Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Two Sides: Same Coin

A friend in the fellowship uses the phrase, "Only good can come of this," as a mantra. What a great tool to frame, and thus neutralize, all the petty annoyances and tiny disappointments that life cooks up. Practicing this principle means that I can run a client's cancellation through my spiritual filter and view that hour as an opportunity for prayer and meditation rather than loss of income. If a sale falls through, I can tell myself that God has something better in mind. When a friend bitterly disappoints, I can love him anyway. But what about the big events? What about death, sudden death, with its gut-wrenching finality, attendant grief, and unanswered questions?

On the evening of Friday, November 22, my spiritual belief system was rocked. Having just emerged from a peaceful, late-night, rejuvenating meditation at the annual Women-to-Women Conference in Vermont, my dear friend and traveling companion received word, via a heart-wrenching phone call, that her 20-year-old son had been killed in an automobile accident. Intuitively, every woman present gathered around our mournful sister and prayed. However, when I review my state-of-mind in the minutes and hours immediately following the tragedy, I don't see a spiritual warrior. While I bowed my head alongside my sisters, my mind buzzed, self-will shot into high gear, and I grew impatient with prayer. My psyche side-stepped God and began the feverous preparations to pack up, check out of our hotel, and begin the arduous, four-hour long drive back to Rhode Island. Fear had me in its hold. Our literature tells us that fear is the chief activator of our character defects. In the weeks that followed, faith took a backseat while I orchestrated ways to protect my own children from the ravages of highway driving, drinking, drugging.

How then, in the face of incomprehensible tragedy, can I possibly extract a silver lining, a spiritual lesson from the pain? How does good come from tortured sorrow? One of our Promises reminds us we will intuitively know how to handle situations that used to baffle us, and what I've come to understand is this: expecting good to come does not mean that the opposite qualities--bad, dark, grievous--don't walk side-by-side. Metaphorically speaking, there are two sides to every coin, thus there is duality. For without the darkness, how can we experience the dawn?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Full Circle

Over ten years ago, I drove up to New Hampshire for the weekend, ostensibly to decorate my family's vacation home for the holidays. In the back of my SUV, I carried an oversized cardboard box with an artificial Christmas tree (some assembly required), a Tupperware container of glass ornaments, and a case of red and white wine, hand-picked for the outing, at the Hampton state liquor store (a virtual vending machine paradise that my children came to regard, euphemistically, as the candy store.) The truth is, I did plan to trim the tree, hang the stockings, and decorate the house, but I was really going away without my young family so I could drink.

At the house, I poured a glass of Merlot, ripped open the cardboard box, and to my horror, laid eyes on dozens of individually wrapped, color-coded plastic tree branches, and pages of instructions. I distinctly recall thinking, rather gleefully, "I may run out of patience, but I won't run out of wine." I inserted a lot of twisted, metal-tipped branches into pre-drilled holes that night, and I drank the way I wanted to---alone, and into the wee hours. To my surprise in the morning, the completed tree looked pretty good. My reflection in the mirror told a different story.

The memory of that winter weekend flashed back yesterday while I was standing in the fake Christmas tree aisle at Lowe's. As a child, I only knew artificial trees; my parents would never go to the trouble of displaying a real tree in the living room, but once married, with children of my own, it became tradition to tag, chop, and drag the prize home. I honored that tradition for a good, long time, but those days are behind me now. My children are grown, and it's up to me to decide which traditions to maintain, and which ones to create anew. Standing there in the aisle, I couldn't take my eyes off a 7 1/2-foot GE, pre-lit, frasier fir, looking surprisingly like the real deal. I wrestled with my decision, but I can think things through today. By the time I dragged that box up three flights of stairs into my apartment, made a cup of lemon tea, cut open the box (to blessedly find three pieces, not dozens, and a one-sided sheet of instructions), stacked the sections, and fanned out the branches, I knew---I'd come full circle.

I'm going up north again tomorrow, this time to Vermont, and I won't be alone, by golly. I'll be with a whole pack of women, sober women, women happy to be alive, celebrating this season with zest, vigor, a whole lot of laughter, and---no wine.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Meditation: Simply Notice

A group of women gathered at my studio last week to be trial subjects in an upcoming meditation workshop one of the women is presenting this month. Volumes have been written trumpeting the practical benefits of meditation, yet all too often I hear, "I can't do it. I can't quiet my mind. It doesn't work for me." Somewhere along the spiritual continuum, a lot of folks missed the point.

I don't practice to relax. I don't practice to quiet my mind. I don't practice to become a better meditator. I practice to notice. I practice to let go, without attachment, without judgement. If you're waiting for the perfect moment, the perfect mood, the perfect cushion, clothing, music, incense, CD, you are cheating yourself out of one of the most useful tools in our wellness arsenal. 

