Taoism and Unavoidable Change

When I look back at certain historical times of pleasure – be it joyful or just interesting, hopeful, or filled with vitality – I sometimes think to re-create this time. I may try to gather all the variables of that era and place them back together. I want it to be just like it was, for there was comfort and wonder in that time, and the nostalgia warms my heart!

Yet, I have learned that we cannot turn back the clock entirely. The same people with their individual qualities are no longer available. The old familiar setting would not be accessible. The earnestness with which we gathered cannot be replicated, nor forced. It had originally come to us as all unexpected wonders do – most naturally!

No, indeed, I cannot copy and paste then into now.

How sad.

But wait! This does not have to be a tragedy. This memory is rich with soulful emotion, but there might be something I have not considered. It might be true that I have lost something beautiful. But it could also be true that something else just as lovely can still occur. Something different but just as good. Something strange and unexpected but equally wonderful. Something more in place of what seemed plenty. If I stop worshipping how it used to be, and I begin to imagine what else might form, what fits into the new version of myself, what fantastic possibilities exist, then I have awakened to a state of mind most precious to the way of the Tao.

The Tao asks us to roll with it, and by “it”, I mean nature. NATURE is always changing, evolving, transforming, and those most content with life will accept the shifts, upsets, and regrowth of our natural world. For it is not all that pleasant to sit around wishing things were the way they used to be. We can be grateful for the past, its beauty and its lessons, and still recognize that we are not meant to be static. We are meant to always be morphing. I will not be afraid. Surely, to have faith is to trust that change should not presume catastrophe, nor should we deny the power of change and the shape of potential improvement.

Step dogs

I am a cat lady.

I love the silent prowl of the cat. I love the nudging of their tiny face into my chest, the soft purr of their vibrating body against my belly, the way they sleep sitting up. Everything about a cat exemplifies “cool”. They don’t care too much about anything; therefore, their attention feels like a privilege. There is no desperation in a cat. I cannot imagine anything more admirable, really.

But my partner Bob has two dogs. And we all live together.

If I were not deeply in love with my partner, you and I would not be having this conversation. Fortunately and unlike me, or unfortunately as the case may be, my partner has a heart of gold. Giving up the dogs is absolutely not an option.

These dogs are exceptional because they are XXL dogs. Weighing 130 and 180 pounds, both tall enough to lay their snout on the dinner table, or meet me face to face when I lay in bed, or to pet their heads when we go for a walk – without stooping in the least.

Finnegan, the six year old Newfoundland, who is often compared to an adorable bear, or what I call the Great Plains Bison, drools buckets of slobber throughout the day and tends to vigorously shake his head due to ear issues, allowing his jowls to empty onto the walls, windows, floors, the highest cupboard, my clothes, and one time my plate. This fluid, sometimes gone unnoticed, will harden to the consistency of cement.

Griffin, the Great Pyrenees, is elegant and to my great relief, dry. Unfortunately, at four years of age, he has developed a relentless form of anxiety, particularly separation anxiety, and he will urinate or “mark” one of 100 locations in the home whenever we leave. He has not been kenneled, so the expert theory is that kenneling will at this point only make matters worse. Even leaving him locked in a single room will only generate a deeper, long-term nervosa.

Then there is the barking. Two massive beasts bellow simultaneously when a leaf falls from one of our many trees, when a car drives down the road on the other side of the neighborhood, when a child shouts at such a distance there is no way to know what they actually said. If I place my cup on the wooden table, a cacophony of fog horns ensues.

Every time they bound through the room, my body tenses, and sometimes, if I don’t see the bark coming, I will flinch and even gasp despite myself. My nerves are shot. Did I mention I am a cat lady?

The dogs are high maintenance. Because it is over $200 to have them groomed, we must wash them ourselves at the local pet wash, and because they have double coats of fur, we must brush them for over one hour on Sundays.

Finn takes a few daily meds for eyes, ear, and skin care. Occasional claw trims, and a basket full of clean cloths to head off the drool. Grif requires a daily walk to stave off his nervous disorder along with a dose of melatonin.

Both dogs are insatiably needy for contact. They want to be in the same room with us at all times, especially if I am cooking, or Bob is working from home.

My cats are not happy about any of this.

