Wellness Coach


Autumn ~ Collage by Martha O'Brien

Five sunflowers stood inside a crystal vase catching prisms of light from the sunny window and nodded their yellow hats until their beauty faded. On a whim, I opened my patio door and tossed the flower bundle into the creek that was running higher and faster than normal due to a severe overnight storm. Usually, Sugartree Creek flows at a trickle, but during the storm it was a four foot rain drain where tree limbs and debris dashed around in the rapid water.

In a few seconds, the yellow saucer-like-sunflowers were almost out of sight bouncing over rocks on their wild ride towards Richland Creek and eventually into the Cumberland River. Summer is out of sight as the days float into autumn’s seed–planting wearing a mask of decline and death.

Good-bye to the faded flowers of sunny summer and welcome to the regenerative seeding season of autumn.

Parker Palmer speaks about the paradox of autumn ~ Faced with inevitable winter, what does nature do in autumn…scatters the seeds with amazing abandon and beauty of autumn colors that will bring new growth. My delight in the autumn colors is tinged with the sense of impending loss.

Last Saturday my sweet-spirit sister, Carolyn, and I walked a country lane at Beersheba Springs on the Cumberland Plateau looking for signs of autumn’s arrival. The day dawned under a gray cloud with mists of cold rain and ended in a peek of suffused sunlight with soft breezes. Dogwood trees gloried in crimson berries. The oakleaf hydrangea foliage dazzled with scarlet leaves.

Leaves release their grip and let go of the branch. Acorns search for soil that fosters another season of growth. Seeds dry and are tossed into the air when a strong wind blows.

What are you seeding for another season of growth?


Saint Lucy by Francesco del Cossa c.1470

Jeanne Achterberg‘s 2002 personal memoir details her illness with cancer of the eye [ocular melanoma]. As a renowned PhD researcher and visionary, Jeanne focused her entire career on the use of inner vision for healing the spiritual dimensions of people with cancer. With a relentless schedule of teaching, writing, and editing an alternative medicine journal while traveling all over the world, Jeanne wrote:

I have exhausted my font of talent, vision and creativity. I need to cancel things, turn off, stay focused inward, and make daily life a ritual. When my Vision returns, my vision will return.

My life intersected with Jeanne’s in graduate school in her mind-body course Imagery in Healing. On hearing the news of Jeanne’s cancer, my friend Margaret Christensen and I had a candle lighting ritual at the Cathedral of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Dallas. Praying on the kneelers, we faced the altar in the small chapel under the gaze of a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Lingering scents of melted wax from dozens of lit candles and bouquets of roses embraced us. To our amazement as we turned to leave, we saw a framed picture propped against the side wall. It was Saint Lucy, the patron saint of Vision, whose name is derived from lucis meaning light.

We inquired in the church office about the picture and were told that it had been “dropped off” that day by a woman who was moving: “Give it to someone who needs her”. So St. Lucy traveled to Jeanne as a symbol of the return of her spiritual Vision.

I remember times of dark descents walking like a blind woman dis-oriented and dizzy from my hurried pace without a clear vision. Sometimes, those who love us gather and hold the light of our Vision when we lose our way in the darkness. May I have eyes to see.

I have a core belief that when we are open, we can experience healing, not by medicine with its promise of cures, but by the bonds we create with each other in the invisible facets of the healing power of relationships.
Jeanne Achterberg 1942-2012

Creative Expression

Circuit Stop by watercolor artist Naomi Brotherton

Admiring the creative expression of artists at the Frist Museum and Lipscomb University’s art gallery last week, I returned home curious about the artist of a watercolor hanging on my own wall for the past twenty-five years. I googled the artist Naomi Brotherton and wrote an email attaching a picture of her painting wondering about its story.

To my delight, Naomi quickly responded and was pleased that one of her paintings had come “home”. At the age of 92, she continues to teach art and maintains a studio/gallery in Dallas! While driving to Ruidoso, New Mexico, in the 1960s to teach watercolor classes, Naomi saw a white church in a serene landscape. That scene sought expression. Later, she donated Circuit Stop to a benefit sale at a church in Dallas where I purchased it.

What is that creative desire within each of us that seeks expression?

Aaron Copeland in his book Music and Imagination poses an idea:

Why is the creative impulse never satisfied… because self expression is the basic need to make evident one’s deepest feelings about life. Self knowledge is an endless search…I keep creating to know myself.

When I read the line ~ I create to know myself ~ I remembered a scene from my life six years ago when I began to create a series of collages to express my deep sadness. My husband’s cancer had advanced and the doctor said that the time for hospice care had arrived.

On a brisk November Sunday afternoon I wandered into the storage shed to the craft space. I needed time alone while Tom watched golf on TV. I found a crumpled drawing pad in a stack of clutter and started tearing pictures from the magazines waiting for the recycle bin. Colorful ribbons, feathers, fabric, and stones on the shelf caught my eye ~ left-overs from making fairy wands when little girls had visited.