Try this. Find a spot to sit undisturbed for a few minutes---start slow. Get comfortable. Set your timer. Close your eyes. Breathe. When the siren outside screams past, notice (don't curse), the sound. When the cat jumps into your lap, notice the sensation. When your mind revisits the argument you had with your partner last night, notice the thought. Don't judge sounds, sensations, thoughts. Don't get mad at your mind for dragging you into the past, racing you into the future. Notice, then let go, detach. Stay. Breathe. Repeat, and then repeat the process again tomorrow, and the day after that.

You can't do this wrong. You can only not do it, and in not meditating, you are depriving yourself of learning to coexist peacefully with the world around you. Practically speaking, this means, the next time another driver cuts you off in traffic, notice, do not attach, do not react. Instead of railing against a co-worker's procrastination to complete a needed task, notice your resistance, your frustration, and in that moment of noticing, choose, without malice, without judgement, the higher thought. 

Notice. Simply notice.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Taking Personal Inventory

Leaving a meeting this morning, a woman in a Subaru wagon flew out of a side street and cut in front of me. Neither of us was in any real danger of colliding because I was going slow enough to tap my brakes and give her a wide berth. Nevertheless, out of her driver's side window came the finger, the disrespect. Odd, I thought, since I hadn't exhibited any hostility towards her. She sped off, but I caught up to her at the red light. Just as I was pondering her furrowed brow and rapid hand movements (all evident in her side mirror), she leaned across the front seat and tossed a Dunkin Donuts bag out the window to the homeless man, panhandling, in the wheelchair on the corner. Her gesture (generous in spirit this time) got me thinking about duality, and my own struggle to keep it between the lines of grace and disgraceful behavior.

The lessons in this realm have come fast, furious, and with painful clarity to me in the last few weeks. I have been humbled by the power of one of the so-called maintenance steps on the road to recovery: "Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it." 

As of this writing, I have inventoried, and amended, three out of four blunders---blessedly to women in recovery who understand, cognitively and spiritually, how the program works. In doing so, I have had to examine my motives, and while the excavation process has not been pretty, it has served up profound and far-reaching lessons. The first amend was an overdue acknowledgment that I had failed to communicate my intentions at the group level. This sister graciously accepted my explanation. Next, I made a swift apology for carelessly blurting out information that had been shared with me in confidence. My harm, though unintentional, may have taken the surprise out of a surprise party planned for a loved one. Time will tell if my faux pas caused permanent damage to the friendship, and I must accept the outcome.

The third amend was a true demonstration of how the tenth step works. Several Saturdays ago, I used my concern for a male newcomer to spiritually clobber a woman I have known for years in my home group. I had ceremoniously dressed up a bad motive and masqueraded it as a noble one. Truth is, I stuck my nose into a matter that had nothing to do with me. This woman not only accepted my amend, she hugged me after the meeting yesterday. She told me she loved me. She forgave me, and in so doing, she encouraged me to forgive myself. Growing up in public can be messy, but like this same friend is fond of saying, "I'm not here to save face; I'm here to save my ass." 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Intention and Trust

I've gotten better at keeping the faith. I've learned to not only expect miracles, I've come to rely on them. Ask anyone who has visited my third-floor loft studio/apartment and each will say, in his or her own way, "It's so you." The place that I alternately call "home" and "office" is, quite literally, beyond anything my mortal mind could have conjured up. Let me never forget one important detail: I had nothing do with it. Last year, I was seeking a place to grow my business, and the 3,000 square feet of office space that I had my eye on, inexplicably, fell through. My response was not one of gentle acceptance and humility. Hardly. I railed against a fickle God that had toyed with me through months of planning and negotiations. I was pissed. I stopped praying. I began drinking large quantities of caffeinated coffee. (Yeah, I'd show God alright.) Ten days later, unaware of how my life was about to change, I drove into East Greenwich, RI, ostensibly to kill some time before a 4:30 meeting. I wandered into an open house downtown, and in an instant, I knew. I knew that I didn't know jack shit about faith or divinity or God's will for me. Surveying the expansive, open floor plan, and the possibilities (for one major tax write-off), I knew that the reason the other deal had fallen through was because God had something better in store. Sheepishly, I looked up, and apologized to the heavens.

Now that God has my attention, he's managed to keep it. Seven months into my residency here, a morning doesn't go by that I don't open my eyes and give thanks for my good fortune. All that being said, yesterday's email from the vendor coordinator for the 38th New England Equitation Championships being held in West Springfield, MA, beginning October 16th, should not have surprised me, yet surprise me it did. The email began, "I was given your card as a possible contact" for massage therapy "for our finals." I could not have fathomed that opportunity any more than I could have imagined living a creative life overlooking Main Street. Each time I put my faith and reliance in a power greater than myself, I am shown that God's big picture for me, is infinitely more nuanced, colorful, and textured than my limited, monochromatic version. Every day is an opportunity to suit up, show up, have faith, do the next right thing, turn my will over to the care of God, and believe that if I set my intention and trust, the universe will take care of the details.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Live and Let Live

There have been a lot of pictures on facebook lately of oversized, leggy, furry spiders. Some brave friends have actually gotten close enough to photograph these creatures, and I've marveled, not sure what fluke of nature is underway.

