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Three years and two weeks ago I took a leap and jumped, following a dream, following an illogical and improbable yearning to be a healer (of the ancient sort), following something old inside me. At the time it felt like the end of a fantastic story, about finding the way home, making something happen despite all odds, about feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Girl follows dream. Ta da. The end!

The day that I started school I walked into a space I knew well but still felt foreign and a little bit intimidating. For years I had come to the school to see my doctor who rented space there, then for my own acupuncture treatments, to visit the book store and once even to take a workshop. The school enthralled me. It seemed a place of magic and deep wisdom. And as deeply as I loved it, it always seemed a little closed off and mysterious and strange. Despite those many years of entering and exiting, despite all the ways I had been tended inside her walls, the place did not feel quite like mine. When I passed the classrooms, the student kitchen, the back doorway to the garden, the chairs in the student lounge I felt like I was trespassing in someone else’s church. I had the sense that I was walking through someone else’s sacred ground.

Yet, that morning, when I arrived as a student that building transformed for me, instantly opening up and welcoming me home. For the next three years every time I walked through those doors, I walked into an adventure. Within those walls I broke down, forgot everything I knew, got confused, lapped up knowledge, fell apart, put myself back together, railed and sputtered in frustration, discovered something new, opened my heart, printed out homework, took a risk, took a breath, sobbed, started over, waited for exam results, paced, laughed, giggled, danced, hugged, tried again, made tea, had deep and soulful conversations, had silly and outrageous conversations, got quiet, heated up my lunch, read poetry, prayed like crazy, fell apart, put myself back together, grabbed food from the fridge, bought a soup, sat at a picnic table, traded notes, held a hand, told a joke, laid down on the ground, got up, got fascinated, tried and failed and tried again, laughed, learned, pushed myself, pushed someone else, held the space, held someone else, fell apart and put myself back together…and somewhere along the way I began to learn the beautiful mysterious art of Chinese Medicine.

Through it all, from the very first day three years ago, the kitchen, the hallways, the classrooms with the moving tables, and the piles of chairs, the front desk and the bookstore, the couches in the front, the picnic tables, the garden, the library, my locker, the yellow walls with purple trim, even the stairwell, it all became mine, deeply fiercely mine–as familiar to me as my own bones, skin, hair. The landscape of transformation. My safe and sacred space. My nest. I unfurled there. I blossomed. I loved it there, lingering as long as I could when the day would end. I could never imagine leaving.

Two weeks ago, as I was walked into school on a weekend to see my acupuncturist I noticed something. The yellow and mustard walls in the stairwell, the purple banister, it suddenly felt strange–even alien. Like I was walking through someone else’s church, welcoming–but not quite mine. This space had held me through a lifetime of transformation already but something had changed. I knew then it was time. I had been dreading leaving but the space now belonged to others again. My transformation would continue elsewhere. So I scheduled my check out.

Three years ago when I had lunch with my then new friends (now soul sisters) Rebecca and Malgosia I told them, “I fully believe that I won’t finish, I can’t imagine how I will complete this crazy program but I would never forgive myself if I didn’t at least try. So here I am…”

Here I am.

There were many days when the only thing that kept me going was that I loved to be there.

Today I treated my last patient in the student clinic. I handed over my files. I filled out way too much paperwork, said how I wanted my name on my diploma and requested my transcripts be sent to the licensing boards. I smiled alot and held back tears. “Congratulations” they all said. “You are ready” they said. “We will miss you” they said.

Tonight, I walked out of that beautiful and strange space, the one that no longer feels like home, but still feels sacred and magical and special. As I walked down the stairs in the yellow and mustard stairwell, I leaned on the purple railing and slowed. “Thank you” I whispered with each step down. “Thank you for holding me.”

I paused then and turned to the woman in the lobby. “Good night” I yelled. “Good bye” I whispered.

And then, I opened the door to a new beginning.

