagleman.

It is exactly what it claims to be – forty very short fictional vignettes portraying various ways in which the afterlife could possibly be constructed.  Some are hilarious, some are disturbing and some just make you go hmmmm, but all are full of wit and imagination.

One of the best things about the book is that you can consume it in tiny little bite-size pieces without ever getting lost or missing anything.  You can spend a couple minutes reading one story or an hour reading fifteen and come away with great food for thought and interesting conversation starters.

David Eagleman’s website is here  and you can check out his other writing and work.

Here is one of the tales from Sum

Metamorphosis

There are three deaths: the first is when the body ceases to function.  The second is when the body is consigned to the grave.  The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.

So you wait in this lobby until the third death.  There are long tables with coffee, tea, and cookies – you can help yourself.  There are people here from all around the world, and you can try to strike up a conversation with whomever you’d like.  Just be aware that your conversation may be interrupted at any moment by the Callers, who call out your conversations partner’s name to indicate there will never again be another remembrance of him by anyone on the Earth.  Your partner slumps out, face like a shattered and re-glued plate, saddened even though he’s kindly told by the Callers that he’s off to a better place.  No one knows where that better place is, or what it offers, because no one exiting through that door has returned to tell us.  Tragically, many people leave just as their loved ones arrive, since the loved ones were the only ones doing the remembering.  We all wag our heads at that typical timing.

The whole place looks like an infinite airport waiting area, but the company is terrific.  There are many famous people from history books here.  If you get bored, you can strike out in any given direction, past aisles and aisles of seats.  After many days of walking, you’ll start to notice that people look different, and you’ll hear the tones of foreign languages.  People congregate amongst their own kind, and what one sees is the spontaneous emergence of territories that mirrors the way they were set up on the surface of the planet.  With the exception of the oceans, you’re traversing a map of the Earth.  Along with no oceans, there are no time zones either.  No one sleeps here, even though they mostly wish they could.  The place is evenly lit by fluorescent lights.

Not everyone is sad when the Callers shout out their names, when they call as though announcing the next flight departure.  On the contrary, some people beg and plead when the Callers enter.  They prostrate themselves at the Callers’ feet as the next names are read out.  These are generally the folks who have been here a long time, too long, and especially those who are remembered for unfair reasons.  For example, take the farmer over there, who drowned in a small river 200 years ago.  Now his farm is the site of a small college, and the tour guides each week tell his story.  So he’s stuck and he’s miserable.  For the more his story is told, the more it drifts.  He is utterly alienated from his name; it is no longer identical with him, but continues to bind.  The cheerless woman across the way is praised as a saint, even though the roads in her heart were convoluted.  The gray haired man at the vending machine was lionized as a warhero, then demonized as a warlord, and finally canonized as a necessary firebrand between two moments in history.  He waits with aching heart for his statues to fall.  And that is the curse of this room: since we live in the heads of those who remember us, we lose control of our lives and become who they want us to be.


New Beginnings

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Normally I like January.  It’s my birthday month.  The busy-ness of the holidays is  over and we’re at the start of a new year.  The air is crisp and clean and the world is settling down for a bit of quiet before bursting forth into Spring.

But I am so incredibly thankful this January is over.  And rather than get into all the heavy reasons why, I’m going to celebrate what’s coming next.

I’ve been asked to speak at my local UU Fellowship this Sunday on the topic of “answering a Call”.  Here is the description of the service:

Opening Up in Sweet Surrender to the Luminous Love Light Deep Within – Imbolc, Candlemas, Ground Hog Day and St. Brigid’s Day are just some of the festivals to celebrate the first faint stirrings of Spring held in many lands and cultures.  Throughout the stillness of Winter, the Earth replenishes the nutrients of plants.  Animals bide their time, often with new life waiting to be born.  So, too, do humans, in the depths of winter, turn inward, often receiving new insights and directions to their lives.  These faint stirrings within our psyche may cause us to blossom forth in new and unexpected ways – ways that open us up to more fully embrace life.  Sometimes we may feel that we are called to support a cause, try something new, or make a significant change in our lives.  Sometimes we may hear the Call, yet ignore the summons.  In this service we will explore, through personal stories, song and poetry what happens to those among us who have said “YES” to an inner call or yearning.

I was given these prods from the facilitator to shape my comments around:

1.  What led up to the place where you were saying to yourself – ‘I should do this?’

2.  Describe that urge or calling and what it felt like.

3.  Share some of your self-talk when you were pondering whether or not to accept this undertaking.

4.  Describe your memory of saying ‘yes’.

5.  What difference has this decision [or gradual involvement] made in your life?

I am, of course, speaking about my decision to start grad school and enter seminary, but I haven’t quite figured out how and what to say.  I spent last week in Berkeley, meeting my classmates and professors, registering for classes and doing all that orientating stuff new students have to do.  I felt like a 6 year old on my first day of school – unable to sleep, up way too early, walking to school with my new bag over my shoulder and both nervous and excited to make new friends.  It was a wonderful few days in the city, and the perfect way for me to put an end to the drama and heartache and stress of the past few months and refresh myself for the adventures to come.

