Lessons From The Cave

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Lessons From The Cave

"The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek." Joseph Campbell


 

I have been a caregiver for 14 years. By caregiver, I mean mother. For 6 years I have been a single mother of 2.

And this summer, I got a 6-week break.

My longest stretch to be just with myself in over a decade.

 

Let that sink in for a moment. It is a HUGE paradigm shift.
 

Heading into the “me” time, I knew what I needed most was to hunker down and go into “the cave” as I called it. Because I have been so long in survival mode, reacting to the needs and to do’s that seem to be never ending, I felt like I was barely keeping my head above water.

 

That’s a lot of time to be barely breathing.

 

So as much as I missed my kids, I had an extended period of time to really regroup and reflect on what I truly want and where I am going next.

 

I realized as I spent more time alone that my vision was really clouded and I could no longer hear the still small voice.

 

I was in total and complete burnout and a perpetual state of overwhelm. For years.

 

Honestly, I would say it took 4 weeks to feel somewhat human again.

 

Nobody else to cook for or care for, no one to tell to do their chores, no interruptions from others’ needs, no one else to entertain.

 

So what did I do with all my time?

 

I spent the majority of it alone.

 

After an incredibly blissful week in Northern WI with friends who have known me for over half my life who looked me in the eye and said “You are finally back!” meaning that gigantic piece of soul that was missing for over a decade, they could actually see it had been retrieved.

 

Because I have been doing a lot of deep healing work for the past 4 years. On myself as well as others.

 

And after the staunch realization that I am more introverted than I thought and that my recharging is done alone, I got to work getting into my cave.

 

So many full circle turns. Just before I met the father of my children, I was actually one step from entering an ashram. To live. Forever.

 

Instead I chose the life of “householder” which for me has turned out to be the most challenging path of all.

 

So re-entering the cave to meditate and find solitude is actually a sanctuary I had long forgotten.

 

Who and where would I be now if I had never become a mother?

 

Or if I had never become a mother who was also impoverished, more importantly. Because it seemed as if so many opportunities flew past me the fewer resources I had.

 

Poverty in the country of plenty is a soul thief.

 

My children are the greatest blessing of my life. But enjoying them has been second to making ends meet with little to no help.

 

The stress has been ever present and thick as quicksand.

 

That last part, the sticky heaviness of stress, had me in a fog for what seemed like forever.

I couldn’t think straight.

 

I forgot that I love to be alone. I love to journal and read and write songs and poems. Somewhere in the midst of surviving and raising children, doing the work of multiple people by myself, I lost vital and important parts of me.

 

I wouldn’t trade my journey for anything. I am immensely grateful for my life and the people in it. I love being a mother. I love my work. And I also know that this time in my cave was intensely therapeutic and desperately needed.

 

 

Here are the main lessons I have learned on my parenting sabbatical, in which I luxuriously spent hours upon hours in meditation, alone.

 

 

1. Close the Loops of Habit and Obligation

 

        As soon as I started spending time alone I realized how much internal pressure I feel to please others. Out of habit, I have perceived obligation to my community--once I started saying no to social outings, volunteering, and random meetings that didn’t align with my goals I realized that I mostly say “yes” out of habit or a sense of obligation. I am obligated first to my health, my family, and my work. And closing the loops on my perceived obligations has been a huge restoration to my energy. Also cutting out relationships or behaviors that don’t serve me or drain me was a huge revelation. I have taken this inventory before but it really hit home this time to help with burnout.

 

2. Confront Yourself

 

        In the cave I got lonely. And bored. And scared. I was afraid of missing out or being forgotten. Rinse and repeat. I confronted these parts of me that were so used to constant stimulation or constantly being needed. Questions like: Who am I if nobody needs me right now? What happens when I am not giving all of myself away in every moment, will people still want me and love me if I am not giving to them or listening to them or being there at a moment’s notice when they call or text? Am I worthy of receiving the same kind of love and caregiving I so freely give?

 

3. You are enough and you do enough.

 

        “Never enoughness” as a feeling has haunted me for ages. But especially as a single parent struggling to make ends meet, when many weeks there is literally not enough for food or rent, I have been in direct confrontation of this concept. In the cave I got to assess the amount of energy and resources I have been outputting for years and really got to acknowledge myself for everything I have done and do. I am enough. I can rest. I am enough. I am worthy of the things I receive and I am worthy of my desires.

 

4. Smile, Think Positive, Dance

 

        When in doubt, always these things. And a daily gratitude practice helped me to see the amazing blessings despite my feelings of loneliness or fear.

 

5. Reflect on Your Life Lessons-Take Inventory

 

        They say at the end of your life you have a life review. This is the moment where your whole life flashes before your eyes and it all makes sense. In the cave I got a glimpse of what this moment might look like for me, and since I just turned 41 years old I feel like I get at least another 60 years before that full life review happens. But I started looking at everything I have learned from my own life experiences and I am really damn proud of myself! I also started writing my life story/memoir for my own revelation so I can more clearly see the amazing growth I have done in my life.