I know of course that the very personal sacredness of this place was created for me by the magic of a group of 30 amazing healers — the ones who started with me on that day 3 years ago–the ones who held my hand and held the space and kicked my butt and dried my tears and shared their notes and shared their lives. I know now that the reason the space never felt quite right before was because they weren’t there yet. I love you guys. This is for you.

If the only prayer you ever said was “Thank You” that would be enough–Meister Eckhart

I woke this morning with a heart light and full of gratitude.

It hasn’t always been this way. There have been days–very dark and heavy days–when it was a struggle to rise. Days when I felt so sad or so beaten down or just so overwhelmed or riddled with fatigue or pain that I wondered if I’d ever know joy again. But rise I did. Because its the only thing to do. One foot in front of the other–one breath at a time.

I used to think that happiness was the result of accomplishment or tying things up neat and tidy, of accumulated pleasures or wealth or good health but now I know that happiness comes simply from walking the walk and opening up to all that we see along the way, the glorious and the ugly, the cozy and the uncomfortable. Happiness rises up slowly and glows from inside when I simply bear witness to life happening all around me. So simple really. I almost missed it.

This spring I was blessed enough to attend another birth. On the way to the hospital we had to drive through the Mall filled with tourists here to see cherry blossoms and monuments and museums. As we drove through the milling crowds I wanted to roll down my window and shout, “Hey–you–someone is being BORN over here and you don’t even know it!” There are miracles happening all the time–we just have to open our eyes and pay attention.

Life is a gift and I am so grateful that I have made it 44 times around this great sun. Its been nothing short of an adventure. Every great adventure has scary moments and times when you think that the hero(ine) won’t make it. Every adventure has cliff hangers and moments that are so breathtakingly beautiful or painful that your heart (my heart) breaks wide open. Every adventure has moments when the loss is so heavy and dark you think (I think) it’s over and then a tiny light glows somewhere and somehow its not so dark and then out of nowhere there is majesty and brilliance and something no one expected. I am so grateful for it all. It has brought me here. And I welcome what comes next, the good, the bad, the ugly, the sublime.

I’m closing my eyes on this night with a heart so overflowing with love and gratitude. Because I am living a life that I am creating, the life I always wanted. Because I work side by side with amazing extraordinary people and get to partner with them to profoundly change the world. Because in my work I get to nurture the potential in others. Because I have a child who is kind and happy. Because my entire life I have walked side by side with loving friends and family who have carried me, danced with me, cooked for me, dreamed with me, dried my tears. Because I the older I get the more convinced I am that gnomes really do live in the forest. Because seriously, life is nothing short of magical. Because it is all miracle. All miracle.

(Hey YOU! Yes YOU! Someone, something is being BORN over here! Don’t miss it!)

I am so blessed. So truly blessed. And so grateful for another day and a chance to start another year.

Thank you.

Several Times in the Last Week
Ever since Happiness heard your name
It has been running through the streets
Trying to find you.
And several times in the last week,
God Himself has even come to my door-
Asking me for your address!
Once I said,
‘God,
I thought You knew everything.
Why are You asking me
Where Your lovers live?’
And the Beloved replied,
Indeed, Hafiz, I do know Everything –
But it is fun playing dumb once in a while.
And I love intimate chat
And the warmth of your heart’s fire.
Maybe we should make this poem into a song-
I think it has potential!
How far does this refrain sound,
For I know it is a Truth:
Ever since Happiness heard your name,
It has been running through the streets
Trying to find you.
And several times in the last week,
God Himself has come to my door-
So sweetly asking for your address,
Wanting the beautiful warmth of your heart’s fire.
-Hafiz as translated by Daniel Ladinsky

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I have been watching the leaves. They are turning now on the trees. The are crunchy and brown under my feet. They are letting go.

