Category: motherhood


I’m applying for admission to an Interfaith Seminary, to get ordained as a generic spiritual leader and spiritual counselor.  Part of the application asks for a 2-3 page essay on my spiritual journey.  I was daunted at first, wondering how to put it into words and make it that SHORT.   A friend suggested to just write, and then edit it down later.  I got up early for the several days, before anyone else in the house, and this is what came… (and it comes in at exactly 3 pages!):

My early childhood was mostly non-religious.  We went to a Methodist church as a family until my parents divorced when I was six, then both parents stopped attending and religion was no longer a part of our lives.

Early in High School I got involved in the Christian youth group, Young Life, because a close friend invited me to go with her.  I felt compelled by the social acceptance and sense of community I felt there, and then started believing what was said about Jesus, the Bible, and God.  I found power and meaning especially in the Bible verses that glorified the power of God, emphasizing the works and laws of the spirit as greater than the works and laws of people.

I dove in, and attended all the weekly Bible studies, social evenings, and regional gatherings with other high schools.  I started dating a boy who identified strongly as a Christian, as did his whole family.  I attended church with them regularly, and we spent a summer teaching Vacation Bible School together.

Around this time, my mom started attending a Unity Church of “New Thought” Christianity.  At first, going with her to Unity felt like an extension of my new Christian identity, and I enthusiastically got involved in the high school group there.   The teachings of Unity about “Christ within” gave me an enriched understanding of Christianity that felt powerful and personal to me.  It brought all the history of the Bible into a new and relevant context.  Through new practices of meditation and guided self-reflection, I began to experience a connection with the sacred energy within me.

When my Christian boyfriend came to church with me, he was appalled by the blasphemy of the idea that all people have the same potential as Christ.  He said if I believed that, I wasn’t a real Christian.  After long hours of tearful debate, I conceded that I believed in “Christ within” more than the concepts of sin and salvation that we taught in Vacation Bible School.  He said he couldn’t date a non-Christian, and we ended our relationship.  His family, who had taken me in as a “third daughter”, told me they were very sad I was going to hell.

My new identity as a “non-Christian” was powerful to me, because it was a choice to go against what was socially acceptable for the sake of following my truth.  Looking for truth within me became my spiritual path.

For the rest of high school, I continued attending Unity and developing my understanding of the sacred flowing through all things, including through me.  I experienced deep self-acceptance, unconditional love with my peers, and respect from adults in the congregation.  The summer I graduated, I attended an international conference at Unity Village, where I participated in a long meditation to connect with my purpose in life.  When asked in the meditation “what are you here to do?”, the answer rose clear and strong from deep within me: “to help people learn to love”.   That was the first time I remember hearing the voice of spirit so clearly, and the message has been an important mantra of purpose throughout my life.

That same summer after graduating, we took a family vacation to Moab, Utah.  We camped out in the desert, and slept under a sky of stars that left me speechless.  Driving with my mom and her sister in an open Jeep through the wild canyons, laughing and singing, a new sense of inner freedom rooted in me.   We were “wild women”, full of power and potential, loving ourselves and each other and the amazing Earth that embraced us.

On the drive back to Denver, we stopped at a tiny truck stop on the side of the highway.  I took a walk through the woods to stretch my legs, and walked around a bend to witness a magnificent vista of a grand mountain rising above and reflected in a clear lake.  I stood in awe and gratitude, feeling my connection with the Earth and the spirit flowing through all things.  I got back into the car a changed person, devoted to the Earth on a spiritual level.

That moment marked the beginning of my exploration of Pagan spirituality.  I was fascinated by the practice of honoring the cycles of the seasons and using the elements of air, fire, water, and earth and the four directions for their different qualities.  In college I took weekly walks in the forest for “church”, learning to intentionally tap into that sense of connection.

My mother recently told me that she thought I had given up on spirituality while I was in college.  She didn’t know about those walks in the woods, and she also didn’t know the spiritual side of my academic work.  I majored in Religion, because those were the classes to which I felt most drawn. I studied “Myth and Symbol”, “Use of Dance in Aboriginal Rituals”, and “Images of the Divine in German Literature”. I eagerly explored the Bible as historical document, comparative analysis of Judaism and Christianity, the philosophy of religion, Confucianism, and Zen and Taoism.  These classes enlivened me.  Schoolwork wasn’t tedious – it was spiritual exploration.  In all my classes, I tried to weave the essence of the different teachings and doctrines into my spiritual understanding, and through that practice I developed a multifaceted sense of the sacred that transcended any one religion.  Since then, I’ve found it difficult to identify with any one religious category.