 

6. Trust The Process

        When you set a goal like spending 6 weeks in retreat mostly alone (outside of work obligations because I actually added a part time writing gig to my already full schedule) you have got to trust the process. There were days I felt a lot of emotional pain and turmoil from the choice I made to restore myself in isolation. I wanted to go out and see people and engage in the things I usually do but I knew I needed to stay the course. And each step of the way it was perfect for me. I can see how making the tough decision in the moment to forego gratification and stay in my solitude, stay with my emotions, enabled me to have powerful breakthroughs.

 

7. You are Sensitive for a Reason

        

Growing up I spent hours upon hours alone in my room journaling, writing letters, playing music and my guitar. It was where I got away from it all. My parents’ fighting, the intense feelings I had around other people. As I grew into my gifts as a clairvoyant over four years ago I came to understand that there is a reason for my sensitivity and I only need to honor it. Make space for my unique gifts.

 

8. Find Your Center, Build Your House on that Rock

 

        “It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” Joseph Campbell

 

If I have learned anything in this season it is that finding my center and being true to my needs is my first priority. I am more powerful than my distractions only when I am grounded in my own center. In this time I have created my new vision for my life without the constant interruptions or input from others. Each morning I spent a couple of hours in meditation, journaling, and other practices that helped me put on my armor for the day. From that place of clarity, I feel fortified and able to make decisions from a place of my highest good.

        

9. The answers lie within you

 

        The truth is, everything I need is right here inside of me. All I need to do is take the time to connect to it. Spending a decade or more disconnected from myself may have required a 6-week jumpstart to finding my center again, but I can attest to the fact that getting in touch with my own heart and my own needs is what putting my oxygen mask on first looks like. And I intend to continue this daily practice of tuning in.

 

My kids come home soon and I am ready and excited to share my renewed sense of purpose and power with them. I missed them like crazy but I needed this time to myself more than anything. And as they say--”ain’t nobody happy if mama ain’t happy”.

 

May we all find ways back to our inner world when the demands of the outside become overwhelming.

Here is to your cave, whatever that may look like.

I love you,

Heidi

 

 

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You Are Never Alone

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You Are Never Alone

You are never alone.

(You will forget again--read this when you do.)

When you are down, when you get lonely, when you feel overwhelmed.

You are not alone.

You will forget this when the lie of your separation has permeated so deep that you can’t remember the last time someone was there for you. Especially then You will not be alone.

Just a moment ago in time your own mother carried you in her very body and fed you with her cells’ deepest loving intelligence. And your father planted the seed that would become you.

How quickly you forget the last time someone texted you to say they loved you. You are blessed beyond belief with loving friends and family and community. You are not alone.

You are never alone. You carry inside you the blood and breath of all your ancestors back to the beginning of time. How could you be alone with them standing within, behind you, below you, and above you?

There are allies on every corner-- look and you will find them.

There are people feeding each other and clothing each other and praying for each other in the club and in the church and in the coffee shop. It is messy, and inconvenient, and inefficient, and so so human-- you are anything but alone.

There are good people everywhere who will love you deeply whenever you need it and even when you don’t.

And the angels! There are angels and unseen allies you haven’t named that are pulling for you non-stop! And there are animals! Dogs will lick your face even when you don’t want them to!

And the trees! The trees are LITERALLY giving you breath. How much less alone could you be?

Plants!! How can you say you are alone when there is a plant who has offered its life to you time and again that keeps you strong and sane and happy and healthy!? There are millions of plants and animals who have given their lives just to sustain you.

You are not alone. You are deeply and profoundly loved and supported and provided for. Tap in to that now, know it, claim it:

I am not alone. I am loved. I am supported. Everything I need and want is given to me by an abundant life filled with love and assistance.

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Everyday Miracle: Birdsong

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Everyday Miracle: Birdsong

The universe is forever giving us these simple yet amazing gifts that we often overlook and take for granted.

This morning when I woke I noticed the choir of birds outside my bedroom. I kept my eyes closed and challenged myself to pick out each individual, unique song.

There were so many distinct calls coming from every direction, I was overwhelmed by the variation and beauty.

I tuned in and played a game with myself to see if I might be able to guess what they were communicating-why not?-and what I deduced was that they do it for the sheer joy of singing their song for the world and for each other.

When was the last time you just listened to the birds sing?

Maybe it is time to appreciate this ‪#‎everydaywonder‬.

Go ahead, try it. Right now. Listen to the birds outside. How many different calls do you hear? Could you imitate them if you tried? Take 2 minutes. What do you hear? Tell us in the comments below.

What song can you sing, just for the sheer joy of singing it?

‪#‎magic365‬ ‪#‎isthisreallife‬ ‪#‎itsawonderfullife‬ ‪#‎filledwithwonder‬ ‪#‎wonderwarrior‬ ‪#‎whatdoyouwonder‬ ‪#‎everydaymiracles‬

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Your Power is Chasing You

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Your Power is Chasing You

When I began doing shamanic journeying, I was able to intentionally dream and interact with these animals, communicating with them to learn larger lessons about my life. The octopus eventually acknowledged to me his name and his role, along with many other teachings about my soul and purpose.

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Walking the Unborn

Walking towards the water I feel you floating there

inside me, deep down

where the soul meets the body.