I haven’t decided yet how to describe the feeling of knowing, just knowing I am on the right path, in the right place, doing the right thing.  That feeling of absolute certainty that I am where I’m supposed to be, working towards the fullness of my true potential.  And I haven’t yet figured out how to put into words the confidence and joy that comes with having made the decision to answer that Call – and how it changes everything.  Having said YES changes how I view myself and how I interact with the world – and therefore how the world sees and interacts with me.  It is life changing and yet a thundering affirmation of all that has brought me to this point, of who I have been becoming, of who I AM.

There is nothing like it, this experience of both mind-expanding newness and soul-warming familiarity.

How can I explain the struggle, faint at first but growing stronger every day; the terror of that moment when you realize exactly what it is you are being called to and how your life will change if you say yes; the frustration, anxiety and impatience of trying to figure out how to say yes, how it’s all going to work, how to do it without hurting too many people you love; the pure joy and relief when you finally just surrender, when you realize there’s just no way you can’t say yes; and the breathless wonder as you take those first few steps and everything falls into place?

Not really sure how to describe all of that, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out.  Until then, I leave you with this perfect poem by John O’Donohue from To Bless the Space Between Us.

For a New Beginning

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.


Rising From the Ashes

I have tried many times over the past few weeks to sit down and write a new post, but with the busy-ness of the holidays and stresses of life, I have been feeling increasingly uninspired.  Unlike my usual outlook of “change and challenge are exciting adventures!”, I’m feeling more like “how am I ever going to make all these pieces fit together?”

Of course, there have been moments of joy, and even peace, spent with loved ones and in nature, and I am reminded daily of all that I am grateful for, but mostly I’m feeling overwhelmed.

Being overwhelmed is not something that happens to me very often, and so I find that instead of being more gentle with myself about it, I push my already drowning self under with guilt and contempt.  The result is me gasping for air I feel unworthy of breathing.  How silly is that?

I am a student of New Thought theologies and if you know anything at all about New Thought, you know that everything I have said up to this point is as about anti-New Thought as you can get.

New Thought = I am good.  I am strong.  I am worthy.  I am divine.

Me right now = I am a whining wimp.

*sigh*

So, I’m a member of my local Unity Church and we had our annual Burning Bowl Ceremony last Sunday.  The Burning Bowl ceremony is a fire ritual that has been a part of the Unity tradition for about 50 years.  It is a ritual that provides a sacred way to release old, unwanted conditions, feelings or events in our lives and clears the way for new beginnings.  Most Unity churches perform this ceremony on the first Sunday of the new year as a way of purging griefs and troubles before beginning the creation of a new reality for the coming year.  We purge ourselves of unwanted habits, memories, and feelings by reducing those words on paper to smoke and ash.  The smoke rises into the atmosphere, far away from us, carrying our burdens with it to the Creator where they are overcome by Love.  And the ashes can then become for us a symbol of rebirth and renewal.

I was the facilitator/speaker for our service this year, leading the congregation in this re-birthing of our church and ourselves.  It was a beautiful service and I was hoping that in the process of writing and leading this ceremony, I, too would be reinvigorated and inspired, but that didn’t happen.  In fact, something much sadder occurred; I felt relief that the service was over and it was one more thing I could check off my list of “to do’s”.  How disheartening.

I keep thinking I just need more sleep or a sunny day or a good movie or a cuddle with my dog or pizza or chocolate or whatever.  Or I think maybe my depression is back and I need to talk with my doctor about increasing my medication or I need to go back to seeing my therapist or I need to meditate more or do yoga.

But what I really think is that within the past two months (which is a relatively short period of time) my entire life has begun a drastic change, and while I’m really looking forward to what’s coming, I haven’t really done my proper grieving for what’s been.  How can I ask myself to purge the past when I still need to do my inner little memorial service/celebration of life for it?  How can I possibly arise anew from the ashes of the Burning Bowl, like a Phoenix taking flight, when the heaviness of my grief holds me tightly by the ankles?

So what is the moral of this story?  Stop whining, be gentle with myself and take the time I need to fully process the changes taking place in my life.  Yes, I feel that my calling is to minister to others, but sometimes that can’t happen until I minister to myself.  How much of a “doh!” moment is that?  With a degree in psychology and several years of mindfulness therapy, this seems like a no-brainer, but I think one of the great abuses our current society/culture heaps upon us is that there is no time for self-care and expressing grief is weak.

So, as my first “resolution” of this new year, I endeavor to tell society to f@#k off, ask everyone and everything in my life to wait just a moment, and close my eyes and breathe.  And cry.  Maybe throw something, hit something, kick something, scream, yell, rend my garments, tear out my hair, keen a song of grief to the Universe.

And only then can I emerge from my crouch within the ashes of my burnt offerings, spread my glorious renewed wings and fly up to meet what’s coming next.