These XXL dogs don’t have a long lifespan. Newfies can go about 8-10 years. That leaves me a dog owner for at least 2 more years. The Pyrenees has another six years to go. A close friend jokingly asked me if there were any way to expedite their “passing.” I said, “Yes, there are always ways to take care of such burdens.” We chuckled and said nothing more.

However, as time wanes and our new home life marches on, I am finding something also to be true. Bob and I are empty nesters. While our combined six kids are out there in the world, we now turn to the needs of these other living things. Even though we are slowly training the dogs to calm the fuck down, we are witnessing something in each other that would otherwise be lost: we are parenting these wild teens together. We have a common purpose which is to give these monsters a safe and loving space, where they can thrive. Where we can all thrive together, an experience we would both have missed having become a couple so late in life. Every time I watch Bob with his dogs, okay, okay, OUR dogs, I see a beautiful, gentle man who longs to accept them and to be responsible, dutiful. I feel a deep reverence for this man and his capacity to love these creatures.

Sometimes Finn is warm and dry and sweet and that is when I let the witch in me soften and lay my face along his back and draw his power into me. Sometimes I watch Grif from the upstairs window while he stands on the back hill, a purveyor of his one acre kingdom, a source of mighty protection, his long white hair flowing in the breeze.

Finn is actually pretty easy, since he sleeps most of the day and doesn’t seem to mind the cats. When I walk Grif, I can tell that strangers are in awe of his great dignified stature. I feel like Artemis with her wolf companion.

I understand something now which never occurred to me in the beginning of all this: all the horrible stress of caring for these dogs has a payoff. Since I am choosing to love these boys with their ridiculous levels of need, I am reminded consistently why I choose to do it. I do it because I love Bob. I do it because it is the right thing to do. I do it because in the end, I am capable of it. I do it because, damnit, life is not meant to be perfect, nor controlled, nor easy. My life with these two uninvited hairballs is full and often entertaining. Caring for the dogs is actually my only real challenge these days. I have been around long enough to know that that is a first-world problem. I suppose that makes me a pretty lucky girl.

It’s Just Not Personal

I have been hearing a voice in my head. It tells me I am crazy, lost, unworthy, a poser, and stupid and ugly. It tells me I am loud and absurd, that people don’t understand me. It tells me I am alone and that the only safe place on this earth is by myself. It tells me I cannot rely on others, and that if I make a mistake, they will leave me without explanation. This voice reminds me constantly of how many times I have been let down. This voice is cruel and fear-driven. This voice is the inflated and injured ego that lives inside my mind.

But lately, I have been talking back.

What if every single thing that someone did, said, believed, and decided had absolutely nothing to do with me? What if each time I felt confused, annoyed, hurt, dismissed, attacked, or offended, I actually made a choice to not take it personally? I am beginning to think that this just might be closer to the truth than anything I have ever known.

Let me give you an example: If my friend habitually cancels our plans at the last minute, this voice might say, “She does not care about me, about us. She probably doesn’t even like me all that much.” I might then complain, and I might harbor resentment. I might push her out of my life. I might even do it with an air of judgment. Perhaps I feel rejected because I do not trust my own lovability. Perhaps I tell myself that I am too easy on my friends and should demand them to be more reliable? Yet, there are many good reasons my friend might cancel that have nothing to do with me.

Isn’t anyone’s pattern of unreliability more about them? Doesn’t it suggest many possibilities, like they are just not good at planning; they get overwhelmed easily; they’re just hoping I will have grace; or they could not predict the unforeseen? Is it not more likely that they struggle to say no, or they do not think to check their calendar before committing?

How does this have anything to do with me?

And even if it were about me, as if they were afraid to tell me they need a change, isn’t it their job to do so? Is it not their responsibility to be honest and let me in on it?

This only furthers my idea that such mismanagement of time and devotion is in fact NOT about me.

Additionally, let’s say someone thinks they have the corner market on reality. Let’s say, for instance, they are atheist. They do not believe in any source of a higher power, nor do they honestly respect those who do. Spirituality is hogwash for the weak. Let’s just say for the sake of my argument about that voice in my head, that I find them to be disappointing, naive, closed-minded, or blind. Clearly, we are at an impasse. We will possibly never agree as to whether or not some version of a god exists.

My ego, that defensive voice within, is ready for a fight. I want to convince this atheist that he is wrong and launch into the myriad ways in which it is undoubtedly obvious that my faith in a higher being is the better way, the best way in fact.