 

I imagine you see red, darkness

not the blackened blue waves

of this Lake,

not the yellow sugar maple

leaves, the last of fall.

I know you are the singer, the one who asks

me to sing today, who asks me to write

poetry, you are a little girl

who will sing her way from the womb

You are my rock, my salvation

you will ask of me

more than I can hope to give

 

and I will give it anyway

you will dive too deep

into this water

this life

and you will break my heart

joyously open

wave after crashing wave.

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Plant Teachers: Marijuana and Tobacco

I remember the first time I smoked marijuana. Under amazing stars in Vermont when I was 18.  Of course there was a boy involved.

He was a redhead with long, sweet smelling dreadlocks. Something about him made my knees weak. His fluidity, his calm.

And the way he carved his board effortlessly through freshly fallen snow.

That was 20 years ago.

After that, marijuana and I had a long, complicated relationship.

 

At first she was my escape from everything life handed me that was challenging, then she became my life.  Then I felt I just couldn’t live without her.

 

Until I got hives.

 

And panic attacks every time I tried to smoke.

 

And then it was obvious we were done, over, that our relationship had become toxic and I was actually afraid to ever smoke again.

 

My love affair with tobacco started at exactly the same time.  After meeting the red-haired boy, I flew to Germany again to stay and work before heading to college.   All the kids there smoked hash, passing joints around with it crumbled into tobacco. My days as a smoker began.

 

I struggled with tobacco addiction for close to 10 years until I quit with my pregnancies, but as years went by I learned a newfound respect for tobacco when I began participating in ceremonies within the Native American community.  It was in a sweat lodge that I learned how to pray again after a decade of being pissed at God.

 

Nowadays I keep tobacco nearby for offering as a prayer, because this tradition entered my heart and made an impact on me.

 

Some people are saved in the name of Jesus, I was saved by connecting to my heart and to the Heart of it All.

 

In my mind all that matters is not what saves you but that you are saved at all. By love.  That you never feel alone, and that you find a connection that matters to you and opens your heart.

 

Fast forward another 10 years.  I am a single Mom to 2 kids, making it through by the hair of my chinny chin chin, and scraping by.  I am mostly stressed to the max, overwhelmed, panicked, and frazzled.

 

After an especially hard week I get it in my head that I need to smoke some weed. It’s been too long.  I need a fucking break.

 

So I smoke.  After so many years of not, the medicine is pure bliss.  I am in love all over again.

 

I feel as if the weight of the world has been lifted from my shoulders and I can breathe.  I can laugh!  What is that sound --my laughter?

 

It seems it has been so long since one carefree moment existed for me.

 

Within this space I remember what it feels like to just be myself.  No stress.  No obligations.  No fear.  No self-doubt.

 

Just playfulness.  Fun.  Laughter.  Oh, how I‘ve missed you!  The carefree girl who loved to have a good time, who could relax and forget about the pressures of life.  Now things are so serious and arduous --and in contrast, getting high felt fabulous.

 

The next day I woke up with the profound revelation that I no longer know how to let go and have fun, and what a damn shame that is!

 

But if you can’t remember that you ever felt differently, then how can you know how to?

 

Thanks to the medicine of the herb, I was able to remember that there is life beyond the walls of responsibility and obligation, and that lightness and laughter are literally just a breath away.  One need not smoke to access it, but sometimes when you are lost, there are plant teachers that can help you find your way back to your authentic self.

 

They don’t want you to rely on them, but they do want to assist.

 

Tobacco is also powerful medicine that can support us in connecting to spirit, soothe our pain, and cleanse our environment.  As with most medicines, it can be beneficial in small doses and deadly when used incorrectly or abused. It has only been in the last 100 years that its medicinal properties have been mostly ignored.

 

Now, I am not encouraging anyone to go out and start smoking anything, and I am certainly not about to make it a habit.

 

I just know that when I was lost in the demands of life, I got this message from an old friend.

 

Slow down, she said.  Take it easy, hun.  

Remember you have laughter inside you that needs to come out.  You used to be fun, you used to be free.  I am here to remind you to let go, enjoy life, and love the hell out of this world.

 

I got the message, and I intend to cultivate freedom in my mind from now on, without relying on anything but the memory that yes, I can access relaxation anytime.

 

It is just a breath away.

 

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A Personal Creation Story

3994573757_dbf936bf5a_zThe Every One

I will tell it to you this way, my child, said the Great Father, and he swam into the air taking me by the arm and swimming me into the darkness of all time and space where everything and nothing lives until I, too, remembered my many arms and swam beside him.  He took me to a place thick and viscous and dark where I was surrounded by my brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, all creatures belonged to one another and became one another and none of us was ever alone or lonely.  Together we could do great and magical things, together we remained in a loving presence where none were left behind without being caressed by the embrace of the all-being of our transparent body and bodies.  We sang to one another beautiful songs of love and we acknowledged each for their part in the whole.  We were peaceful and affectionate, we mated by unifying our bodies completely as one becomes the other through osmosis.  We had many arms to hold one another.