With a glue stick in my hand, unguarded feelings spilled onto the page in a collection of images. An hour passed, yet it felt like one healing moment. When we create we connect to our true Self and with God, the Creator.

Someone said ~ I create, therefore I am.

A Healing Moment

Nature's Weavings ~ Collage by Martha O'Brien

When troubling old patterns begin to break out of my unconscious waters and bubble to the surface of my self-awareness, I know that a healing moment is approaching. A walk around Radnor Lake will give me a chance to pay attention and listen.

After walking at a slower pace than usual through the woods, I rested on a bench with a view of the expansive lake and a blue sky full of puffy white clouds. My scattered thoughts began to form into patterns that I could sift and sort. As I sat in the still morning air, immersion in nature calmed my spirit.

Consider…a red-tailed hawk on a solo flight soaring high above the tree tops.
Consider…the gentle doe and fawn like mother and child eating the tender grasses close to the path.
Consider…the refreshment of recent rain storms in the gurgling creek that meanders through the woods.
Consider…the shaft of one sun beam that pierces through the trees like an arrow.
Consider…majestic trees standing straight and tall grounded in earth’s wisdom.
Consider…how sky’s boundless grace vibrates with healing energy filling my innerspace.

When I returned home, I remembered a line from Wendell Berry’s poem about how trees sigh. Exhaling a long sigh was one step towards slowing my chattering mind.

What do the tall trees say
To the late havocs in the sky?
They sigh.
The air moves and they sway.
When the breeze on the hill
Is still, then they stand still
They wait.
They have no fear. Their fate
Is faith. Birdsong
Is all they’ve wanted, all along.

Breathe in…Breathe out

Spiritus ~ Collage by Martha O'Brien

Once I volunteered to teach classes for the Girl Scouts so they could earn a Stress Less badge. Even the Brownies learned a technique called “Elevator Breathing” to take long slow breaths. One simple practice I use to stress less is to attend to my breath.

Breathe in…Breathe out
I remember the moment in my mid-40s when I observed my pattern of shallow breathing. I was living in the “shallow waters of life” afraid that I should not exist and take up space. I was not aware enough to stretch my arms toward the sky like the wings of a bird and breathe giant gulps of Life.

Then I gained a new perspective during a cranial sacral therapy session. I breathed a long inhale and exhale from my toes to the crown of my head like a figure eight of air flowing all through my body. The sensation felt like taking my first breath as my stagnant body responded to the healing power of a deep breath.

Now, when I check-in with myself and notice tension, I usually discover that I am unconsciously holding my breath. The breath is like an anchor that grounds me in the present moment so I do not wave jump into the future where the problems and anxiety await. Right now in this breath, I am OK.

The Hebrew word ruach has three translations ~ breath, spirit, wind. The ocean winds fill the sails on a boat so it can ride the waves. I inhale the Spirit of love like a breath prayer that calms my Beingness. That is enough for this moment and this day.

Practice: When you observe tension in your neck, jaw, head or a flutter in your stomach, walk outside or go to a quiet place where you can be alone and take three deep cleansing breaths.

Each breath we take is a gift…each moment of life is a grace. Thomas Merton


Aliveness ~ Collage by Martha O'Brien

Walking in my neighborhood on a cloud-covered chilly March afternoon, I approached a curve beside an embankment and noticed a car coming towards me. Instead of stopping and letting the car pass, I took a side step off the uneven pavement and twisted my ankle. The pain was immediate and intense. Thankfully, the woman in the car offered to drive me home.

How quickly things can change. As my left foot turned to shades of bruised blue and purple, limitations to my cherished independence surfaced. I hobbled around my condo having to scoot up the stairs on my bottom and hop down the stairs on my right foot.

The rhythm of my normal walking routine contributed to good sleep, digestion, and moods. My minor injury disrupted that rhythm. I had taken for granted the ease of putting on my shoes and the simple pleasure of walking out the door.

Soon, I realized that the faster I could accept a slower routine and the limitations imposed on me, the easier the transition would be. Eckhart Tolle says: “Face how it is and say ~ I can either accept it or make myself miserable”.

My ankle healed and my walking routine resumed. For me, walking is the best medicine: Fresh air on my face. Bubbles of perspiration on my brow. Movement of my legs in a rhythmic pace brushing away the tangles in my mind. In ordinary moments, I am flooded with the joy of my aliveness even to the point of tears brimming my eyelids. Life is uncertain, things happen…I want to savor tiny moments of joy and relish my aliveness.

Opening your Hands

Collage Martha O'Brien ~ Angel Morning Stroll by Annie Tagg

As I visited my friend in her serene room at the elder residence, loud noises erupted from the hallway outside her door. Some of the women who serve the elders as partners were having a moment of 3:00 p.m. Friday fun.

My friend seemed rattled by the commotion and fearful that her antique china cups sitting on a small stand beside her door would be broken. I saw her words as a metaphor for her body. Like a fragile china cup, she suffers the consequences of Parkinson’s disease and is very fearful of falling and “breaking”.