In parallel to my classes in Religion, I found myself passionate about the study of society and culture, and chose to also major in Sociology.  I loved wrapping my mind around all the ways that reality is filtered and obscured by the social meanings that we learn through our culture.  Learning to identify and disarm the social assumptions in my perception and understanding of the world around me became yet another spiritual practice.

My studies in Sociology led me to a determined belief that there must be a different way for people to live together, a culture that intentionally combats destructive social assumptions like racism, sexism, and classism, honors the Earth, and celebrates our connectedness instead of dividing people through economic competition.  A year after graduating from college, I learned about Twin Oaks, an “intentional community” (aka commune) in Virginia that had started in the 1960s and was still thriving.  I visited, loved it, and made it my home for 4 years.

At Twin Oaks I found a group of 100 people who were creating the life I had envisioned.  Working together, sharing, and cooperating were at the center of all social systems there.  I found myself connecting more deeply with people on a daily basis – in celebration and in conflict, but it was the depth of relationship that compelled me.  Our inherent connection with each other was undeniable.  So too was our connection with the Earth, as we lived rurally and ate from the garden, heated with wood from the forest, and worked and played outside most of the time.

At Twin Oaks I practiced the art of having integrity in relationships with others, and with myself – life on a commune doesn’t work, otherwise.  Through observation, mentorship, and trial and error, I learned how to be lovingly honest, compassionate, and accepting of hard truths.  This became a deeply spiritual practice of stepping beyond the layer of emotions and ego, learning to open my heart in the face of fear, developing a faith that what lay underneath my ego was far more powerful, and would lead me where I needed to go.  I attended, and eventually taught, workshops and retreats focused on various practices for creating healthy relationships based on these principles.  This became the bedrock of my current spiritual beliefs and practice.

I left Twin Oaks when I fell in love with a man who didn’t want to live there.  I knew deeply that he was my partner in life, and left the life I loved to marry him and create a life together.  I felt like I stepped off a cliff.  I stumbled through 4 years of early marriage and creating a life in mainstream culture.  My husband and I got tangled up in our differences and shut down to each other.  I sank quickly into the darkness of fear, self-judgment, and blame.  I didn’t recognize myself anymore, and I was so caught in the darkness that the idea of doing anything about it felt overwhelming.  I felt alone, ashamed, and hopeless, lost in the realm of ego.

After our daughter was born, I felt a spark inside me to get my life back on track, a refusal to raise my child in the life I was living.  I slowly recommitted to my practices of self-reflection and opening (writing, tarot, meditation), knowing I had to go through the painful process of looking at my life and facing what I had created, so I could change it.  I knew that the alternative of staying shut down and hopeless would ultimately be even more painful, for me and for the child who was looking to me for love and truth.

I began with the determined belief that a better life was possible, and stubbornly searched until new possibilities emerged.  My husband and I came back to conversations we had ignored because they created too much conflict.  We started to find the magic we had forgotten, the beauty of our differences working in tandem, and the joy of surrendering as individuals to the spirit of partnership between us.

Early in the process of recreating my life, I felt compelled to find a church.   After visiting the Quaker Meeting and the Unitarian Church several times and not finding what I wanted, I gave Unity a try again.  I immediately felt at home.  I cried through the service, and prayed with a chaplain afterwards to remember my strength and connection with spirit.

I started attending regularly.  Though the language didn’t match with what I had come to use for my spiritual experience, the message behind the words rang true.  I felt embraced by the congregation, supported lovingly in my process of coming back to myself.

I committed myself to my spiritual practice again, and the voice of spirit within me came clearer and stronger.  Listening and accepting became easier, and exciting. The teachings of Unity reminded me of the beauty and magic that unfold when I act in alignment with Spirit. My spiritual practice began to expand beyond self-reflection and contemplation, into the realm of action and creation, moving out of my mind and into my body.  I committed to the practice of following my inspirations, even when I didn’t understand them.

This has brought me to a new way of living in the world.  I tap into the web of energy that connects all things, and look to find my place in it, to feel inspiration.   I feel it as a tug within me, calling me forward.   When I struggle to feel the pull, I open again through writing, dancing, tarot, and meditation, listening for the distinct voice of spirit, the now familiar sense of knowing.