Once upon a time, I ran from bees, hornets, wasps, spiders, and insects in general. If it had the capacity to sting, bite, or crawl over me, it didn't matter where I was, or who I was with, I ran. I have barreled head-first, down stairs, into bushes, over chairs, and bolted out of cars (several times into traffic). To say I was afraid of insects is a gross understatement. My fear of bees, in particular, was pathological, yet at the same time, I had an insatiable urge to watch them, to understand what made them tick. Fascinated, I would watch from afar (providing I had an escape route) as hornets crawled and burrowed their way into our stone walls, wood trim, and other hiding spots.

Ten years have gone by since the summer morning that I emptied an entire can of Raid in my kitchen to kill one hornet that had mistakenly taken up space in a skylight. (Certainly, the toxins from that spray had the potential to do way more harm than any bee sting.) I am no longer that same fearful, hysterical woman. What changed? Well, certainly I have aged. Life itself, indeed all life, has become more precious to me. But it's more than that. Fear has given way to a knowing, a belief, that all creatures have benevolent intent, and that a bee doesn't wake up in the morning (do they sleep?) plotting ways to sting me. I've become more inclusive of other people, their viewpoints, their idiosyncrasies, our differences, our similarities. It was only a matter of time before I could extend that same magnanimous worldview to all living things.

Today, I marvel at the powerful role insects play in nature. I've sat stock-still and noticed the translucent, shimmering green wings of a sand flea. I've admired the tight waists on wasps as they crawl over a brick on a hot day. Today, when I find myself in the company of a spider, a bee, a slug, I reach for my pocket guide, Animal Speak, by Ted Andrews, and I open my mind and heart to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, that insect has come into my life at that moment to deliver a valuable lesson.  Why not?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Letting the Light In

A friend read this recent post of mine here and inquired, "Does that mean the bigger the wound, the more light?" I had to ponder that one. My friend continued, "In theory, it should let in more light, but we humans curl ourselves around our wounds in the mistaken belief that we can protect ourselves from even more pain. In truth, it makes it harder to heal, and perhaps harder for light and peace to enter."

I gave her words some time to sink in, and I realized that she was right. In the past, I have been too afraid to probe the depth of the pain, unwilling to let the sadness turn me inside out, certain that the tears would never stop once they began. In retrospect, I suffered mightily, not so much from the loss, the heartbreak, the missed opportunity, but rather from not being willing to explore, accept, and ultimately release those emotions and turn them over. Buddhist author, Pema Chodron, has a line I love: "Never underestimate the inclination to bolt when hurt. Stay. Unhappiness lies with exiting, with pointing away from the discomfort."

Over the years, my practice has matured. Today, rather than curling myself up, I am able to allow the pain, almost invite it, if you will, to have its way with me. Funny thing is, when I simply allow the pain, or the anticipated feeling of pain, to wash over me, it dissipates rather quickly, on its own, without a great deal of fanfare and/or damage. Fearing and holding on to it is what causes my suffering. My friend commented further, "It takes courage to deal with pain that way, especially if the wound is deep, there is often a fear that if you allow it free rein, it will consume you or shatter you into a million pieces." I have learned that the pain is more toxic, more debilitating, the longer I allow it to live, unchecked, in my psyche. Face-to-face with my fear of the pain, it often leaves with a faint trace of its "much ado about nothing" former self, supplanting light where darkness used to be.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Practice Makes Perfect

There is a spiritual component to learning to wait, and waiting well takes practice. I knew the first night I moved into my Rumford, RI home three years ago that I had miscalculated the emotional fallout from leaving Providence's eastside. I felt disconnected from the neighborhood where my children had come of age, and I was unaccustomed to driving everywhere. I also knew that the move made financial sense, and so I became willing to stay. Through the waiting, I lived my life. I opened a studio and my business thrived. My faith deepened. When I happened upon a third floor loft overlooking downtown East Greenwich (that would ultimately become my residence and growing practice) earlier this year, I knew that God's plan for me was infinitely greater than anything I could have imagined. When that same benevolence whispered in my ear, "Earth's School Of Love," over a year ago, I had no idea where spirit was going to take me, but I heeded my inner promptings, took a few risks, and today I am living a creative life that is deeply satisfying on many levels. Who knew? Again, God's plan for me surpassed anything my mortal mind could have conjured up. Thus, I have come to believe that being single is not a curse, but rather God's way of readying me for the best that is surely yet to come. I date. I do the footwork, but I no longer get wrapped up in the outcome. In sharp contrast to my non-sober life, I no longer need a man to fill the spiritual hole deep inside me. I'm content. I'm free. I'm open to the possibilities, but I've learned to trust my instincts (that when someone shows me who they are, I believe them the first time), to recognize that all that glitters is not gold, that while dating a nice guy is essential, dating a nice guy with purpose, passion, ambition, and healthy relationships, is a requirement. My downtime this past year has revealed that there are worse things than hanging out at home, alone, on date night. I'm no longer lulled into participating in any relationship that doesn't foster spiritual growth. As my sponsor reminds me, I choose to remain single.  In Single for a Reason, blogger Mandy Hale writes:

