Wellness Coach

Life-Changing Magic

blog august 2015

The words Life-Changing Magic in the title of Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, grabbed my attention. Then, she challenged me to look at my belongings with this question:

“Does an item spark joy? If it does, keep it; if it doesn’t, throw it away.”
I began her method and sorted through closets, cabinets, and chests seeing what sparked joy. I bagged costume jewelry and other items for the thrift store and tossed a piggy bank from childhood in the trash and shredded papers.

As I continued to follow her method, I read how tidying up is really about “examining my inner self”.

The process of assessing how you feel about the things you own, identifying those that have fulfilled their purpose, expressing your gratitude, and bidding them farewell, is really about examining your inner self, a rite of passage to a new life.

One way I have made sense of life’s experiences is through decades of journaling. I realized that during the initial “tidying up” phase, I had overlooked several journals nesting in a basket on my closet floor. Those particular journals were filled with emotionally charged memories from years of difficult transitions. Teachings about looking at the past contend that whatever good that came from times of struggle already resides within me now.

Yet…I resisted bidding farewell to those journals. An inner pendulum started swinging: cling to the past or surrender and let go. Two weeks ago, I awoke ready to face the task.

I read and ripped pages from the journals. Most of the writing was jabbering about selfing. I bid farewell to projects that didn’t happen, regrets, and resentments. As I gleaned the pages, I savored lessons learned, breath prayers, and times of gratitude.

Maybe tidying up is life-changing magic.

A Special Tree

special tree6

On a recent magical mystical trip to Sedona with fabulous friends Misty and Cynthia, Misty and I shared stories about when we met and became close friends 18 years ago. One of Misty’s memories: I would stop talking in mid-sentence; do a swirl gesture with my hand; then say… “and that’s a story I don’t need to tell”.

The wise teacher and writer, Angeles Arrien, inspired me to stop giving voice to my wound-story. Her book, The Fourfold Way, made a deep imprint on my life when she described how to develop the inner healer.

Identify your wound – the story you always share about yourself that is tied to some traumatic event. Offer this wound to a special tree, and never speak of this wound again.

Years ago on an overcast windy day in Dallas where I lived, I walked a familiar winding path that circles White Rock Lake. The ragged bark of a giant oak tree caught my attention. The gnarly limbs reached for the sky while giant roots spilled onto the sidewalk. I offered my wound to that special Tree as a commitment to begin healing the innerspace where my wounded-self lived.

Taking that one symbolic action mattered.  When I show up and pay attention to my own sacred Story, healing is possible. With gratitude I remember that special Tree holding my wounds in its holy knot.


Threshold 70

Collage2015 (632x450)

Making a collage for the new year is one way that I visualize my intentions for the next year. This year my intentions extend throughout the second half of life. Born under the sign of the fish, I will turn 70 this year. I think sacred intentions are not like wishes or “head goals”, but evolve throughout life.

My Second-Half-of-Life Intentions ~

  • Be love more than seeking love.
  • Fully embrace opposite poles as the pendulum swings from times of joy to times of mourning.
  • Take simple pleasure in sacramental gestures that consecrate the ordinary and make it holy. Lighting a candle, listening to a friend, and sitting in the stillness of silence.
  • Remember ~ I am a daughter of the Divine Feminine.
  • Accept that I am standing at the Gold Gate learning its’ lessons of nonattachment to identities, surrender of perfectionism, and acceptance of what is.
  • Grow into the idea that “my being attracts my life”.

When Sue Monk Kidd was turning 60, she visited the ancient site of Delphi with her daughter. As she posed a question to the Oracle, Old Woman visited her. She decided to no longer be driven by ‘what else’, but a finder of ‘what is’.

Old Woman ~ Show me, teach me to become a woman who is wise, resilient, and speaks her voice.

I tell myself I am experiencing the death of myself as mother, the death of myself as a younger woman. The Young Woman inside has turned to go, but the Old Woman has not shown up.
Sue Monk Kidd, Traveling With Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story

One Light

One Light Dec 2014

Before Thanksgiving, I was on a week-end retreat with nine other women at the Sisters of Loretto Motherhouse located in eastern Kentucky. The Catholic Sisters have lived on the land for over 200 years.

On Saturday evening, four of us drove a short distance on the curvy country roads to the Abbey of Gethsemani where Thomas Merton once lived. We went to chant evening prayers with the monks at Compline. Since we arrived early before other visitors and retreatants, a pitch black and empty narthex greeted us.