This is exactly when I need to pause. I can come up with twenty reasons as to why they think the way they do as they are sharing their beliefs with me. I can break it down and construct a multitude of ways in which their values do not coincide with mine. I can declare that I have lived this path and could write and have read an entire library on this subject.

Instead, I pause. Then I have a little chat with that voice in my head. It goes something like this:

Truth voice: Wait. This isn’t about me. This person is not even asking me what I think.

Ego voice: This has everything to do with me. I spend the better part of every single day almost obsessing about my spiritual world, my teachings, my rituals, my connection to the divine. My beliefs are a relentless and vigilant value which feeds and sustains my soul. This is who I am!

Truth voice: This person does not base his beliefs on what I do or feel or think. They base their atheist views on their own reality.

Ego voice: Why don’t they care what I think? Don’t they know how insulting this is? Do they even know me? This sucks!

Truth voice: This person may grow hostile if I insist on being heard and understood right now. If I cannot allow them their own mind, I am a hypocrite.

Ego voice: I wish I could control what they think.

Truth voice: I wish we could share a common ground on this subject. Well…we do share some common ground. We share friends, a community, basic decency and a love for the arts and the earth, and being our best selves. We share a sense of humor. We laugh together all the time. I love him. He is my friend. He is a good friend, even if he doesn’t consciously worship the divine inside himself or outside of himself. Perhaps he just doesn’t name it in the same ways I do.

This sort of conversation in my head is helping me. I am learning to let go of being understood much of the time. I am seeing that holding love for others has very little to do with me. Except that I have to also love myself. I have to love myself exactly how I am without convincing someone that I have value, that my beliefs have value.

Ego voice: If people really loved me, they would validate me.

Truth voice: If people really loved me, it is because I have the capacity to validate them.

Keep Your Love Alive, and Stop with the Labels!

I have seen a lot of comments on social media about our need to rid ourselves of “toxic people.” Yes, it is a grand change to decide that harmful relationships are something we may actually choose or reject. Nonetheless, I balk at the implication that any one person is entirely, well, anything. I caution you to beware those who launch into sweeping generalizations about those with whom they struggle. Perhaps they are many bad things, but I am interested in just what role we ourselves play in our choice to dismantle a relationship, to tear away, to burn it to the ground. It seems like a truly spiritual life will entail a bit more than ghosting or blaming or reducing a human being to the status of garbage. This reminds me also of the label, “narcissist,” as though we are all psychologists with the expertise to determine the actual one percent of bonafide excessive and harmful narcissism that truly exists. Offense is not always the best defense.

What about the narcissist who lives in each and every one of us? Can we just have a bit of compassion and dial it down on the unfair and overly broad definitions? I have seen narcissism in a lot of people I treasure. So what? It is my boundaries and my self-esteem that can protect me from all that, not attacking them with ferocity. If you really know who you are, no one is any real threat. And that leaves the door ajar for your loved ones to be flawed and messy and sometimes downright wrong.

The injury caused by these character assassinations is real, but more so, we are neglecting to see that the extremes of a person’s behavior is typically rooted in pain. Fear is another large factor in someone’s poor choices. Perhaps we could just settle down a bit and recognize how deeply this person needs to be loved. It is one thing to distance yourself as you see fit. It is an entirely separate thing to publicly or even privately demonize them.

I’m not just talking about romance either; although that is a biggie. Relationships with friends, siblings, parents, kids and coworkers are just as relevant in our choices to keep on keepin’ on. In fact, the way we walk, talk, think, and feel about all of our relationships is good practice for romantic love. This is about our capacity for intimacy and deep need for all of the varied relationships we hold. The common denominator is within me…or you…as the case may be. How do I behave when someone I care about is being difficult, maybe even ridiculous? My experience is that most people just pull away without any real explanation, and leave that person floundering in confusion.

My modus operandi is to retreat! I have often determined this woman is a wicked slut, or that man is an abusive monster. Generally with a indignant attitude, thus justifying my choice. Today, I see the signs of how I might have done it differently. I am more open to how I could have kept the love alive, even if it meant just having a different or distant relationship, instead of a hostile relationship.

A few things I do today are helping me to stay in relationships without losing my self in the process.