"I haven't met Mr. Right, and I deserve better than Mr. Wrong. I am fiercely independent, and I won't apologize for that. I have high standards, and so far, no one has met them. I would rather be a woman who is single than one who has settled."

On my one-year anniversary in recovery, I separated from, and ultimately divorced, my third husband. Up until then, I had sought the safety of committed relationships in order to avoid dealing with the soul sickness within me. Sober today, the buck stops here. No human power can fill that God-shaped hole. I am responsible for loving myself before I can hope to love anyone else. On most days, I am willing to bring my imperfect, work-in-progress self to the table. I invite others to join me, but my reasons for attending the banquet have changed. I don't need to be fed, and I can't and won't do that work for anyone else. If you tell me you've done the 12 steps, I'll presume you did more than read them off a banner on the wall (unless your actions prove otherwise). When I ask you what you're passionate about, please be a lifelong learner who stays tremendously interested (and thus, interesting). Finally, if you lay your financial immaturity at my feet, don't expect me to be amused or interested. I don't expect a perfect partner, but I do expect a partner who is perfect for me. Meanwhile, I practice. And practice makes perfect.

Friday, September 20, 2013

No Spiritual Bypass

I grew up in an alcoholic home, and as the oldest child, I predictably took on the role of caregiver for my soul sick, abusive father.  Somewhere in between the hurled dinners and verbal assaults at the end of every day, I would usher him into the living room, take off his work boots, settle him down on the couch, and pray that he would fall asleep before any more damage was done. As a result of my early training (and subsequent identification as an adult child of an alcoholic), it's no surprise that the boys I chose to fall in love with in high school and college were the ones who drank and drugged a lot, ran away from home, and/or came from the wrong side of the tracks. (Like my side of the tracks was so pristine.) My skill set provided me countless opportunities for hapless, misaligned rescue missions. I married the first boy that showed signs of willingness to improve. He cut his ponytail, registered for college classes, gave up the weed, and one spring day, he got drunk enough to buy me a diamond engagement ring. Sometime before our first wedding anniversary (and mercifully, before any children were born), a different boy caught my eye. A man, actually. An older man with a house, a sports car, a big job (or so the illusion went).  Without hesitation, I traded in my first husband for the next one, fully expecting to live happily ever after. And when that loveless marriage grew dim, I went back to my prescribed method of saving lost causes, and did it a third time. I paid a high price spiritually for all my rescue/be rescued excursions. Depending on anyone else for emotional, physical, or economic security, generates its own spiritual sickness. If I'm rescuing you, I'm playing God.  If I expect you to rescue me, I'm not trusting God. And in God's world---there's no such thing as a spiritual bypass. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Renaissance Soul

For many years, I beat myself up because I couldn't seem to concentrate, zero in on, be content with just one career path. I have, at various times in my life, been (and in some cases, continue to be) a teacher, a mother, a published author, a small business owner, a public speaker, a photographer, a floorcloth artist, a fashion designer, and a massage therapist. Whew! I used to experience great shame when my then-husband would lament, "Jeez, why can't you pick ONE?"

Why, indeed?

One day a few years ago, I picked up a book at the bookstore, The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One, by Margaret Lobenstine. Reading that book, I came to understand that I was not a lost cause. Far from it. I was a Renaissance woman with diverse interests, keen intelligence, wit, wisdom, vision, and more importantly, a zest for life! All of those interests, passions, and pursuits have brought me to the place where I am today. As Director of The Well Healing Arts Center in East Greenwich, RI, I am able to use all of these gifts to bring health and wellness to a community of women seeking a chance to explore, in safety, ALL of their interests, their passions. Through educational workshops, bodywork, movement, meditation, and other holistic alternatives, more and more women are discovering their own uniqueness, authenticity, and power.  Everyone of us is gifted. Don't be afraid to unwrap the package.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Vigilance Versus Fear

For most Americans, September 11 is a day of reflection, and I, too, pause to remember where I was twelve years ago when my safe suburban world was rocked with fear, confusion, and grief.  