There is a poet I discovered recently named Aberjhani and he has, over the years, written a collection of poetry that evolved through much contemplation and experience.  Inspired originally by several visions of angels, Aberjhani transcribed thoughts and feelings into poetry.  The words seemed to take on a life of their own, guiding his hand and determining their direction and form despite the author’s thoughts or feelings.  He eventually had to give up his idea of this dream and surrender to the evolution.  The resulting book is called The River of Winged Dreams.  Here are some quotes from both his thoughts on the process, and the poetry itself ~

The death of a dream can in fact serve as the vehicle that endows it with new form, with reinvigorated substance, a fresh flow of ideas, and splendidly revitalized color.

A bridge of silver wings stretches from the dead ashes of an unforgiving nightmare to the jeweled vision of a life started anew.  Hearts rebuilt from hope resurrect dreams killed by hate.  Hope drowned in shadows emerges fiercely splendid – boldly angelic.

Souls reconstructed with faith transform agony into peace. 

Dare to love yourself as if you were a rainbow with gold at both ends.  Even when muddy your wings sparkle bright with wonders that heal broken worlds. 

This is what our love is – a sacred pattern of unbroken unity sewn flawlessly invisible inside all images, thoughts, sounds and smells.

Love taught me to die with dignity that I might come forth anew in splendor.  Born once of flesh, then again of fire, I was reborn a third time to the sound of my name humming haikus in heaven’s mouth.

These days, I am finding his words comforting, assuring me that everything will be ok.  An affirmation that I CAN rise from the flames renewed and reborn, cleansed by the fire and invigorated with the breath of Life.  And that only AFTER I allow that death to occur can I commit to create a world in which I hear the sound of my name being sung by the Creator.  A world in which busy-ness and stress and grief give way to stillness and silence and peace.

In a mighty Divine coincidence, last Sunday was also the Christian Holy Day of Epiphany.  Commonly known as the end of the twelve days of Christmas, in the Western church this is the commemoration of the coming of the three Magi to the manger at Bethlehem, following the guiding star.  It is the first manifestation of the Christ to those he has come to teach.  It is an unexpected and difficult journey the Magi are called to undertake, and an illuminating discovery they make at the other end.

So now, as I ready myself to first die into and then rise from the ashes of my old life, I open myself to this spirit of Epiphany – a sudden perception of the essential nature and meaning of who I am and what my life is meant to be.

I AM the phoenix, willingly confronting the death of my past so that I may be reborn into my present.

I AM one of the Magi, following the Light to a mind-shattering discovery of the truth of who I AM.

I AM a Child of God, born today to recreate heaven here on earth and spread a message of Love, deserving of all that Love has to offer.

And everything will be ok.


So Many Questions…

and so few answers these days.  So much heartache and comfort seems so far away.  We are told by retailers and advertisers that this is supposed to be a time of joy, but it can be difficult to get there.  I am struck by the contrast of watching news reels of tragedy interspersed by commercials for Target and Toys-R-Us full of good cheer; of reading a blog or article online, while around the perimeter of the page ads of grinning children and fancy toys flash.

Is it insensitive to celebrate the season in the face of such sorrow?  Or is it our duty to embrace life ardently in gratitude and memory of those who are gone?

I find myself thinking of the families who have lost precious loved ones, and how difficult the holidays will be for them next week, but then I think, good grief, the next minute is going to be difficult.  They’re probably not thinking about the holidays at all; they’re just struggling to make it through today.

And then there’s all the finger-pointing, trying to find someone, something to blame for these horrific acts.  But how do you find a single point of origin of something so, so broken?  We are so, so broken.

Here is a thoughtful, honest perspective from a woman’s first-hand experience of this brokenness.

The Anarchist Soccer Mom:  Thinking the Unthinkable

I recently watched a movie called We Need to Talk About Kevin, starring Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly and Ezra Miller.  It was one of those films that has stayed with me long after the viewing, and prompted lots of contemplation.  The plot is so very, very relevant to current events, and while it’s not an easy movie to watch, it deals very directly with the issues facing the Anarchist Soccer Mom and so many other families in our society.

And once again, I am brought to the idea of “blame.”  Proponents of gun control are rallying forth.  The religious are calling for a return of “God” to our schools and institutions.  The “socialists” point to a broken healthcare system and inadequate facilities and services for the mentally ill.  Of course, you have to pick one side or another – any middle ground is long gone.

The film looks critically at Nature vs. Nurture, another argument used by some – bad parenting, poor family life, etc., but, as evidenced by our Soccer Mom, it’s just not ever that simple.  There is no one factor that caused any certain behavior or event.  Each and every moment we live is a result of all the millions of moments that have come before – all of them.

So really, we’re nowhere closer to answers than we were when we began this.  I honestly don’t know if there are any answers, and even if there are, this doesn’t feel like the right time to go searching for them, or the right time to argue for one side or the other.  For me, this feels like the time to embrace life, in all its joy and sorrow, to be grateful for and celebrate all that I have, and to hold in compassion and prayer all those who are struggling to make it through today in whatever challenging, lonely, painful, angry place they find themselves.

But if you are wanting a mindful, insightful quest for answers, and comfort, too, I highly recommend Harold Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People.


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