First, gentle honesty. If I am going to jump ship, I try to express what it is that I need and give them a chance to try. At least I can do that much out of respect for what we have been.

Second, I see the struggle as a way for me to grow, to evolve into a wiser and more refined woman. Go ahead, do that thing that I hate. Then I will be forced to review who I am, what I truly believe about myself, and how I can use grace and compassion to speak my truth.

I have people in my life that hold accomplishment and financial wealth as a measure of one’s character, a common American view. This always pricks my heart, as I have turned away from such things and live with less than I could earn. Does this mean people I love see me as a loser? If my kids don’t attend college, much less the best colleges, does that mean we are failures? What if they struggle all their lives with a meager income? Should we carry shame for it?

Let me tell you something. This is not about those who may judge us. This is not about their standards either. This is absolutely and undeniably about my own sense of human worth, dignity, and the fact that I am finally okay with my own life choices and the ways in which I have also not been lucky. If I am truly at peace, they will see it. They will understand that their measurement is no threat to me. I love my simple life and all the struggles that befall me, as they are a mirror for my strength and my own priorities.

Likewise, if someone I know begins to compete with me, sees me as a threat to their own value, I know full well that only my love will make them question it. Only my deep, sincere desire for their wellness will bring down their walls. If that is not enough, then I must detach from the system in which they live. Sadly, I must release them to their own lessons. But damnit, I am not going to angrily shun them, call them names, and declare my superior status. Because I really just need to grieve that they cannot love me and celebrate my strength. They cannot reap the rewards of my love if they persist in their comparisons and their own unhealed pain.

If the people in my life are cruel, I can love myself without hating them. I can even appreciate those parts of them I still love. I can commune with the divine and thank them for allowing me to not defend, not blame, not stonewall, nor dismiss them. I can protect myself and still keep my love alive.

Smoothing Our Jagged Character

In a world of unavoidable negotiations, I am a raw, spiked rock, pushing against others, sometimes even scratching or poking them.

I aim to be a tumbled, smooth, shiny stone.

Those rough edges have been with me since I first learned how to engage with others. I learned a lot of bad behavior from those who raised me, and I come by some of it innately, as if my genetics calls forth some battle or an aggression within. But the truth is I don’t really like certain things about myself. Sometimes, when I leave a conversation, I cringe at how I behaved, and it feels like this is who I am. This is a part of me that I cannot help. This shitty person is me.

Well, that is a lie.

I can change. I can consciously remove these poor behaviors, if I am actually willing to admit they exist. I know I can. My spirit is strong, and I believe that rooting out these behaviors will only set me free. Then I can feel better. I can show up better for others, and I can practice the very things that build a more spiritual life.

Consequently, as a woman who wishes to be her best self, to fully self-actualize, and to love myself entirely, I made a plan. I am going to share that plan with you now. It is my own self-induced 100 Day Challenge!

Behavior #1: Giving Unsolicited Advice

I have been around for 56 years. I have been through a lot. I have some hard-earned wisdom. But no one wants to hear my opinions when they are not even asking. When I launch into the varied ways in which they can solve a problem, or improve their situation, I am letting my ego drive the car.

This has to stop. And let me tell you something: This is not an easy thing to change. I have worked on it a little bit for a long time, but I have a long way to go.

When we decide to stop a behavior like this, we must fill the void with new behavior. We cannot work in a vacuum. So my intention is to start doing something else; in place if my excessive sharing, I will now do three other things. I will listen fully, really zero in. I will ask investigative questions – NOT LEADING QUESTIONS like an attorney who is implying one answer – but exploratory questions, to elicit the sort of further understanding that illuminates the speaker’s feelings, facts, and conclusions. Finally, I will parrot back to them what I have heard. When I tell people what I am hearing, they can either say, “Yes! That is what I am saying!” Or they can correct me, “Not exactly.” Then more information is shared and they get to feel heard. Feeling heard is really what most people want. They don’t actually want to know what I think all that often. In fact, saying nothing of my own thoughts is far more likely going to clarify what they really want from me. I would save myself a lot of energy and time if I stopped assuming they are looking for advice when they simply are not.