Your ancestors were sent hurling through the stars in the form of a ball and landed where you are to bring peaceful vibrations to this planet you now live on.  You are carrying on this destiny and your supreme divine purpose is to love, to embrace, to become one in love with all whom you touch.  You may feel alone but you never are.  Your ancestors hold you and sing to you in your sleep.  Your brothers and sisters live in the oceans to remind you of where you come from even though you did not know it.  They visit you in your dreams to bring you comfort because you are so lonely away from your original people.  What you do on this Earth is more important than you know, and you have a great task and purpose to love and to listen deeply to the pain which you can wash away with your watery love.

You are happiest in the company of others who carry out loving acts in service to humanity.  This is your great truth.  Community is your home.  Service is your task.  Love is your food and essence.  Water is your life force.

The Inuit and the Maori come to you because they are water people from stars like ours.  You have another body in another world connected to this one, draw upon the strength and power of that giant body--you will become your true self when you breathe in unison and swim in unison and sing in unison with the All.

You need to be by the water.  New Zealand is also one of your homes on this planet.  You are right now doing to work of proving to yourself the real state of your being--One in Love.  Our God is called the One and the Every One.  It looks like the circles of a million tentacles pulsing in and out.  Our Creator made All.

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Love Letter #1

Waverly This is the day
your heart became the Earth 
kissed the sun on the lips
merged its juicy red sinews
to the hips of the moon
and all this oneness revealed burst forth from the walls of the dam you constructed when you told yourself you were never nor ever would be enough and you held back the beauty and the love and the wild ache for freedom thinking you could tame a soul which never could be captive, but oh you fooled the fates or so you thought because around those banks the flowers still bloomed and wept with joy when the bees came the willows and birches still arched their backs and dipped their toes into your warmth and herons dove to smell the salmon and salmon leapt to taste the spider and spider spun her web to catch the dewdrop and dewdrop shook into your eddy and eddy swirled to lap the fallen limb and limb made a bed for the turtle and turtle painted the legends of creation on its shell and creation lived on despite this blunder despite the damning and damming of the 75% of our being we call water and you remembered, you remembered you remembered that nothing can contain you nothing can contain you nothing can contain you.

Heidi Howes © 2014

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Each Rock Has a Spirit

grandfather stonesToday I woke up giving thanks. Today I offered tobacco at the foot of the maple

in my front yard, beside the rocks my daughter gathered yesterday.

 

You know each rock has a spirit, I said

as she loaded her heavy treasures into her patent leather purse

like they were precious friends she was carrying home.

 

She didn't answer when I spoke

what was still obvious to her, not yet forgotten

and if we are lucky perhaps she will be one who always remembers.

 

This one sparkles in the sun!, she says.

This one has stripes like a tiger.

A big dog licks my ear while I'm squatting.

 

How much do we miss each day

rushing from one indoors to the other?

What do the ancestors do when they speak and we don't listen?

 

Come to us as children, so we remember to remember

that each rock has a spirit, each tree a story,

and each day a thanksgiving.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Just Keep Swimming

12094798213_be4514c9da_z (1)I was feeling horrible for most of the summer.  Lots of pity partying, anxiety, and endless negative thoughts--if you are human you have probably been there. If you have lived with depression and fought overwhelming, crippling periods of darkness, then you can definitely relate. In life, I kept thinking that eventually I would arrive, that at some point through hard work and perserverence I would get to this place where success would happen because I was hard-working and because I deserved it for all my hard work and struggle and suffering and because I was a survivor, dammit. (Such a good little martyr I played).

Because I was a good person, and I loved a lot and I gave a lot and I cared a lot.  Maybe those things I knew to be true about myself seemed like the ticket to success would come to me, organically, fall in my lap.

So this summer for whatever reasons, be they situational or delusional or chemical, after many months of treading, my head went under for a while.  What seemed like a very long while, actually.  I thought I might fall apart completely, maybe lose my home, maybe end up in the hospital, maybe fail my children.

I hung out under water for a minute there--and this was dark, murky, Ohio lake water--not some perfect, clear, 20-foot visibility, white sand Hawaii water.

A year ago I had some big huge revelations, and as exciting as they were and still are--and the revelations keep coming--it seemed that because I had these seemingly monumental realizations about my life, I would soon be arriving somewhere.

To my destination.

To my purpose.

I was supposed to be getting there soon!

Instead I felt like I was sinking, drowning, failing at life.

So I gave up for a minute.  Took a look under water and got some silt in my eyes.

I said Fuck it.

It felt like forever, living in the “fuck it” moments.

Then I panicked.

Then survival instincts kicked in and I started flailing and I sent out an S.O.S. to my family and asked for help.  Which I rarely do, if ever. Because I am like a one woman island who seems to think she has to stay an island. Alone. Stranded. Forever.

Every good lifeguard knows that when a person who thinks they are drowning is flailing, they can be dangerous to try to save.  You gotta go in with a clear head and not get taken down with them.

It’s the silent ones who are actually drowning, and it happens oh, so quickly and oh, so quietly..

Like Robin Williams.  Like so many countless others who never showed a sign of any kind that they couldn’t swim and slipped away unnoticed into the abyss.