My current sense of this Divine Spirit is that it is the energy that composes all that is, the substance of the Universe.  It has a resonance and a movement that is growth, opening, and union.  Any sense of separateness is an illusion that distorts our perception, and this illusion is the source of fear, pain, and struggle.  When I release that illusion, surrender the ego to the flow of Spirit, my life aligns and resonates with all existence.  From that place, I know what is mine to do.

Moment by moment, again and again; this is the work of Living.

lots of fire!

Tomorrow is my 30th birthday — it feels pretty big, much more than any other birthday since 20, I think.  21 was no big deal because I already drank alcohol, and not much of it, so nothing really changed.   There’s something about my sense of self that changes with these decade birthdays… a shift in my perspective on who I am in the world.

30 feels like turning outward, after spending my 20s learning about myself and testing out my ideas and ideals.  My 20s was about experiencing and experimenting, opening up to new possibilities and pushing perceived limits… and then noticing how I felt, how other people reacted, and how I felt about other people’s reactions.  Data collection, my 20’s.

And now I have a sense of a mandate to act on the information I’ve gathered.  I know myself fairly well — I know my tendencies, my emotional and mental “gravitations”.   I know the well-worn paths and the traps that lie therein.  It’s my job now to take responsibility for all that, and navigate gracefully around the traps.

I know how to open when I’m shut down, and I know how I justify not opening up.  I know that I have a tendency to be controlling, and I know the power and the danger of that habit.  I know the things I need to do to take care of myself, and I know I enjoy life more when I do them:

  • EAT WELL– avoid wheat and sugar, and don’t skip meals
  • DRINK A LOT OF WATER — I need a beautiful water bottle that I carry everywhere, otherwise I forget to drink
  • GO TO BED EARLY — I can’t let Facebook suck me in night after night… I need to give myself a bedtime
  • WRITE IN MY JOURNAL DAILY —  I need a daily routine where I write at the same time every day (right now it’s when Aurora naps)
  • WORK WITH TAROT CARDS REGULARLY — I need to give myself over to magical experience to get out of the illusion that I’m in control here
  • GET OUT OF THE HOUSE WITH AURORA — I need to plan things the day before so in the morning we get up and GO!
  • WALK IN THE WOODS — I need to have time surrounded by the creations of raw nature, rather than the creations of people
  • WORK WITH PLANTS — I need a garden, and I need to be making medicine from herbs
  • DANCE — I need to have a regular date with myself for dancing, otherwise I let it slide
  • CHALLENGE MYSELF — I get bored if things are easy… I need to be challenging myself emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually if I’m going to feel satisfied with my life, because I want to be growing.

And the purpose of all of this is shifting to be more outward now — not just the development of self-awareness from my 20s, but now shifting outward to being of service, making my life a contribution to the communities I’m a part of.  This family, my circles of friends, this city, this world… humanity.   I feel like I’ve been scrambling since Aurora was born (15 months ago!) to reconfigure my modes of service.  It’s hard to be an “activist’ as I wash diapers and dishes at home.  As it’s all played out, though, I find myself focusing on theater and ritual as my contributions.  Jeffrey has supported me in performing in 2 shows in the last 6 months, staying with Aurora during rehearsals and performances.  The stage has always called me… from my first role as Goldilocks in kindergarten, right up to tonight’s opening night for Godspell.   Yes, this is a clear path for me.  Sometimes it seems like it’s so obvious that I forget I’m an actress, when I’m in angst about not having a focus, not having a “profession”.  I do, it just doesn’t pay.

Then the other path, more recently acknowledged, is that of holding space for ritual.  Being by my Grandma’s side during the last days of her life inspired me to pursue work as a chaplain, after I was already in training to become a doula.  Holding sacred space for birth and death (and marriage, and divorce, and other life transitions) is another clear path that stays lit when I’m confused about everything else.