This time of year, my whole body, my whole heart, my whole soul always seem to line right up with the trees, with the leaves. This letting go time. Sometimes it creates such a lightness and an opening. And sometimes it is tinged with great great grief. This time of of year I seem to more frequently remember all those I love who I’ve lost along the way. I am aware of the dreams and plans that have faded. I am so keenly awake to the shifting and changing tides, which often carry something I loved out to sea, even while they bring me new juicy goodness.

With the onslaught of school year number two I am profoundly aware of how much this shift into school has cost me. Gone are the days of lounging on a friend’s porch drinking wine by candlelight, or staying up until 2pm banging out the Pogues on my guitar. Gone is the clean house, or the fridge filled with homemade food, the house filled with friends for communal dinners. Gone is lengthy stretches of time with my girlfriends and evenings writing or making art. Gone are lazy weekends with Max. Gone is an old work life I once loved.

Instead I am in a constant balancing act, triaging. Most waking hours are spent in a mode of uber-efficiency–fitting in homework and housework and errands and cooking and work and parenting into each tiny crevice of space. Calculating how every spare moment will be spent to get it all done. Constantly making choices between essential tasks.

I am not complaining. This is a life I have chosen, a life that is opening up a whole new world for me, a life that I have dreamed about. The hours that feel so chock full are filled with profound learning and a sense of my own power and perseverance. Even still, though, there are those moments where I am knocked flat with grief for the loss of the space and time I once had. I never truly understood how truly precious that time was. Never even knew really that I had it.

And yet, I know, that the gift of this moment is the learning to find the space even in the chaos. To know how truly precious my time is and to savor the moments, however short, when I am cooking or singing or sitting on a porch. To savor the time I have to study, to clean, to shop for groceries because that time is so short I can love it even more. This is my time to know, deep in my bones, that whatever time I have is enough if I am present and fully awake.

Today, I finished a midterm early. I was suddenly gifted with an hour of space. Space I had been grieving. So instead of filling it immediately from my never ending to-do list, I put down my bags and walked outside into the rich autumn sunlight and waded into the waist high brown grass around the pond. With the world glowing in the golden late afternoon light I faced the pond and lifted my arms, moving through the qi gong exercises that never fail to set me right, place me back right here, right now. With the wind moving the grass like an ocean. With the ducks suddenly taking flight in perfect synchronicity. With the weeping willow and the clouds and the turtledoves and the grasshoppers.

This too will go. In just a few more weeks, or maybe one good rainstorm, the world will shift and golden light will turn winter blue. But for now, I take a deep deep breath and can only say thank you.

And even as I crave space and time and openness, I say thank you for this crazy chaos and manic schedule, for the way it is forcing me to stay awake and not take one single moment for granted.

And I say thank you for grief because grief calls me to cherish what is here right now because it reminds me that soon it too will pass.

I wonder if the trees grieve during these times of transition, when they realize that the big green leafy summer is ended, even as the season of glittering like diamonds is around the corner. I wonder if the trees, in a regal and somber way, acknowledge that something precious is passing, and whisper a deep thank you as that sweetness is dissolved, maybe even weep with gratitude for what is now lost. Do they kiss their leaves goodbye as they let them go? I wonder.

This summer at a neighborhood party, a friend offered me prosecco. As she furiously searched for a champagne glass, I waved her effort away. “Please don’t go to the trouble,” I said. “A juice glass is fine…”

From across the kitchen another friend piped up. “Oh no!” she said. “You give her a proper glass. That Meg she is always settling…”

At the time, I have to admit I was quite shocked. I smiled as I accepted my drink but inside I began a silent response. “Settle? Really? How about–That Meg–she is flexible, laid-back, grateful! There are a thousand other stories to tell about my willingness to accept a juice glass. Settling is NOT one that fits.”

And yet, I have learned that when there is that much charge for me, there is something hiding, wanting to be danced with. So as the summer languidly rolled on, I questioned whether my friend had uncovered something in me, something begging for attention.