Behavior #2: Complaining

When I am stressed, or I feel invisible, or my needs go unmet, I tend to bitch a lot. I complain about everything under the sun. The weather. My body aches. My lack of time. Other people. My plans. My food. My furniture. My chores. Everything. How do I stop that? At the outset, I must shut it up. But then where does all that negative energy go? Just stopping it will only bury it in my muscles and stomach. That causes disease. And if you think I was complaining before, just wait until I have a disease.

Therefore, I have to replace that behavior with a question: Is there anything I can do to fix it? If the answer is yes, I guess I know what to do. But if the answer is no, I must ask for what I need. Ugh. Who the heck wants to ask for what they need? Not me. I don’t like counting on others. I don’t like to impose. I don’t like to be vulnerable. I really don’t like to hear a rejecting no either. So, instead of asking, I complain. My new self is going to start telling people what I need. I bet you most of the time I will get exactly what I need. If I am not getting what I need, perhaps I will learn to accept it, or perhaps I need to find some new friends, right?

Behavior #3: Seeking Credit

I like to pull my weight. In fact, I like to make sure no one ever suggests that I don’t do my share. The issue is not that I am lazy, or insufficient. It is that I want credit for all that I do, so I can glean all the feel-goods of people acknowledging my good work. I want approval. I want to be seen. I want to be valued.

It isn’t enough that I know I have value. I want to know that others think I have value as well. I suppose in this way, I am competitive, and perhaps too, I am keeping score.

So that’s gross.

What will I do instead? I will observe. I will remind myself that I like doing these things. I like to be of service. I like to keep order in my home. I like to be productive. I like being actively useful.

At the end of the day, most people do acknowledge my efforts. Most of the time, I am given a thank you or a good job! I don’t want to spend my time wondering if someone will notice. I want to spend my time satisfied with my own willingness to contribute and leave it at that. Thus, no more waiting for the kudos. Now, I will do these things because I like myself more when I do. If no one notices, I guess they must be focused on more important things.

How will I know if I have become a shiny, smooth stone? I will tell my closest people what I am trying to do. This gives them permission to help me, and to hold me accountable. I will journal every day, recording my progress, download the struggles, the lessons, and the observation of my self. I know these behaviors won’t change just because I want them to. It will be two steps forward and one step back. These things are a challenge; otherwise, it would have changed long ago. I have to not apologize for my slips, but ask for do-overs, to try again. I have to balance being gentle with myself and holding myself to a higher standard. I have to practice. It takes time, fortitude, and pride in the fact that I am trying. Part of my spiritual practice is to be honest with myself about how I am showing up. I am confident I can do better, and it feels right and good.

Monsters Need Boundaries

Confession: There is a monster living inside me. She is a lurking, tricky, messy girl. This dark, fiendish one is a part of me. Right now, she is small and almost completely harmless. She sits like a tiny seed inside my brain and has the capacity to break open and sprout. If she is watered with attention, she springs forth an invasive species, consuming me, choking me, and spreading her wretchedness toward everyone I love.

Her name is Suspicion.

Like all shadowy beings, my monster is born of pain. She used to trust people too much. So when the tower of security came tumbling down, she learned fast: Do not be so naive; do not be so cocky. Be something else. Be suspicious.

Then a new day dawned. Years ago, as I became more invested in my then romantic partner, my monster took over my life. I began to investigate, and I began to snoop. Once I had a taste of uncovering secret information, I couldn’t get enough. It became an obsession. The monster now dominated most of my thoughts. It’s sole target was my lover. I knew something was up and I proceeded to prove it. I would wait for him to leave and I would read his journals. I began sneaking onto his phone when he was in the shower, or visiting with others on the patio. At first, it was just a few pages, or an overview of his texts. It was strangely exciting. It made me feel empowered. Eventually, I took great risks to view his photos, his social media messages, his journals and belongings from his past. Suspicion was in charge. Not me.

I learned so much too. I learned that he had been cheating on me. I learned he was hiding drugs in my home. I learned he had almost zero interest in me. He had noted that I was terribly unremarkable. It turned out that my search for the truth was fruitful. The monster inside me was relentless now. I felt justified.

But I wasn’t justified.

I was a monster.

My monster was destroying my spiritual core, the knowing that everything will go as it will and I will be okay no matter what. I had come to think I had to control the outcomes. I no longer believed that fate was going to intervene on its own.

Once I was single again, there were a few lessons I came to understand when I finally contained the monster, having crammed it back into it’s little space, hopefully never to be poked again.