I think writing all this out here helps me claim it, helps me say “YES — this is who I am right now, on the eve of my 30th birthday”.  Of course I have no idea what comes next, what I’ll learn in this next decade.  But, controlling as I am, I know I thrive when I have a clear and tangible plan for where I’m headed… even if it turns out to completely change.  I’ve learned that much about myself… so I move forward with that information, doing the best I can.

a new way

A lot of my friends these days are focused on “old ways” of doing things, “primitive” skills like hunting and skinning their own meat, making fires without matches or lighters, wild food and medicine, living in wigwams… I’ve found myself attracted to a lot of this, especially collecting wild edible and medicinal plants.  I love being sustained by the earth, instead of by an exploitative system (exploitative of people and the planet).  “Primitive skills” also came into my world of childraising, through the book “The Continuum Concept”, a popular book about one woman’s observations of childraising practices of a South American indigenous tribe.  I read it while I was pregnant, on my self-imposed retreat in the Smoky Mountains last January.  Curled up in a cozy cabin outside of Gatlinburg with an ever-expanding belly, I earnestly read about the ways the Yequana Indians nurtured their children, who never yelled, cried, or peed on the floor.

The book is a convincing argument, and I’ve spent these first seven months of Rora’s life looking to the “old ways” for guidance in parenting my daughter.  I joined the “CC” email group, but the daily digests quickly piled up, as I’m spending less time in front of the computer than I have since the internet became widely available (my junior year of high school, for the record).  I’ve found alot of insight and useful perspective from asking myself, “what would the Yequana do?”, and a lot of frustration as well.  I don’t live in a tribe — nothing close to it.  We are at home, Rora and I, quite often by ourselves.  Our home is modern, with tables and electrical outlets and flush toilets.  I’ve found myself sometimes caught up in an anxious critique of my life, thinking “this isn’t how it’s SUPPOSED to be!” and “if we lived in a tribe, <current challenge> wouldn’t even be an issue!”

Jeffrey and I had a conversation today that went something like this:

me: I’ve been noticing that Rora likes it better when I’m doing things on her level, like when I fold clothes on the floor, better than when I do things up on counters and tables, like chop veggies in the kitchen.  If I were working around a fire pit, I’d always be on her level and she wouldn’t get frustrated!

him: A lot of tribes had fire pits built on mounds so they could work standing up.

me: No, they didn’t.

him: Yes, they did.

me: unh uh!

him: unh huh!

So the conversation about how we should design our lives hinges on an argument of what other people did in the past.  I woke up tonight with a shift in perspective — not sure where it came from, but it hit me hard, right in the center of my chest.  Now as I sit in front of the screen it seems simple, but here it is: instead of looking to the “old ways”, or to the newest child development literature, I want to look to my deepest self for the answers to the questions of how to raise my daughter.  I want to ask myself “what do I want to do?” instead of “what should I do?”.  My perspective is informed by that “old way” wisdom, and also by the things I learn about “cutting-edge” parenting techniques (which don’t actually seem so different)… but I look for answers within instead of from the outside. This will keep me working with what is, the raw material of our lives, instead of longing for what isn’t, some ideal I’m trying to hold myself to.  I want to be constantly asking myself “what resonates with my spirit?”, having faith in the answers that come, and in my ability to live by them.

This morning I danced with Aurora in the living room, classical music blaring from the kitchen.  Moving my hips with her snuggled against my belly reminded me of dancing with her the night before she was born, finding my body connection with this new being.  Now she’s not so new, and our body connection is ever evolving.  I love the way my body responds innately to hers, the way my foot moves to cushion her head when she falls, the way my nipple magnetically connects with her mouth in the dark of the night as we snuggle in bed.  Laying on my back, I lift her on my feet, high in the air, confident of our mutual balance.  We’re a team — she’s my sidekick, and I’m hers.

Sometimes I get stuck in feeling like she’s a chore to do, a responsibility that if I just get it done then I can go play.  Those are the overwhelming moments when I just want my independence back, so I can do what I want to do.  And then we dance together, or play peek-a-boo, or she smiles at me… and I catch a glimpse of this new stage of life — MOTHERHOOD — where I’m not operating alone, ever.  Even more so than living in community, my life is about interdependence, living in tandem.  When I give myself over to that experience, when I don’t fight it, I love it.

the baby’s gift

I think people love babies so much because they irresistably bring us into the present moment, and they tend to make the present moment pretty darn enjoyable!  This is my daughter’s lesson to me today (and all days) — to slow down, to look around, to drink in each moment (as I interact directly with her *and* as I thin carrots while she plays on a nearby blanket, and as I write now while she explores the bedroom).  Thanks, Aurora, for this gift.

I love my daughter.

yearning for the edge

Aurora is asleep in bed next to me, and I’m typing on the laptop I inherited from my Grandma a week and a half ago.  Today I found a refreshed determination to WRITE.  This is my mode of self-reflection and of engagement with the world around me — this is how I’ve learned to go deeper in my understanding of my experience… and that’s exactly what I need right now.