Even though I thought I might drown, my family didn’t think so.  They gave me a hand, pulled me to the surface and said--keep treading. Maybe they remembered I had been through worse, or maybe they simply knew the strength in me that I couldn’t.

So I don’t get to stop?  I don’t get a free pass, or at least a rotting log to lean on?

And my friends and family said “I love you”, and some made me dinner, and many sent me gifts, or sat next to me brainstorming, to get me through to regain my own sense of strength.

Because what I most needed was to remember my own strength.

So I begrudgingly kept going, until I wasn’t panicking anymore, and I accidentally swallowed a big, leggy, water spider.

And then my awesome friend said that transformation is a journey, not a destination.

And my head exploded.

Holy shit.

There is no arriving.

I get to let myself off the hook?!

So, there is only this huge body of water, and there are mucky parts and clear parts and parts where you swim with dolphins and parts where you swim with sharks and parts where you get stuck in the swamp tangled in long weeds?

There is no destination?

This one revelation was just the lifejacket I needed.

To give me enough buoyancy that treading water didn’t seem so hard anymore.

To give me enough hope that, maybe soon, I will start to swim again.

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100 Days of Poetry-Day 1

demons12x18full.jpg

Lost like me

 

Do you feel lost

like I feel lost?

 

Because everything you were told

about life has turned out to be a lie?

 

And here you sit, back against the bark

of the maple tree whose name you do not know

 

in the front yard of a house that you call yours

but really isn’t?

 

What shall we do with this betrayal--

the food that once nurtured us

 

now the food that is killing us?

In my heart I wish to hear the voice

 

of this tree, crabgrass, soil, stone.

My body lost her way on asphalt paths

 

lined by empty plastic bags.

But who am I to find my way?

 

Who are we to journey deep

into darkness where everything sings,

 

where dragons still breathe fire

to warm the hearth of our truest home?

 

There is no belonging here

afloat in the ocean of untruth.

 

It is only a pretend map we forgot

was a game we started long ago.

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Let me tell you a story...

symbolic-octopus-meanings-creative-inquiry-21365315

When we share our stories, we give a gift to the world.

I had forgotten this truth until very recently.

And yet, every one of my favorite people has shared their story with me intimately, with raw honesty, with vulnerable abandon. Why else would we be fascinated by the backstory of our favorite artists and celebrities?  We look for answers, for questions, for revelation in the experiences of those around us.

One of my dearest new friends was met on a plane ride back from my first ever trip to California last year.  I love the anticipation of sitting down on a plane because there is an almost mystical truth about travel which is that the synchronicity underlying life is much more apparent when we are out of our element, open to the moment, seeing the world with moving eyes.  I always find that the person I am sitting next to has a strangely relevant life message to share with me.

When I sat down in the middle, a gorgeous red-headed English woman was seated at the window.  I'm not sure how the conversation began, but I swear we didn't take a breath between L.A. and Columbus, we were so wholly engrossed in our conversation.  We couldn't have been more similar--both curvy, bright-eyed, sweet taureans with a penchant for the spiritual.

As women do, we discussed our jobs, then our most recent romantic forays, on to our divorces and then ultimately our families and childhoods.  We laughed, we cried--indeed we forged a celestial sisterhood that day.  She opened up to me about many of the most painful and beautiful life experiences she has had, and I walked away feeling blessed to have met her. Now, just over a year later, we are still friends who get together as often as we can and I have to pinch myself when I remember how we met!

All this is to say that you never know how your openness will transform you, how it will change and impact another.  That we don't give of ourselves completely, unabashedly, fearlessly each day is a travesty.  We simply can't allow the tedium of survival to tether us to the ground.  We must do all that we can to be alive in each moment, for that moment just might be the turning point for ourselves or another.

What story will you share today?  Leave it in the comments below...

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Miracles on my Journey to the World Domination Summit

Miracle #1

It's four weeks before the World Domination Summit.  I've been dreaming for a year, waiting for months, saving for the ticket to Portland, Oregon I am about to buy.  There is absolutely no practical reason I should be spending on a ticket or a trip but I try to forget practicality and groceries  and kids' shoes because I want my life to be so much bigger, I need to go further than this day to day.  I have dreams.  I have plans.

Our still-hyper two-year old puppy so wants to run into the big wide world beyond the leash, beyond the fenced-in yard.  She grew up on a farm after all.  Oh, how I understand her yearning to be free.  She gets out one day as the kids come in from school and I hear the car wheels screech on our busy street, see her tossed like some ragdoll across the road, move forward to pick her up, sick knot in my stomach.

The kids and I wait at the emergency vet hospital, nervous.  I know the plane ticket money is the only extra I have.  I am grateful I have it, even more grateful when the vet comes to tell us our beloved dog is just fine.

We call her superdog, the cat-dog with nine lives,  shed tears and swear it's a miracle.  But I know Imma need another one soon if I want to get to Portland.

Miracle #2

I give it up to the Universe, throw up both my hands, and hope I can pull off making up the savings to get the ticket.  I get another job working 2 nights a week teaching music lessons, half goes to the babysitter.  I answer an ad on Craigslist and sell buttons at political rallies, I even tell the customers that of course I support their candidate, not the other guy, throw up in my mouth a little.  I tell myself I can hustle.  I look for a third job.