As we walked into the cavernous church, a lone candle glowed at the altar to guide our steps. We sat in the visitors’ space in silent darkness waiting for the monks to arrive. Walking with soft feet in silence,  the monks took their places in the choir stalls. After the monks sang Salve Regina to the Virgin Mary, Compline was over.

On our drive back to our retreat house, we were suddenly blinded by a country field ablaze with Christmas lights probably visible from outer space! It was Ruley’s Christmas Light Farm complete with Santa and baby Jesus on two acres and one million lights.

The super-sized Santa and the dazzling lights seemed a complete contrast to the solitary candle at the church that cast a vertical beam of light towards the heavens.

There is a time for the pleasure of one million Christmas lights. And…there is a time to seek and find a reverent moment to sit in darkness with the light of only one candle.

There is a light that shines in the darkness, which is only visible there.
Barbara Brown Taylor ~ Learning to Walk in the Dark

Open Your Eyes


Light on the Path

The novel All the Light We Cannot See tells the story of a motherless blind French girl and a German orphan boy during the occupation of France in WWII. A phrase repeated throughout the book sparked deeper reflection.

Open your eyes to see what you can with them before they close forever.

If I say that I will wait until tomorrow to open my eyes and see a different perspective, it is always “tomorrow”, and I do not change. I miss this moment, this day, to offer warm empathy rather than stone-cold judgments.

What if each day is a small replica of my Life? How can I see ordinary routines in a new way? Maybe changing my being starts with changing my reaction to an ordinary day and ordinary tasks like chopping vegetables for soup or filling the bird feeder. Little things matter. It might be the same routine, yet I can re-animate the tasks by seeing in a new way.

One ordinary event that fills me with wonder and awe is searching the western sky after sunset to view the first crescent of the New Moon. That small sliver of light on the backdrop of a clear indigo sky opens my eyes to an unknowable miracle that I am alive.

For in You is the very source of life; and in Your Light, I see only light. Psalm 36:9


View from Veranda

For a week in May, I returned to a remote south Texas desert for my eighth solitude retreat at a House of Prayer. Immersed in natural beauty, I hoped that Mystery might find me there listening in the silence at the place I call my spiritual home.

When I arrived at the doorway to the “Big House”, Casa Grande, a woman with a Spanish accent whispered, “Hello, my name is Carmen”. Startled with immediate recognition of her voice and face, I remembered her welcoming words at my first retreat 27 years ago. For the month of May, she was there translating the core community’s books into Spanish. As we hugged and tears of gratitude flowed, she said: “I am sure God arranged this encounter”.

March 21, 1987, journal entry: Carmen took me to my room and said: “Everything is God. Trust…trust…trust. Look at God gazing at you. Behold the One beholding you.”

Was Mystery waiting for me in an ordinary encounter?

At 4 a.m., I watched dawn arrive from the 2nd floor private veranda outside my sparse room. Light began to soften the edges of the sky revealing the shapes of palm trees and deer feeding on tender grasses. My senses woke up: birdsong, clacking of palm branches, soft morning breezes on my face, and the sweet refreshment of morning air.

As I emerged from walking in the deep woods, a bird was singing Hymn to Joy from the tip of a bare tree branch. In the fading afternoon sun under the vast dome of a coastal cloud-streaked sky, dozens of vultures played on the thermals. At sunset, two wild turkeys flew over a high fence each leaving a tail feather in their wake.

Was Mystery gazing at me observing creatures and the harmony of creation?

We never know where we will encounter Mystery. We can be sure that it awaits us everywhere and in all things: if we but listen, behold and receive. Sr. Marie Coombs, hermit Lebh Shomea House of Prayer.


Summer ~ Collage by Martha O’Brien

Summer is a season of abundance as each day lulls me into the illusion that the beauty of bountiful flowers will remain. The bright, bold red and orange zinnias, lemon-yellow marigolds mixed with purple snapdragon bouquets grace my home with their perky little nods of splendor.

Flowers fade. Wait… I haven’t fully enjoyed your beauty!

Everything changes. The empty truth: I want certitude.  I want certitude that I will remain healthy and active until that last puff of breath. I want certitude that my loved ones will avoid the suffering of a painful illness.

Wise Cistercian monk, Thomas Keating, at age 91, made this profound statement ~ I am more comforted by Mystery than certitude.

How can I rest in the heart of Mystery when my head wants to figure it out? Fix it. How can I drop all of life’s certitudes and live in un-knowing?

Silence meets my wandering in that vast ocean of the Unknown Presence where things happen beyond logic and reason and simple platitudes. I long to be more comforted by Mystery than certitude.