With the first plane already on its unspeakable trajectory, I was running errands across town, and listening to Howard Stern on my car radio. I became aware (as did Stern) that something was very wrong in New York City. As black smoke billowed from the first tower, and the second plane ripped into the adjacent one, Stern could longer deny the fact that two planes do not crash of their own accord on a clear, sunny September morning. I tried, unsuccessfully, to reach my husband on his cell phone. As my panic grew, I instinctively turned my car around and headed for the high school where, without hesitation, I had my 14-year-old daughter paged and released. From there, we drove to her 7-year-old brother's elementary school a few miles away where I repeated the same scene. With two out of three of my children safely in tow, I drove home and settled them in the upstairs television room.  From there, I made the 40-minute drive to pick up my 9-year-old daughter who had just entered her first week of private school in Providence. As Lindsey and I drove south on I-95, I tried to keep my mounting fear in check as the final plane descended into the Pennsylvania field. For all I knew, our entire country was under attack by unseen forces, and my first and only response as a mother was to collect my children, assemble them in the safety of our home, and await whatever came next. For the rest of that day, and into the night, as details unfolded, I stood vigil over my young family.

At 26, 21, and 19 years of age, my children aren't children anymore, but I'm still their mother, and every cell in my body is programmed to protect them. As they have grown older and reached for lives of their own, my ability to protect them, to stand vigil, has had to mature. I can warn my daughters of the dangers lurking in mall parking lots. I can remind my son of the risks of hydroplaning in the high speed lane. But like that day twelve years ago, I must keep fear in check; I must remain mindful that, as scary as the world can sometimes be, irrepressible acts of kindness abound if we are willing to look for them. My middle daughter's thoughtful text to me this morning is a good example of kindness:

"Miss you.  Remembering 9/11.
Thank you for always looking out for me,
and being there when I need you.  Love you.  Lindsey."

For me, my daughter's remembrance of that day, and her take-away sense of safety and self, remind me that there's a huge difference between vigilance and fear.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Into Action

Chapter Six ("Into Action") of our textbook, Alcoholics Anonymous, tells us, "Once we have taken this step, withholding nothing, we are delighted.  We can look the world in the eye." The literature is, of course, referring to the freedom we experience upon completion of Step Five in our program of recovery ("Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.") That freedom, however, that ability to look the world in the eye, never felt more powerful than it did on Labor Day this year for me.  As an equine massage therapist, I, along with a human practitioner, combined our skill sets, and set up a tent at the Rhode Island Equitation Finals in East Greenwich, Rhode Island to massage horses and riders.  No stranger to the world of competitive horse showing (my daughter, Lindsey, a nationally-ranked equestrian in the late 90s, actually won the Junior Mini Medal in 2004 when the finals were held at Peckham Farm, across from the University of Rhode Island), I hadn't been to a horse show since 2007.  Lindsey was the consummate competitor, naturally gifted, graceful, and kind in spirit.  Not so her mother.  I was a hardcore show mom, and I made few friends among trainers, spectators, and other family members on the show circuit.

Gearing up for this year's finals, I anticipated running into several of the local mothers and trainers I undoubtedly harmed with my attitude over the years, and I was ready and eager to make those long overdue Step Nine amends.  Of the six individuals I greeted with a smile and outstretched hand, all leaned in to hug me, inquired about my family, my work, my life.  My heartfelt amends were graciously acknowledged and accepted.  (A few even sent me Facebook friend requests which I gratefully accepted.)  At the bottom of page 83 in the Big Book, we are told, "If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through.  We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness."  Leaving the horse show on Labor Day, my side of the barn aisle swept clean, I was reminded that the promises will always materialize if I am willing to work for them.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Spiritual Deadheading

My best friend in high school, Nancy, had a green thumb. Her house, and later her college apartments, were resplendent with all manner of hanging and potted plants. I particularly admired her ability to grow coleus---especially the big, bold, eye-catching, serrated varieties. Back in the 1970s, my alcoholism was just gathering momentum, and I was more preoccupied with where my next drink was coming from than with watering and maintaining houseplants. Nancy, on the other hand, had a knack for nurturing green things, and under her care, they flourished. Routinely, Nancy pinched off the purple buds protruding from the centers of the leaves. "What are you doing?" I wanted to know, fascinated and puzzled at the same time. She patiently explained deadheading to me. By definition, to deadhead means to remove a plant's spent flowers. To do so, channels the energy away from seed production into further flower production.

Decades later, deadheading has become a metaphor for an important tool in my spiritual arsenal. I have learned (the hard way) that holding on to anything out of fear blocks wisdom and spiritual growth.  To grow I must be willing to relinquish the fear of "what if." If I quit this job, will I find another?  If I end this relationship, will I find another mate?  If I move to a new community, will I make new friends? Being fearless today, I don't lament dead flowers.  I don't lament the people, places, and/or things that have had their glory and weren't meant to last. Like the coleus and other greenery flourishing on the fire escape of my little apartment today, I must be willing to discard the old and await the new. Experience has taught me that with faith and courage, I can channel my energy into spiritual production instead of atrophy. What/who are you clinging to today? What seeds can you channel into flowers?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Inside Out.

