Wellness Coach


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

    Pressing On

    Pressing On ~ Collage by Martha O’Brien

    Long after the music stopped, a song refrain kept playing in my innerspace.

    I am pressing on to the higher calling of my Lord.

    I first heard Alicia Keys singing the gospel song Pressing On in the documentary Muscle Shoals about a famous 1950s Alabama recording studio. On the banks of the Tennessee River a country-soul-rock sound emerged. Bono says in the film, “It’s like the songs come out of the mud.”

    Even on a frosty dawn-breaking Sunday morning walk in my neighborhood, the song refrain made endless loops inside my head. As I walked, I saw a woman in a blue knit cap walking her black lab and gave her a silent wave. When I encountered her again on another street, she asked, “Are you almost done?” She probably noticed that I was huffing up the steep hill as she was coasting down on the other side.

    Winded from the climb, I nodded my head Yes! All the way home the song became a breath prayer ~ I am pressing on.

    Can’t you see I’m pressing on… pressing on…
    Shake the dust off of your feet, don’t look back.

    My intention for this now moment is to stop looking back with rear-view-mirror gazing. I desire to live with a deeper trust that the Source of all Being is calling me to press on.


    Summer Play ~ Collage by Martha O’Brien

    I like how Brene Brown defines play as “time spent without purpose”. Then she adds a caveat “which in our culture is also known as an anxiety attack”.

    Over my life a false assumption has dictated that play was allowed after the work was done. So play time never arrived. Finally, I am learning how to drop some of those intense and obsessive behaviors that pushed me beyond emptiness and exhaustion and kept me from play.

    My ego’s need to succeed and accomplish resulted in an out-of-balance life that was obvious even in a brief conversation with a Catholic priest. Two decades ago Fr. Jack listened to me babble about my life. Abruptly, he interrupted my discourse and said: “You’re on some FM radio station, and I don’t mean easy listening”. The truth of his words startled me.

    Knowing for sure that I was stuck in an old pattern, I took one small action. On a full moon night, I went to a neighborhood playground to swing. Pumping my legs to go higher and higher was exhilarating!

    Now, play looks like … piddling and puttering at home like today when I filled small vases with the beauty of summer flowers. One property of play is losing track of time. Making the collage for this blog post was play. As I glued color paper scraps together, time and space seemed to fade away.

    In the book of Proverbs 8:30-31, the voice of Wisdom [who is portrayed as feminine] was with God from the beginning before creation.

    Before the formation of sky, earth, and seas … I was with God playing all the while -playing on the surface of this earth. My delight was with humankind.

    Since God is delighted with creation, including the miracle of my own life, I hope that one day my FM radio station really is tuned to easy listening.


    Spring ~ Collage by Martha O’Brien

    Often someone asks ~ What are you doing? During this past winter, I wanted to say ~ I am weary of doing. I am Be-ing. So, for a season, I set an intention to spend less time focused on accomplishing something as a measure of my worthiness.

    What would happen if I slowed my pace to turtle speed and aligned with the natural rhythms of winter?

    On a cold stormy day during an acupuncture treatment with Zion, he taught me that the seasons have a universal pulse that is attuned to the pulse of our bodies. He said that my winter pulse was stable and slow as it should be. Our bodies express the principles of winter: rest, reflection, storage. God has created us in harmony with the energy of the seasons.

    As daylight diminished and darkness descended deeper into winter’s cycle, I wanted to be snuggled in my cozy condo. Make fewer commitments. Purge another layer of perfectionism. Replenish my soul. Linger longer in centering prayer times. Let go of how others might judge me. Give stuff away.

    I remained active yet considered my energy level before making a plan. Even my jabbering inner voices took some time off. One quiet cloudy January day I wrote in my journal ~ It’s like I am in a place of deep rest at a level unknown to me. I watch my day like an Observer and allow empty spaces.

    After a long winter’s rest, a hopeful thought arrived along with the emergence of spring’s blooms: I am worthy of love and belonging without striving or pushing or accomplishing.

    Your yearning takes you to a place of a deeper code and you say ~“I am ready for the rest of my life to rise”. Jean Houston

    Be Grateful for Beauty

    Gratitude ~ Collage by Martha O’Brien

    Distractions. For the past two weeks with the constant replaying of images of the devastation from Hurricane Sandy and the non-stop political pundits talking about the recent election, I have allowed my writing schedule and the rhythms of my day to go awry.

    Yesterday during a checking Facebook distraction, I was baffled about a topic for a blog posting this week since a dozen ideas had not produced an offering. Then, a posting from Sojourners Magazine caught my attention.

    At an October poetry reading with Billy Collins in Baltimore, Maryland, Mary Oliver spoke wise words: “Pay attention. Be astonished. And tell about it. We’re soaked in distractions. The world didn’t have to be beautiful. We can and should think about that beauty and be grateful.”

    Yes! I am soaked in distractions that have disturbed my peace as I have allowed my own Storm Martha to cause havoc in my innerspace.

    Mary Oliver offered an idea to consider: Think about the world’s beauty and be grateful.

    Divine Beloved ~ Turn me into a woman who is immersed in the world’s beauty and is forever grateful.

    Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful; for beauty is God’s handwriting – a wayside sacrament. Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky, in every fair flower, and thank God for it as a cup of blessing. by Ralph Waldo Emerson

    The Dream-maker’s Message

    The Dream-maker’s Message ~ Collage by Martha O’Brien

    I am a Dreamer. Last week, I set a clock alarm to wake me at 4 AM for a trip to the airport. I made a mistake and set the alarm for 4 PM so the alarm did NOT wake me up.

    However, at 4:02 AM I woke up because I was dreaming that an alarm was buzzing:

    “I have to go back to my room because my alarm is buzzing and I need to turn it off.”

    Although I have recorded my dreams for decades, I have never experienced a dream be a literal wake-up-call that roused me awake. The dream-maker is like an inner Friend that nudges me to wake up and pay attention to my life. My dream journals are full of the dream-maker’s offerings of chances to wake-up to guidance and healing.

    Jungian analyst and Episcopal priest, John Sanford, begins his book Dreams and Healing:

    Suppose someone told you that something spoke to you every night that always presented you with a truth about your own life tailor-made to your individual needs and life-story… that connected you with a source of wisdom far beyond yourself – absolutely free. This is exactly the way it is with our dreams.

    When listening to the dreams of my life coach clients, I ask: “What was happening in the dream when you woke up?” An insight about the dream’s message is revealed at the moment when we wake up. Even if it is only a word or phrase, you can interpret it as: “Wake up to this!” and honor the message from the unconscious.

    One of my dream “wake-up-to-this” moments came from a dream image of being on a train trip when I am expressing my frustration with a work colleague. Another woman in the dream that I did not recognize [a shadow part of me] announced ~”You will not enjoy the view if you are angry“. Wise guidance from my dream-maker.

    What is buzzing in your ear asking you to wake up?