I go to the food shelf because I don't have enough $ after bills for groceries this week or last week or next week.  I remember I am so grateful for a list of things that goes on forever and this too shall pass and when my son says Mommy are we poor? I say we are rich in all the ways it matters because we have so much love.  And that's the fucking truth.

WDS is now only a couple of weeks away.  My best friend calls, the only person in my life who knows how important this trip is to me because it represents freedom, adventure, service, and he says you are still going, right?  I say I don't think so.

I swallow my fear and ask for a loan from a close family member.  I cross my fingers.  He says yes, but that I won't need to pay him back.  I jump up and down and cry.  I'm gonna make it.

Miracle #3

I step on the plane in CMH en route to PDX.  Even as I am boarding I cross my fingers that nothing stops me from taking off.  I know all too well that at any time I may have to surrender to the overarching call of motherhood.

Miracle #4

Portland is a revelation.  The weather is perfect.

I'm staying at a hostel, which I haven't done since I was backpacking in Europe during college, and I am loving every second of it even though I manage to contract a nasty lung infection on my trip (and surely keep all 5 other people awake all night in my room with my snoring).  Nothing can bring me down at this point.  Every moment, every speaker inspires, motivates, and activates me.  I am surrounded by people who are saying YES to life.

It is a magnificent whirlwind and every minute worthwhile, but I can't be more surprised when we are presented with the $100 Investment.

Because I have been dreaming about how I can make a bigger contribution to the world, and how can I as a single mom with meager resources and daunting responsibilities?

But now here I am charged with this $100 bill and I know it is slated for just this purpose.  I won't touch it, not even if the dog gets hit by a car again (which, by the way would be the 3rd time).

Not until I know it will multiply 1,000-fold to bring greater freedom, adventure, and service to my family's life and the lives of many others.  And you better believe I am thinking about how I can help empower other single moms not only to get food on the table but also to believe in themselves, to remember that miracles exist everyday, and sometimes, yes, our dreams come true too.

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"I'll Never Be Happy Again."

Have you ever thought to yourself I'll never be happy again?

Did you accept your situation and regardless continue to work at the job you hated, stay in the marriage that became a prison, do nothing to change  the body you couldn't bear to look at?  Maybe you lost a loved one and felt that a piece of yourself died with them and didn't come back.

After months and years and more years of living in this way,we forget what happiness is altogether, and then we can no longer imagine it.  And if we can't imagine a thing, we can't attain it.

I remember a time when I had given up on happiness so completely that I was convinced happy people were faking it!  I used to think they are full of shit, why are they over there laughing, wtf? Nobody is THAT happy!

After my son was born I was miserable.  Not for lack of loving him or gratitude for my beautiful child, but because I felt so horrible in my body and mind. I had no idea how I was going to get through most days.  I would literally ask myself how am I going to get through this day?  I don't know how I did it, but I know I was very unhappy.

It's not the kind of unhappiness most people can notice in you, where you are happy today and then suddenly tomorrow you don't get out of bed.  It's a gradual overcast, a cumulative effect of dragging days, subtle losses, and little disappearing joys.  You don't even notice you are there, losing bits of yourself, until it is almost all the way gone.  And many of the people this happens to never really notice.  We have all met someone like this.

I spent the first two years of my my son's life just surviving, barely keeping my nose above the water line.  I knew it was postpartum depression deep down but I was scared out of my mind to take medicine or seek help from a doctor, (Iatrophobia, the fear of doctors, a not-so-pleasant after-effect of my Christian Science upbringing) so I tried yoga, meditation, acupuncture, cranio-sacral, St. John's Wort, talk therapy, walking, jazzercise, skin brushing...you name it, I tried it.  I would feel a tad better for a little while and hope that I had found the answer but then the crushing defeat always returned.

Years passed while I tried to claw my way out of that hole.  Knowing as I did that my children deserved to see their mother happy, to feel the warmth of my true joy, I fought for it even though I truly doubted I would ever win.   I fought hardest to maintain my faith that happiness and joy were my birthright, and that I would one day own them again.

It has been almost six years since I was officially diagnosed with PPD.

I can honestly say today that I have never been happier.

So how did I get from misery to happiness?  Was it an epiphany?  A revelation?  Did I find Jesus or develop a drug habit?

Daily vigilance.  Leaping into the unknown of divorce.  Following bliss and remembering how to have fun.  Doing it anyway, even if I was too tired or too down or too broke.

Some battles don't have a clear beginning or end.  My battle with depression and unhappiness felt like a lifetime in the trenches of some far off field.  The most important thing is, never ever give up.  Never stop fighting for happiness and health.

I promise, you will be happy again. 

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In the Aftermath of Divorce, an Unexpected Sisterhood

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1bcQMCZ5gU] It was a slow unraveling while inside the tapestry but in reality it was rapid, just a few short months.  Once he moved out I realized I couldn' t keep up with the chores involved in a wood-heated 5-bedroom farmhouse and maintain my full time job, mothering, and my sanity.  Not to mention the bills would be too much for me to handle now while paying child support to him.