There was a time, not that long ago, when my outside---those external things that the world recognized me for---my marriage, my residence, and my job, looked pretty impressive indeed. Successful, handsome, entrepreneurial husband. An award-winning, historically-restored homestead with a center chimney for Santa to slide down every December. A circular drive with a new luxury vehicle parked in it every year.  Exotic vacations to faraway lands. Boxes of designer clothing that would arrive weekly on the backs of rumbling UPS trucks. Shoes. Lots and lots of shoes. (Ironic, considering that I've been a barefoot/sandal kinda girl all along.) A freeform, in-ground pool. Professionally landscaped and manicured acres. A potting shed with a wood stove hook-up. A second home in the mountains. Horses, barns, pastures, and a riding ring to rival any Olympic arena. All the trappings of an upper middle class, successful married life. To any outsider looking in on the charmed world I actively built and inhabited, it looked like a modern-day fairy tale. But like the alcohol I used daily to self-medicate, self will had run riot, and in reality, the stuff just created a bigger wall between me and God. My inside suffered mightily. My family imploded. My marriage failed. No amount of home improvement, world travel, and fancy parties was ever going to fill that God-shaped hole deep within my heart. Our literature refers to us this way: "The alcoholic is like a tornado roaring his way through the lives of others. Hearts are broken. Sweet relationships are dead. Affections have been uprooted." For me, recovery didn't come because of the things I lost. Recovery came because I could no longer deny the fact that my inside and my outside worlds simply did not match. Today, I bring my imperfect, spiritually evolving and authentic self to every part of my life. What you see is what you get, folks. That smile on my face? The way I am willing to look you in the eye? My eagerness to engage with you, grab a coffee, share heart-to-heart?  Yup. It's the same honesty and openness I extend to newcomers, trusted friends, family members, clients, and here on the page. If you are willing to bring your authentic self to the table, I promise to bring mine. And if you can't, or won't, don't be surprised if I see through your outside to the inside waiting to be released and recognized.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Done Deal

"The best is yet to come!"

I've heard this saying often over the last five and one-half years. It's one of our slogans. It's on the felt banners we hang from walls in halls across this country (maybe it's even printed in other languages around the globe). I've uttered these words of encouragement to many a despondent newcomer. I've written it in countless anniversary cards. But do I believe it? Damn right I do! Do you? Embracing the hope promised in this simple sentence does not mean I can ignore the present moment--quite the contrary.  All I have are the 24 hours in front of me. Nor does believing that "the best is yet to come"prevent the past from sometimes coming back to bite me. It does mean, however, that if I follow a few basic steps (all 12 of them), to the best of my ability, I am promised a better life than the one I walked through the door with. That doesn't mean I'm promised a boatload of money, a bigger house, a more luxurious car. It does guarantee, however, that I will be better; I will become the best version of myself possible as the days of my life unfold. As one beloved member of this fellowship is fond of saying, "It's a done deal."  The deal he's referring to is the one between him and God when he asks him every morning to keep him away from a drink for that day. That's the same faith that reminds me that regardless of whether my kids mess up their lives, my job challenges me in unforeseen ways, my ex drives a deeper wedge between us, my financial situation takes a hit, and/or friends disappoint deeply, NO MATTER WHAT, the best ME will emerge. And that my friends is a done deal.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Begin. Now.

In The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness, Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, tells us to, "Come as you are."  Often, I resist stepping out of my comfort unless I can be sure I have it right, until I can be confident that I'll be a master at whatever new endeavor I am attempting.  But what I've learned in recovery is to just show up, to start wherever I am at that moment.  The magic is in the moment, and in that moment, I can choose to be fully alive and present.  Fear holds me back from experiencing all that this life has to offer.  Fear of failure.  Fear of imperfection.  Fear that you won't like me if you find out how truly inept I am.  Nowhere has that fear had a bigger hold on me than in my personal relationships.  I never knew how to make friends.  I was so sure you weren't going to like me that I went out of my way to make sure you didn't. Once I became willing to remove the chip on my shoulder, and practice being friendly, I gained a boatload of friends.  If I hadn't been willing to bring my imperfect, often socially immature self to the table, I would have missed out completely on experiencing the fellowship of the spirit.  If I'm waiting, busily preparing my mind, my body, and my skill set, then those golden opportunities to be present in the world as the imperfect person I am, pass by.  Last year, a good friend of mine helped me develop my Facebook pages.  In the process, he noticed my reluctance to commit to various suggested action steps. Speaking from experience, he encouraged me to "Just do it. Do something. You can always change it." In essence, he was telling me to just "Come as you are."  Start somewhere.  Take this blog, for example.  I don't understand all the nuances of blogging, but the point is, today, I am willing to come to the page just as I am. Today, it's not about being perfect, it's about being present.  