This day before dawn I ascended a hill and looked at the crowded heaven.
And I said to my spirit, when we become the enfolders of those orbs and the pleasure and knowledge of everything in them, shall we be filled and satisfied then?
And my spirit said No, we level that lift to pass and continue beyond.

Walt Whitman ~ Leaves of Grass Song of Myself [1855]

A Lesson in Humility

Collage by Martha O’Brien

Slow down. You move too fast. Simon & Garfunkel’s lyrics played in my head a few days after Easter Saturday. That was the day that I stumbled and fell on my condo sidewalk an hour before leaving for the airport to visit my daughter.

In a flash, humiliation flooded over me. Then the telephone of my voice cried out to the empty morning air, “No, No, No”. The Harsh Judge chimed into the conversation: Why were you floating in the air without focusing on your feet?

While my heart raced, I cared for the injuries. Then, I settled into my centering chair wondering if I had the confidence to make the flight with scraped raw hands and a bruised puffy lip. With one hour to pull everything together, I turned to my practices.

Be still. Breathe. Journal. Pray ~ Show me. Teach me.

A lesson in humility had arrived. The hour passed. Imperfect and agitated…and good enough to go.

On Easter Monday I walked to St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Old Town Alexandria for noon Mass and encountered a deeper aspect of humility as if to seal it on my heart. As I settled into a pew, my senses awakened to the sweet scent of Easter lilies that were placed in every window sill of the beautiful stained glass windows. I looked at the wall over my left shoulder to read the Station of the Cross number 7: Jesus falls the second time.

My Easter meditation of “dying to my old self and rising to a deeper Self” became a personal experience during the three days: Good Friday. Easter Saturday. Resurrection Sunday. Between the day of dying and rising, I surrendered another layer of a fake identity of looking “perfect” and gleaned a lesson in humility.

As I keep walking the Path of life, I will stumble and fall and also rise to find my essence once again.

Watching Clouds

Clouds ~ Collage by Martha O’Brien

Practices like yoga stretches and centering prayer are vital to my well-being. A few months ago, I discovered a new practice that takes a mini-moment and shifts my perspective: 30 seconds of watching clouds.

First, I begin with self-observation and become more conscious of my bodymind. What’s cluttering my thoughts that’s causing the negative feelings? What is my left shoulder and neck pain telling me?


  • I put on my shoes
  • Walk outside the door
  • Pull my shoulders back
  • And look up to see what the clouds have to say.

    Clouds form intricate shapes and patterns that float in white narrow bands and billowing balls. Symmetrical spirals and puffy-cheek clouds catch the wind and everything changes by the second.

    In that tiny space of time when I change my sense of scale and look up, watching clouds gives me a deeper connection to a still presence within me. Looking up at the clouds shifts the focus away from thinking of the past or the future. I experience the awakened senses in my body and arrive in the present moment.

    Spiritual traditions around the world teach that practice develops and transforms us, encourages discipline, and enables us to focus, facilitating change and increased awareness.
    The Second Half of Life by Angeles Arrien


    St. Hildegard of Bingen [1098-1179] The Cosmic Tree

    Early February is the traditional time for the celebration in the ancient world of a festival of the washing of earth’s face. The pangs of rebirth are beginning in the dark womb of winter at this halfway point towards the spring equinox. Time draws closer to prepare for another cycle and wash the sleep from my eyes.

    Cloudy bone-chilling winter days continue, yet a moment of light illuminated the darkness last Saturday at the Benedictine Sisters’ Monastery in Cullman, Alabama where I attended a retreat ~ “St. Hildegard & the Living Light”. Hildegard lived over 900 years ago as a composer of music and a visionary leader. She studied plants and herbs for medicinal needs and believed that the “body was a plant and the doctor was the gardener”. Prophets “illuminate the darkness” Hildegard tells us.

    Our retreat meeting space was filled with Hildegard’s artistic visions that she called “illuminations”. We were invited to create a mandala ~ images and symbols within the form of a circle ~ to express an illumination of “God as the living light” to rekindle our hearts.

    After our drawing time, we propped our mandalas on our chairs, placed a small candle in front of our creations, and then walked in silence gazing at each one.

    In the dimly lit room, the flickering candles illuminated our drawings in a warm community of souls that revealed our inner light shining in the dark of a winter’s night.

    Wake up for the Light returns.

    All living creatures are sparks from the radiance of God’s brilliance, and these sparks emerge from God like the rays of the sun.
    St. Hildegard on the Cosmic Tree