Could it possible be true that sometimes, just sometimes, behind the smiling laid-back gratitude of this woman, is a girl who is happy to take what she can get because maybe, just maybe she wonders if she asks for more if she will get it? Because asking and not receiving feels too painful? Because she has gotten practiced at making do?

Truth be told, I could care less what kind of glass I drink my bubbly wine in, but this summer I allowed my friend’s words to be a bell, calling me to attention, about where I maybe WAS settling unnecessarily. Where I gave in or gave up too quickly out of habit or worse still, out of fear? Whenever I felt smug for my willingness to just roll with it, I began to ask myself “Is this truly flexibility? Or am I just afraid to ask?”

Since I was in college, I have been very lucky to be gifted with hand me down cars. As a young person working in the non-profit world, I felt so blessed not to have the burden of a car payment, felt so grateful for a functional car that came cheap. I don’t really notice what cars look like, have no opinion on features and only notice a car’s size when packing for a camping trip. In short, I have been an ideal candidate for this kind of saving in my life. And for a long time it served me well.

But somewhere along the way, that gratitude and flexibility turned into a kind of habit. A habit of thinking of myself as the kind of person who just drives whatever. I took pride in not spending my precious budget on a car–even though I was paying more at the pump and putting my mechanics children through college. When I started secretly wishing for a more energy efficient, non-scratched, or dare I say more reliable car, I shamed myself. “What happened to that flexibility girl?” I forgot that as a 43 year old professional woman who carries precious cargo called children that maybe my car needs had shifted.

This summer when my used wagon began to become unreliable, breaking down not once, not twice, but three times on the highway, when the mounting car repair expenses became burdensome, I started to ask whether maybe, just maybe, I was in the name of gratitude and flexibility settling for something less than what I needed. And maybe, I could open to the possibility that if I named it, I could find a way to have what we needed- a reliable, safe new car. One that came with a warranty. One that I could count on functioning not just for months at a time, but for years.

I began to do the research and discovered much to my surprise that for the same money I was investing in repairs, I could bring into my life a new, reliable and safe car. I was shocked. I had never asked a question big enough that even allowed me to see that I could both have everything I need without busting my budget. Settling was not required.

It was simply a matter of changing the question from “What do I think I should have?” Or “What have I always had?” to “What would serve us in this moment and how do I bring it into my life?” Its not a black and white/either or question. I can be grateful for all those used cars that saved me cash during truly hard times, for the joy and wonder they brought us with their quirks and their gifts AND I can open up to the fact that life shifts and that sometimes new shifts mean new needs and then new possibilities.

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Every since I was a baby, you have loved me with a no-big-deal, unconditional kind of love–the kind of love I never doubted. No matter how nerdy I got, no matter how I failed, no matter who rejected me, you held me as dear, never questioning my worth.

As a matter of fact, I think you are the only person whose love I never doubted. Even during the most insecure moments of adolescence when everything was swirling and I questioned everything, you were never a question in my mind. I was always sure of you. I was always sure that you were sure of me. I could be steady in your presence. I know myself to be as strong as an oak when I am with you.

When I was small you held my hand when I got scared and guided me back home. Even now, I feel safe with you. Always sure you have my back. Always sure that I am everything I need, that nothing more is needed You hold me as cherished with all my rough spots, and quirks.

You are my sweet gypsy rose, who will sing with me when life is getting rocky, who will laugh with me because you know all the things that could make me cry. You are a beacon calling me home to myself whenever I wobble. You remind me that I have always been this wise and that it is simply a matter of remembering. You teach me grace, reminding me that love is simply the act of putting one foot in front of the other, pouring the coffee, walking around the lake, talking to strangers, doing the chores, making guacamole, pulling the kayak out to see the sunrise and singing in the kitchen.

Life waxes and wanes, filling up and emptying and yet you, you are still there, a light that guides me back to myself.

My prayer tonight is that you know this love and that it call you home to the wisdom you have always had, the wisdom that allows a 3 year old to love her baby cousin so fiercely, the wisdom that holds us all so steady in your presence.