She wanted to control the chaos so that her fears would diminish, yet she did not want to interfere. So, I offered a thought: This situation seems out of your control. Maybe we could open our hands and give it to the angels.

Sitting in her child-size wheelchair, she cupped her small hands together and said, “I have never thought about doing that.” In a few moments, the hallway noises ceased.

Lessons like this one arrive at my own Door when I, like my friend, want to control events or people as a reaction to my fear so I can feel safe.

How can I trust that all will be well if I let go of control?
An ordinary moment carried a small lesson and another chance to practice.

Open my hands. Give it to the angels. Trust.

Living with an awareness of the companioning presence of angels . . . we come to realize angelic joy is working with us, surprising us, and reminding us that we are loved beyond measure. Nan Merrill

Finding my Voice

Finding my Voice ~ Bird by Anahata Katkin

Dear Gentle Reader, Thank you for reading Blog #50!

Today’s post is dedicated to the spirit of a wise woman, Gay Mallon. Her healing presence and skillful guidance of breath work and body movement as a bioenergetics therapist helped me to find and express my voice.

Hello Beautiful!

Those words greeted me every Wednesday for eleven months at my sessions with Gay. Before she heard details of my life, she observed how I walked. With her keen eyes, she gave me her assessment:

Your breathing is shallow. You have no boundaries. No voice. You have a lifetime of fear in your body.

My body had revealed my secrets.

The throat connects the head to the heart and is a channel of expression and creativity. I had lived with throat problems since childhood tonsillitis and sometimes laryngitis as an adult. I swallowed my anger to avoid conflicts and wore a mask of pretend nice which caused inner dissonance and anxiety. I reasoned that I was keeping the peace, but the cost was too high. I was betraying myself by keeping the silence instead of expressing strong emotions.

Gay’s calm voice encouraged me during our sessions:

Use your voice. Stay in your emotions. Your fragile self is protected by the grace of God.

After practicing the breathing exercises at home in addition to sessions with Gay, I learned that clearing the emotional blocks from my throat released my voice so that I might express the essence of who I am.

Underneath all we are taught, there is a voice that calls to us and in listening to that flicker of spirit, we often find deep healing. This is the voice of embodiment calling us to live our lives like sheet music played, and it often speaks to us in moments of deep crisis. Mark Nepo


Courage ~ Collage by Martha O'Brien

The woman who sold over five million copies of her book Simple Abundance recently returned to Oprah’s confessional chair for a conversation. At age 61 Sarah Ban Breathnach lost it all. With only a suitcase and a heart full of shame, she showed up at her sister’s door.

What happened? One mistake was hiding behind a mask of business competency that had kept her from connecting to people with financial expertise. Their advice might have helped her as she made important financial decisions.

As she spilled the story of her shame and vulnerability, I remembered researcher Brene Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability. She says that vulnerability is not weakness – it is a measure of our courage and how one handles feeling exposed.

According to Brene’s research when I don’t have self-acceptance I feel shame and think “I am not good enough”. Wholehearted people believe that they are “enough” and are worthy of belonging. They have the courage to be imperfect and the willingness to do something without any guarantees.

The Lesson: Face my vulnerability with courage. The unconditional acceptance of the real Martha will form a deeper bond with others.

Vulnerability is the core of shame and the birthplace of love and belonging. People who feel worthy have the courage to be imperfect. They connect to others from a place of authenticity. Brene Brown


Flourish ~ Collage by Martha O'Brien

This is the season of commencement speeches and graduation ceremonies.

What if we celebrated our graduation to the second half of life?
Arrival at the second half of life does not happen at a certain chronological age, yet it is the ultimate initiation even without a ceremony and is mostly ignored in our culture. Some young people have faced challenges that matured them beyond their years while some elders have become old folks instead of embodying wisdom and spiritual maturity.

In the first half of life, our task is to build a foundation: establish our work life and loving relationships. We need to build a strong ego so we can show up in the world with integrity.

In his book Falling Upward, Richard Rohr says:

Did you know the first half of life has to fail you? In fact, if you do not recognize an eventual and necessary dissatisfaction [in the form of sadness, restlessness, emptiness, intellectual conflict, spiritual boredom, even loss of faith, etc.], you will not move on to maturity.

At the crossroad of the first and second half of life, we arrive at a complicated paradox – to surrender the ego so we can go deeper into soul awareness. The second half of life has little to do with accomplishments, titles, or awards. For some, it is a time of hunger for “something more” beyond the daily grind.

When I woke up in my 40s after sleep walking through the first half of life, I wanted to create consistent spiritual practices that would carry me across thresholds for the rest of my life. Every day I am a beginner. I write to make sense of my life. I create collages to re-connect to my creative self so I can wake up and wake up some more.

The second half of life presents us with the opportunity to develop increased depth, integrity, and character ~ or not. The choice is ours.
Angeles Arrien ~ The Second Half of Life.

May you flourish in the second half of life.