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Divine Intuition: Trusting the Universe

At the risk of losing readers, I'm announcing publicly that I am claraudio.  For me, that means that spirit speaks softly to me when I am quiet and open enough to listen.  I believe we all have the gifts of clairvoyance, but the degree to which we avail ourselves of such gifts depends on our spiritual condition.  In fact, the very idea for the creation of my Facebook entity, Earth's School Of Love (ESL), came in such a moment of divine grace and communication.  Over one year ago, I was sitting at my desk in my studio, with an intensely busy day ahead.  Clear as a bell, straight across my right shoulder, came the fully formed thought: Earth's School Of Love: Healing the Planet, One Thought at a Time. I distinctly recall being a little annoyed at the Universe's timing.  I knew, intuitively that I was being given something of great importance, but hell, on that particular day, I was already pressed and the last thing I had time to do was birth a new idea.  Nevertheless, action was required and I called my graphic artist and a logo was born.  Still not knowing what in God's name I was supposed to do with this freshly formed idea, I followed my intuition, dusted off my camera, and began a journey that continues to this day.  Armed with my camera, and a burgeoning belief that only two thoughts exist in the world, I challenge myself, and all of you, to chose each and every minute love over fear.  Try it. Next time you find yourself suspended between two thoughts, choose the loving one, and you will always find that sweet spot within yourself.

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Start Where You Are

A very long time ago, in what seems like another lifetime, I decided to start a clothing company.  Aptly named after my firstborn daughter, Katherine's of Kingston, was supposed to be a custom collection of simple, whimsical, colorful dresses for toddlers and little girls designed and manufactured by me and a handful of University of Rhode Island textile majors.  Slam dunk, right?  Could of, should of, been.  What derailed my business plan was my inability to start.  More specifically, my inability to start where I was.  Married to a custom home builder at the time, I convinced him that I needed a bonafide sewing room, and he was only too happy to oblige.  Needs were assessed.  Measurements were taken. Blueprints drawn up.  Trim was fabricated.  Colors were selected.  By the time dozens of cones of serger sewing machine threads were systematically color-coded and arranged in a custom built-in cabinet, I had already moved on to painting floorcloths, and the bolts of fabric I had stockpiled grew dusty and faded.  Distractions diverted me from my primary purpose.  Today, I know better.  Whether it's taking up a running practice, or yoga, or photography, I can just show up as is.  I don't need fancy shoes, mats, the newest equipment.  All I truly need is an open heart and the willingness to be a beginner every day.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

My Tribe

     In one of my earliest schoolgirl memories (perhaps I was 10 years old at the time), I remember walking down the street to my grammar school.  What always come back to haunt me about that reverie is that I was all alone on my side of the street.  Head bowed, I could hear the other students' boisterous laughs and looking up, shyly, catch their horseplay.  That striving became a metaphor for my life.  HOW, I wondered, could I get to the other side of the street?  HOW could I make friends and have fun?  That deep desire to be part of a kinship, to belong, haunted me throughout my adolescence, and followed me into adulthood.  At 45 years old, after not drinking for 10 years, I was ready to throw away my sobriety in exchange for the fellowship of a neighboring couple who drank heavily, and found me and my non-drinking spouse completely unsuitable for their lifestyle.  It took me 8 long years to find my way back to a life of recovery, and to discover that my tribe, my true friends, had been waiting patiently for me all along. Today, I am a friend. Today, I have dozens (maybe even hundreds!) of friends.  Gratefully, I live, work, and play smack dab in the middle of that pack, and it is where I experience conviviality, camaraderie, understanding, and love.  As a fellow sojourner, Bill W. wrote many years ago, "....join us.  We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit, and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny."  Today, I can walk into a room full of strangers, smile, shake hands, sit down, and know that I am in the company of men and women whose deepest desire has been to belong.  We will not remain strangers for long.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


     I wasn't going to write this blog entry.  I hemmed and hawed.  For days.  Should I?  Shouldn't I?  Would the contents spilled here be better left to a private conversation with a friend, sponsor, or therapist?  Yes. And no.  When I made the decision to share the details of my life in recovery here, I did so knowing that I would have to be brutally honest with myself and my readers.  Growing up in public is sometimes painful.
      A male friend of mine shared the struggles he continues to have with relationships this morning in a roomful of like-minded people.  His tearful candor and heartfelt confusion gave me the courage to process my own stepping stones and stumbling blocks to happily-ever-after.  God knows, I stumble.
     After a brief, six-week summer romance, it seems I have stumbled once again.  Lessons and blessings.  Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love articulates my pattern of falling in love with illusions better than I ever could.