I learned that the facts are not always necessary to justify how one feels. Just feeling that way is enough to demand a change. I don’t need to prove to someone that they cannot be trusted. I need to honor that I do not find them trustworthy, period.

I learned that when someone hides things from me, it is not mine to reveal. It is theirs to carry. They can walk around with that filth. I can just keep living my life free of such burdens.

When a person refuses to mind their own business, they shatter what is sacred – another person’s privacy, sure – but more so their own self-worth. The madness that ensues from distrust is horrific and staggering. The craziest thing about my own situation is that I slowly realized he was purposefully leaving his things out, tempting me to look, and thus sabotaging us in some twisted form of righteousness. You see, my investigations only proved how important he was to me, in fact, more important than my integrity. I’d have benefitted from caring a little less.

Today, I know I am separate from others and their choices. I can keep my dignity. I won’t let Suspicion take me over anymore. My monster is bored, but I like it that way. I know deep down that she is just waiting in there.

Tap tap tap.

Nope.

This Land is My Land: Our Souls Amongst the Ruins

“The Piers”

When Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman raced across the plains of America in 1992’s film “Far and Away,” they were there to stake their claim on a parcel of wilderness they would then call their own. I was both thrilled with their victory and equally disturbed by the undertones of a pioneers’ entitlement to any land at all.

My ancestors, like so many people across the earth, have usurped the property of those native to the land. Pride and shame, blood and bones are part of the soil, and from that springs a brave new world. The Natives of America dream of taking it back entirely, understandably. Many foreigners today both resent us and wish to be us. It’s a dirty business. I secretly wish we had stayed in Scotland, that we still did sacrificial rites and hunted under the moon.

Recently, my own circumstances have left me temporarily homeless. I am now a nomad, a transient. Yet, I am hopeful that I will once again find a home to call my own, where I can furnish it and color it how I please. I have the eventual means and the fortitude. Nonetheless, I am gaining spiritual ground from this plight.

On the one hand, I have everything I need. I have family and friends to give me tenure. I have my health and my wits. My duty to others is covered; my cats are being cared for elsewhere and my children have the security they require. I don’t really have serious worries, as I am privileged to sleep indoors and lug my essentials from place to place. I mean, I do have a plan.

But this roaming is a pain in the ass. I can’t paint right now, the one thing that has brought me consistent joy for two years. There is too much to carry and a mess is always made. I have very little privacy. Personal hygiene has been pared down to a raw and most natural level. I miss my cats. I spend a lot of time strategizing each activity or period of rest so as not to intrude on others. I am restricted by the dominion of each landlord. I am a tenant, not a governing faction. I have become an indentured servant, both grateful and uncomfortable. I miss entertaining guests. I miss getting coffee in my underwear. I miss tossing out garbage in a robe. I miss my own garden, where every flower was planted with my own hands.

Simultaneously, my family’s land has diminished. Resting on the St Croix River was once a small kingdom of nine homes on a square mile, free access to the water, ski trails and fishing ponds, vast acres of tall pines my great-grandfather had planted 100 years ago, and a communal respect for how things are done. Older generations died. New generations sold off their parcels for monetary gains. Now the government allows a few of us to remain on federal land and only two homes remain side by side nestled into the bluff. I don’t live here, but I always expected I could. I am a stranger to the majority, not the familiar daughter of JoAnn. Furthermore, I can still visit Pioneer Park, but it was once my family’s yard and home. No one at the park knows or cares. I am nobody.

We have evolved into something less important. The legacy feels forgotten. It is a humble thing.

I never understood why a person was attached to a place and refused to leave. Now I do. I appreciate the lesson.

What is left is just me. My body, my meager possessions, and ultimately my soul. What I do, how I behave, my memories and my dreams are the intangibles of a wanderer. How I think of these things, how I feel, and the scope of all we really have are the core components to a spiritual life. I can sit in self-pity and rage against the loss, or I can rise. The gods give and the gods take away. So be it. I am forced as a survivor to relinquish the material and embrace the very thing no one has taken yet, the warmth of my smile, my growing intuition, and the power of being alive. After all, I am still breathing. It must be the way it is supposed to be. Even my breath must come and go.

The Identity Challenge!

“Unapologetic”

When I was a child, my mother’s best friend changed her name from Ginny to Gina. Born as Virginia, she had outgrown the innocent nickname, which then felt too small, too girlish for this feminist fully grown woman.