Even though I knew it to be inevitable, it was hard to imagine downsizing.  We had dreamed of buying this gorgeous home on  20 acres, even signed a contract.  I loved the quiet of the country and the space.  We had picked up a new puppy just a week before I asked for a divorce.  I loved running each day on the back roads and watching the kids play for hours in the yard on the trampoline, skidding up and down the long country driveway.  Friends came to play and the children adored their home too.  It was idyllic.  It was part of a larger dream that had crumbled.

Eventually I realized that liberation would rise like a bird in the wake of letting go, and so downsize I did.

I moved with the kids into a small 2-bedroom ranch duplex one block from where I worked.  We were 4 blocks from the elementary school and one block from the daycare they attended afterschool.  No more stoking the woodstove at 5 am and 10 pm to stay warm and survive in the frigid Wisconsin winter, no more hauling kindling from the yard and firewood from the deck in my robe and gloves.  All I had to do was push the button on the thermostat and it was warm.  It made sense.  I could actually afford it, and the lifestyle would be much easier.  Here the kids shared a room and our furniture was sparse, and I slept on a single bed for the first time since college.

On the other side of the house was an aquaintance, a single mom whom I had met months before through work and had coffee with a couple of times while the kids and dogs played.  She was almost ten years younger yet had been raising her daughter on her own for five years already without much support to speak of.  She had fled the city after an abusive relationship, lost a job then found another, and hers was one of the most stressful jobs one could possibly have as a mother, in child protective services.  I admired her strength and tenacity, her faith in herself and her ability to keep going under more stress than I had ever known.  She had already learned how to reach out and ask for help, even from people she hardly knew like myself--it meant survival.  The night I kept her daughter after school last minute when she transported a child to detention far away I was amazed she asked and I was glad to help.  I didn't know then just how much she would eventually help me, and the many ways her friendship buoyed me in that ocean of uncertainty for months to come.

Within a short time after I moved in we were cooking meals together, having wine on our shared back patio late nights after the kids went to sleep, and I found she had a shoulder I could cry on.  The friendship we formed took the sting out of the loneliness of raising my kids on my own, and if I needed to run to the store or work late, I knew I could count on her.  We laughed until tears streamed down our faces and watched bad reality T.V. together.  We connected in a way I had never experienced before, and within the four short months we lived next to each other I swear she saved me.

Soon she would be married for the first time and so happy.  I watched her realize a dream she had had for so many years and find a man who would erase the bad memories and disappointments of her past relationships, a man whom she could finally trust.  When my kids and I moved away to Ohio we both cried, and I realized for the first time that what we had given each other was a community amongst ourselves when we needed it most .

Now she has a new baby and we talk less on the phone, I know she is enjoying her sleepless nights and her beautiful new family.  But that's okay with me.  We got through to the other side by holding hands and laughing, emerged anew as sisters who helped each other shine. [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGJuMBdaqIw]

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I Wish I Could Eat a Rainbow

I wish I could eat a rainbowI wish I could eat a rainbow, Mommy.I would grab it in my fingers and slurp it like spaghetti, rainbow juices dripping down my chin.

What would it taste like?, I asked her with a smile.

It would taste like clouds and sunshine and mist and M&M's, lemonade and cherry with strawberries and whipped cream. It would taste like flowers and the green of spring-- maybe for you the purple would taste like wine, but not for me-- for me it would taste like grape popsicle. It would be very filling.  My belly would be full from eating that rainbow.

I wish I could eat a rainbow too, I said.

You can, Mommy! There's one for you, grab it quick before it flies away!

And so I closed my eyes and reached up, pulled the rainbow to my lips, and tasted a miracle.

©Heidi Howes 2012

What would your rainbow taste like?  Let me know in the comments below...

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On How I Never Wanted to Be a Mother and Why it's the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me

MotheringWhen I was young, I never wanted to be a mother.  As a little girl I was a tomboy, worshipping my older brother and following my dad around. I don't think I ever even owned a Barbie doll or a babydoll.  I wanted to climb trees, play baseball, wrestle, and I never wore dresses.  Dresses mortified me.

Looking back I see the complex reasons why I wanted to associate with the male persona more, reasons like freedom and    going shirtless in the summertime (though that was forbidden after I was five).  Even as a child, especially as a child, I sensed the limitations and the lack of respect towards mothers held in our society.

Most of all I didn' t want to have my own children.  No, I wanted to travel the world and follow my own dreams and the message to me in my childhood was loud and clear that children are a burden and they keep you from your dreams.  Children limit you and hold you back and make you incredibly exhausted and disappointed.  No room for dreaming once they come along.

And so I lived for myself, for my own devices, going from thing to thing until one day I was 26 and suddenly I felt THE CLOCK.  Nothing so overwhelming as the urge to have a BABY.  It was a strange occurrence I never could've seen coming, until it was there smacking me in the face.  I had found my mate and it was time.