"I have a history of making decisions very quickly about men.  I have always fallen in love fast and without measuring risks.  I have a tendency not only to see the best in everyone, but to assume that everyone is emotionally capable of reaching the highest potential.  I have fallen in love more times than I care to count with the highest potential of a man, rather than with the man himself, and I have hung on to the relationship for a long time (sometimes far too long) waiting for the man to ascend to his own greatness.  Many times in romance I have been a victim of my own optimism."

     The good news (the blessing) is that my response time has improved.  When I know, I know, and once I do, there is no denying the reality.  To sugar-coat the truth invites hostage-taking and other old behaviors.  The lesson is to continue practicing spiritual discernment.  Suit up.  Show up.  Pay attention.  Be kind.  Be willing.  Love with an open heart, and when necessary, leave with gratitude for having had a chance to fan the flames of hope and optimism.  

Saturday, August 10, 2013

What We See Depends On What We Look For

Thank God we humans were created with two eyes.

I needed wide-angle, sweeping vision today. As I climbed and winded my way on Route 30 through Vermont earlier, I couldn't take my eyes (a.) off the road, and (b.) off the breathtaking scenery, villages, residences.  Pristine.  Green. Both words came to mind. And holy. Today's journey north felt different than previous trips. I've traveled Route 30 many times in the past: 35 years ago on my first honeymoon en route to Nova Scotia, but that's another story. Again, during my graduate school years in the northern kingdom of the state.  Once on the back of a Harley. Towing a horse trailer with cargo so precious (both human and equine).  Today I come back to East Dorset and the Vermont Summer Horse Show Festival with a different agenda.  No agenda.  No mission other than a refreshingly free weekend for the first time all summer.  And I find what I lost somewhere along the way: deeply buried memories of a headier time when this world of horse showing was my world, my daughter's world. I remember (the in-gate, the wash stall, the ribbons lined up marking each show barn's successes this summer, a young rider's agony going off course, the frustrated trainer, the announcer's voice, the golf carts), and I allow myself to go back in time. As those images play, I touch a wound I've taken great care to exorcise, but it has its way with me anyway.  The tears come, but so does the smile and the gratitude. Today, my only responsibility is to myself, to the rich past I've been blessed to live and survive, to honoring the memories and the grief.

I pick up my camera and pick up where I left off.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Both Oars in the Water

     Once upon a time, I admitted I was powerless over people, places, and things and that my life had become unmanageable as a result of thinking I knew what was best for me and the rest of the planet.  In short, I handed control over to a power greater than myself.  That decision didn't mean I could sit back on the couch and wait for results to magically manifest.  No, that meant I was still responsible for engaging in certain right actions, but that the results of those right actions were out of my control, and all I had to do was trust that the Universe was acting with my highest good in mind.   I still had to row the boat in the general direction of my dreams, and course corrections have required faith.
     So, I'm good.  I'm rowing.  I'm staying the course.  I'm weathering some of the storms out there.  What I'm not good at is keeping things afloat when my fellow passenger(s) who, for one reason or another, decide that rocking that boat is good, fun, normal.  Nope.  None of the above.  Truth is, so long as one person is rocking and not rowing, unless I can get to some spiritual safety, my life is going to be unmanageable as a result.  Tough stuff, this rowing.  I don't want to row alone; it can be pleasant to row in unison, in accordance with a higher calling and purpose.  But when I end up rowing alone, desperately trying to bring another to safe shores, we both end up shipwrecked.  Today, with both oars in the water, I chose to let the other person find his own way (sink, or swim), and I continue to navigate solo.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Another day. Another miracle.

I am routinely offered the opportunity to wish a fellow sojourner well on their road to personal recovery.  Each time the greeting card passes to me, I write the same words, "Another day. Another miracle." Depending on my relationship with the individual, I may add an additional sentiment or two, but the simple truth remains the same: All you have is today, and if you have today, you are blessed.  But how many of us are truly present for each moment of our lives?  And if we are always rushing from one moment to the next, what happens to the one we are in?  Recently, I heard a woman say that when she opens her eyes each morning, she focuses her attention on three things that she is grateful for.  Her practice opens a space in her heart that allows her to approach the day from a place of abundance rather than lack.  Making a mental list of the people, places, and/or things that she holds dear puts her in a position to attract more of the same into her day.  Compare my friend's habit with the way many of us awaken.  A litany of details about the day ahead usually crowd out any meditative or contemplative work, and we are off and running, trading the serenity of the present moment for the insanity of believing we don't have enough time in the day to get it all done.  Author Marianne Williamson writes, "A miracle is a shift in perception."  What if you shift your perception and inhabit this one moment, fully, lovingly, and with all of your being?  What if you simply resided in the next moment, and the one after that?  What do you imagine would happen?  I think I know.  Another day.  Another miracle.