And blogging, different than journaling, holds me to a standard of keeping it *relevant* — not just bellybutton gazing and self-sympathizing.  With blogging, I keep thinking of the reader asking “so what?”.  How does my experience relate to the larger world?  That’s a big piece I feel myself missing these days, as I putter around the house with Rora in the sling, washing dishes and laundry for a whopping 5 people (compared to the 100+ people I used to serve with my daily actions).  I keep asking myself “so what?”… and rarely come up with a satisfactory answer.

This lifepath is turning out to be boring, lonely, and frustrating… I spend too many hours alone with 5 month old Aurora, without people to bounce ideas off of or to provide fodder for my mental and emotional growth.  These days, I feel incredibly stagnant.

AND, at the same time, I feel the fire burning in me, the passion just waiting for fuel.  I ask myself daily, “what can I do?”… and then Aurora wakes up or bumps her head, and the question drifts away.  So I’m going to write, nightly, after she falls asleep.  I’m going to use this time to bring the questions forward and keep my fingers moving through the self-doubt and fear and see what answers come.  Until she wakes up, and maybe even keep writing through the nursing, thanks to Grandma’s laptop and our neighbor’s wireless connection.

SO WHAT?

So I’ll be more able to be present with Rora, so I’ll be a better mom, so I’ll be back exploring at the edge instead of in the muddled middle, and the edge is where I grow, where I learn.  So I’ll be more alive, and happier, so I’ll have more to offer the world around me, so I’ll be a better mom.

Getting it all out of my head helps make it more real.  I’m going to write, and through writing, remember who I am.  For myself, for my daughter, for all the people in my life, and for (  ) … the spirit that permeates all.

This morning I watched Rora try to roll over in my mom’s bed, softer than ours at home. I snuck out of bed to write in my journal while Rora was self-entertaining with her toes. I sat in a chair at the foot of the bed in the small room, listening to Rora’s contented sounds as I wrote. When I finished, I took the opportunity for quiet observation of my daughter, who was totally focused on her new task. From laying on her back, she’d flip over using the strength of her legs, like usual, but the fluffiness of the bed prevented the rest of her body from following and she kept returning to her back. She tried at least a dozen times while I was watching, out of determination rather than frustration. She was exploring and experimenting, trying to figure out what the trouble was. She finally found that she could grab the fabric of the pillowcase to hold her body in place once she had her first arm over, then wriggled her second arm — stuck beneath her body in the nest of fluffiness — out from underneath.
Watching my daughter this morning, I remember that life is about experimenting, learning, growing. None of us have it all figured out. I can only keep exploring what’s possible, and enjoy myself while I do it!

Babies and Poop

More on baby Aurora…

The childbirth experience was a mixture of sweet ecstasy and intense physical and emotional work. And in the end, a baby came out… in the bathroom, because I thought I had to poop.

Free: “I see something!”
Me: (screaming) “It’s poop!”
Free: “No, it’s the baby!”
It turns out that I wasn’t going crazy… lots of women have this experience.

Aurora and I have been having a sweet time getting to know each other as we lay in bed together. I’m on orders to stay in bed for 2 weeks due to a tear in a tricky place — ugh! I’m trying to enjoy the rest as a luxury… but I miss working in the garden and being a part of daily life around here. Free and the kids are treating me like a queen, though, so I can’t complain.

This baby is pretty delightful — lots of sleeping, nursing, and wide-eyed observation (during the few hours she’s awake). She doesn’t have a last name yet, because Free and I haven’t figured out how to balance practicality with idealism (isn’t that the quintessential struggle?). So for now, she just has two middle names, two ecstatic parents, and a lot of poop.

love,
tickledspirit and Aurora (Rori, Froggy, Sugar Snap, Pea Pod…)

AURORA EMBER RUTH!

Welcome to the world, Aurora Ember Ruth! Born Monday, April 28 at 8:45pm, in the bathroom (I thought I had to poop).

breathing…

Last night I though I might be starting the birth journey, and I panicked! So much nervousness and “But I haven’t yet done…”

Thankfully, that was just a practice experience, and I got to see how I’m not being open and ready for it to come. So, my intention today and for the days to come is to seek full presence in the moment, to clear my To Do List with intention and ease, and dance, meditate, paint, breathe myself into the moment, into full acceptance of What Is.