There is so little to prepare us for the complete life-alteration that is parenting.  The journey is mind-blowing to say the least, and sometimes I think so chaotic and insane that only in retrospect can we see how amazing it is.  My children are 8 and 5 respectively now and just as everyone tells you from the minute they are born (and man is it annoying how often people say this) it goes by so quickly, so painfully and heart-wrenchingly quickly.

Because I never rehearsed as a little girl nor dreamed of the children I would one day have, perhaps I bloomed late into my embrace of mothering.  But embrace it I do.

My children are my opus, my everything.  They are my reason for waking and my reason for collapsing.  I want to hold on to every second of their lives and remember, remember, remember.  This moment, gone.  That moment, so sweet.  A series of moments tied together by this rushing river of unbounded love.

How could I know?  Was I so naive to think there was any other miracle meant for me?

So if mothering these two children is the biggest thing--the only thing--I ever do, no matter how imperfectly or awkwardly, if this is my great body of work in this world--I am 100% at peace with that.  If I never write that book or screenplay or finish the album I feel compelled to record, I will be just fine.  If I never see Africa or South America, I will be fine.

Why is it the best thing that ever happened to me?

Little hands.  Sneaking into my bed to sleep next to me.  Laughter.  Screams.  Swinging in sunshine.  Playing for hours.  Pretending.  Seeing for the first time.  I love you, Mommy.  Little feet.  Bathtime.  Learning to read.  Prayers for strangers.    Why Mommy?  When Mommy?  Where Mommy?  Candy. Treasure Hunts.  Legos.  Spontaneous dancing.  Jumping on the bed.  Skipping.  Hopscotch.  Bedtime stories.  Lullabyes.  Backrubs.  Hugs.  Kisses.  Snacks before bed.  Climbing trees.  Sleepovers.  Playdates.  Skipping rocks.  Throwing ball.  Picking up from school.  Walking to the bus.  Waving goodbye.  Running to greet me.  Kisses.  Hugs.  Good morning.  I love you, baby.

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Is There Hope in Divorce?

hopeful divorce: field notes from a friend As with my journey through Postpartum Depression, my journey through divorce has been hard to talk about, and even harder to contextualize for my friends whose marriages go on while mine ended.  Bring into the equation the juggling of self-care, work, household duties, and 2 children now being managed on my own, there is little if any time to talk about it even if I wanted to.

I remember distinctly the day after the decision had been made.  I walked out into my small town community of about 2000 folks,most of whom knew about my divorce the second I did (as things go in small towns, word of mouth is still the most powerful marketing strategy).  There was a party at the local theater and a couple hundred of our mutual friends and acquaintances were there.  This was the first time I realized that marriage was something that held all of us couples together in a tenuous circle, that the dissolving state of my marriage was somehow,if only very subconsciously, threatening to those who were still maintaining theirs.  I tried to smile and engage and assure my friends that this was the best thing for all of us, because in these awkward social moments we must keep it together.  I spotted a woman who had been a single mother all these years among us very cliqueish couples, and I felt the weight of single motherhood drop like an anchor to the pit of my stomach.  I no longer belonged to the neat and pretty togetherness of marriage and family.  I was alone, de-husbanded, de-familied.  Suddenly the reality of it smacked me in the face and I felt utterly alone.

But at this point I was sure there was no going back,  and so I pushed forward reminding myself that fitting in was not going to bring me peace or happiness or anything.  I held my head high in public, though the inevitable sides were drawn and yes, there were those who shunned me.  I was demonized, gossiped about, judged and questioned.  I felt like I wore a scarlet letter everywhere I went.  Especially when messy decisions were made and life went on.

Even in the face of all the hardship that came with choosing the divorce, I continued to remind myself that better things were surely to come for all of us, and that divorce could be a way to truly finding those things we most needed but weren't able to find within the marriage we had created.  I made my own hope, in my heart, even when faced with excruciating decisions and questions involving the children I love so dearly.

It has been a little over a year since the beginning of my divorce process, and I can say a lot of it was very lonely.  But I have made it and I continue to make it.  I wish I had heard of a Hopeful Divorce then, but it is a brand new course from Hopeful World Publishing, and even though I am already past my first year, every field note I receive in my inbox helps me move forward, stop looking back, and breathe more easily knowing there are friends out there who understand.

So yes, there is hope in divorce.  Lots of hope.  And we are gonna make it okay after all.

hopeful divorce: field notes from a friend

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The Burning Question: What Would you like to Stop Doing?

Stop already.  Stop thinking you are less than,

stop saying your dreams don't matter, your desire

will wait.  Stop burying your muse under the mattress.

Stop believing that you are damaged, you can carry

the weight and therefore you should though you long

to be light, to be en-lightened, to walk in sunlight.

Stop making yourself small so others feel okay

in their smallness.  Climb the sycamore tree

in the ravine, take the kids to India, allow yourself

to make love to whomever, whenever, wherever.  Stop listening

to the fears that disquise themselves as wisdom.

Stop keeping your silence when you know what you want

from the world.  If this person won't listen

stop giving away your time and speak up

until you find the ones who hear you, who

want you to say more.  Stop thinking

that being a mother means you can't.

Stop limiting, stop regretting, stop wishing.

Stop thinking you are not enough.  Stop already.

You are everything you've ever dreamed of.

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