May you know that you are the north star we all sail by. The one that tells us we are already home. No matter how far we quest, we are already home.

For Leenie, my cousin and hero, who has always loved me and who inspires me to be brave.

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Sometimes life can feel like an endless slog, a long to-do list, a never ending trudge up a hill. We’ve all been there. When the exhaustion is overwhelming and it feels as there is nothing left to give. When we collapse for a moment before crawling forward one tiny bit at a time.

I was once told that it helps to be present to the birds singings and the beauty of the path as you walk it. I have come to learn that it more than helps. At the end of the day, the path, the trudge, the walk, the run through the rain and the sleet and the snow, it is all there is. Our experience of it defines how we live. Not being present to the path means that we miss out on our life.

I am practicing being inspired as I trudge, seeing the hard work not as dues I have to pay, but the reward in and of itself. I am practicing letting go of the destination and simply opening my eyes as I walk forward. I am finding beauty everywhere.

I am inspired by my child, who at 10 took it on himself to raise thousands of dollars for Back on My Feet–a program that is all about putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how miserable the weather. I am inspired by the men and women who get up every morning before 5 to run together because running is the only thing that saves them–some urban professionals, some newly recovering addicts, some folks who are making there way off the streets and into the lives they have always wanted to live. I am inspired by refugees who take a chance and leave everything behind to build something new for their families risking that it will all fall apart. I am inspired by the single mom who took a chance and followed her heart to become a healer.

Too often, we see the stories at the moment of glory, the rare moment when someone has reached some mountainous summit and the clouds part and they stand for a moment in the sun, catching their breath, arms outstretched to the heavens. Sometimes we watch and say–“See it was all worth if for this moment!” But that moment–well, that moment is just one moment. Every other moment matters just as much. The moment when you fall down broken on the side of the road, stitch in your side, blood on your knee is every bit as glorious. I am practicing seeing it that way.

Can you see it? The inspiration in those moments as you crawl through muck, certain that you will never see a mountain top again. Can you know that it’s not “worth it in the end?” but worth it now. Worth it because you see your own power, even when you feel most broken. Worth it because you are breathing and here. Worth it because it could be otherwise. Worth it because you keep going one step, one breath at a time.

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I used to think:
That if I was a good girl and showed up, did my spiritual work, pushed through, endured, gleaned the gems from the muck, learned from the impossibly hard times, opened my heart (anyway), kept going, was clever, was generous with spirit, believed in the impossible and kept marching forward with hope,

That one fine day the gates of heaven would open up, or a fairy godmother would touch me on the shoulder, or some hero would rescue me and I would be rewarded with ease, with love, with joy, with rest.

Now I know:
That life has served to hone me into someone who is brave and strong and able to stand on her own. That I am incredibly powerful–powerful beyond measure and that the reward for all the hard work is not a fairy tale ending but the courage and strength to bear the heavy loads without faltering, to be able to trek the mountains by myself, carrying my whole life on my back while singing. The reward is the ability to create this wild, wooly, sometimes treacherous but always thrilling adventure that is my life. The reward is to know that I have it in me to keep going no matter how rocky the coast line, how high the mountain, how dark the forest.

Ease and joy and love (and even rest) have been ever present all along the path–Mine for the taking, like fruit that grows on the trees I pass, mine to recognize and harvest and savor. These gifts are not my destination but what has sustained me all along, what will sustain me as I keep adventuring on, all I need to do is pay attention.

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Different Plans
by Brian Andreas

I don’t know how long
I can do this, he said.
I think the universe
has different plans
for me

& we sat there in silence

& I thought to myself
that this is the thing
we all come to
& this is the thing
we all fight
& if we are lucky
enough to lose,
our lives
become beautiful
with mystery
again

& I sat there silent
because that is not
something
that can be said.

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If I could tell you one thing, my dear heart, it is this. No one has it figured out. None of us. We are all just trying to get from birth to death as peacefully, as sweetly, as nobly as we can. We are stumbling, most of us, though from where you sit it may look as though some of us are elegantly waltzing or doing a fancy latin dance. We are making it all up as we go along. You are not alone.

You will make mistakes and those mistakes will teach you things–things you never imagined you would learn. You will work hard, harder than you knew you could and it won’t even feel like work. It will cost you dearly, this passage. You will have your heart broken a thousand times perhaps–by friends, by lovers, by strangers. You may think you can sit out by refusing to give your heart or numb yourself but giving it away to everyone. You can’t. You will doubt everything you ever knew to be true and tell yourself a hundred fairy tales. None of it will be true and all of it will be true and then you will wake up.

You may feel extraordinarily lonely then, even though your sobs are resonating through hollow chests all around you. Resonating like bells ringing together, like guitars humming, like drums thumping in unison. And in that moment as you move to the harmonies of joy and sorrow, you will look up and see that the whole world is dancing with you and that your stumbling looks like a magical choreography so stunningly beautiful and honest that all creation is wondering how you got so wise, how you learned to dance like that, what secrets you must know.

Dear one, if I could tell you just one thing right now its this. You know everything you need to know and absolutely nothing all at the same time. There is no magical moment when suddenly you are worthy. There is no gate to walk through that makes you belong. You have arrived here. It is your birth right. And that’s all that is important.

I promise.

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For at least 5 years now it has been my New Year’s ritual to pick a word to guide me through the coming year. It is a word I hold dear, whisper upon waking, and hold close to my heart. It is a word that serves as a compass when I am not really sure what I am doing anymore. When I can’t remember what I want, I touch that word again and remember–“Oh yes….this…” The words are always different and yet they keep calling me forward in the same direction each in their own unique way–each of them pulling me forward on my path, one foot in front of the other.

In years passed I have picked words like “blossom“, “renew”, “trust” and “skate“. Last year I picked a word so delicious (“juicy”) I kept it to myself.

I have come to put a lot of power in this word I choose. If I don’t take good care I can get superstitious, even neurotic and fret over the word, fearful that I may inadvertently welcome in suffering I don’t want, or hard times I don’t need. It can be such a big thing to pick a word. Words after all have so much power.

Imagine my delight when I started school this fall and it became a practice to pick a word for the day, a designed created mood, a word that is (to quote my teachers) “big enough to live in”. I embraced the practice as eagerly and as joyously as I embraced my New Year’s ritual. I practiced living into a word each day, sometimes calling on my yearly word, sometimes picking something new my heart needed. However it went, I remembered something that I always knew and often forget.

The word itself is not a magic word, but rather an inspiration to reach deep in my heart and live my life awake. It is not that I am calling forth the word from the world but creating it myself in every moment. I remember that my word does not represent how the world meets me, but rather how I meet the world. If my word is peace I don’t expect the Universe to deliver peace to my door, but rather I commit to meet whatever comes with peace. In doing so, I create peace, a joyous peace to live in. I am awake to all the peace around me, (the sleeping child, the flower that knows no fight) and when it isn’t there, I am awake to the possibility that I can create it right here, right now.

This year I am living into the word Open. Open, like openhearted and vulnerable. Open, like ease and simplicity. Open like welcoming. Open like doors that unlock, paths that unfold. Open like embracing whatever comes my way, faithful that the lesson in it is exactly what I need to learn.

This word business is a practice. A practice in which (even after years) I still find myself a beginner. I fall down and pick it up again. I will need to remind myself: Are you open to life? How about now? How about now? One year I posted a sign on my front door so that I would see my word as I left out the door. This year I will say it to myself every time I touch a door. I am making a tag for my key ring. My dear friend Edamarie made me a necklace this year out of an antique keyhole. I will touch it and remember to open up to my life so that my life can open to me.

What it your word for 2012? What magic will you create for all of us? What energy you will be for this world?