It took me a long time to adjust, and I secretly resented the change. Where was the lady I had known in my ten years of life?! Who was GEE-NAH anyway? I corrected myself with misgivings for a good year. Yet, today, I barely recall “Ginny” at all. Gina is stronger, and more sophisticated, which she had always been in my memory. Changing her name to Gina was brave, and she must have known her worth. She understood that our discomfort was not her problem.

Then I changed my last name, due to four marriages and divorces, exactly eight times, back and forth, back and forth, until many people would ask, “What is it now? I can’t keep up!” Sometimes, when an old last name is still on old business accounts, I cringe a bit. Sometimes an old student will call out an old name, and my internal response is a direct read on how much peace I have gained. I have learned to graciously correct them, and keep my humor about it. What can I say? I am willing to change; there is no shame in it.

At the end of my teaching career, I began to correct kids on the use of MRS. when I had been Ms. all along. I guess Gina wore off on me. My marital status is no big secret, but if men can hold their autonomy, so can I.

The LGBTQQIP2SAA Community seems to have sprung a leak on the dams of gender identity, but more power to them. This is quite the learning curve for me. Yet, I work to understand and respect that these people are serious about the image they promote. It is important that what may seem simple to me, is simply not. Apparently, my ignorance is once again challenged.

Additionally, I sat in court a few years ago as a witness to the name change of my old friend Nate, who became En. When a mutual acquaintance made a public joke of En’s new name, I could see that the man had little regard for the depth of En’s new identity. It made me sad and also angry.

I noticed in the last year that my choice to change my name to Isa Glade, from the blandness of Kim Pauline Thompson, has brought a new wave of discomfort. I hope to keep my legal name, but promote the affection I feel when people say, EYE-SAH! It has never been easy to share Kim with 50 million others, both first and last and gender neutral as well. Nothing unique is happening. I treasure Pauline after my great-grandmother who was a writer like me, a woman I loved and admired. Thompson bears a link to a father I barely knew, so the link was something of a reminder that he did in fact matter.

Nonetheless, Isa Glade came from the origins of my spiritual path, one that transformed me into the Celtic Witch, artist and woman I am today. Spirituality is indeed the most important part of my life. Even the word “witch” is powerfully misunderstood, as it was a perceived threat to certain domains, and it took me a while to come out of the broom closet and truly own it. I am the 11th child of my father’s 14 offspring, and Isa is the 11th of the ancient runes. It has the icy quality of stillness, and the capacity to melt into springs of renewal. Glade is a middle name given to many of my family members, and the forest opening seems fitting for the warm solitude I have grown to enjoy. Isa tells the world that my identity has changed, and I really like the way it feels when a new friend has no idea that any other name exists. They see me more as who I am now than what others maintain, some version of how they once knew me.

A lot of people still call me Kim, mostly because I have not demanded they recognize my new identity. Sometimes I think they feel affection for how they already knew me. I love that younger person, Kim, and all she had endured. I love her because she is a part of me. Yet, it is entirely true, I prefer Isa. Isa is how I see myself. And who wouldn’t want to be seen as such? I suppose I will have to find a way to declare to the world how I wish to be addressed. People tend to rise to the expectations set before them.

Awaken, Dear One

Well, it is March and Spring is here. This is a time, particularly in the American Midwest, when nature awakens, an extreme shift in the warming of the earth and a resulting higher vibration in its people. We come out of the mental cave, casting off the cozy blankets and heavy wool. We pause in the doorway to take in the nuances of nature’s greetings: puddles, birds, tiny buds, and longer days. We drive faster with the windows down. We stand outside and talk to people until we are done.

This begs the question: Are you really awake?

I am nudging you now to consider the difference between being awake, and being awake.

This spring, make a choice to truly awaken in the spiritual sense. This means allowing your natural surroundings to tap into what we all possess: the spirit within. There are endless ways in which to do this, my lovely friends. I am going to share a few to get you started.

First, consider your senses. To be intentionally sensual will promote your awakening.

Smell the air and notice the way our earth has melted into a watery garden of brewing life. Smell your mother’s hair when you hug her. Smell your pillows, your skin, your coffee.

Listen to the sounds of the wind, the animals outside your window, and voices of strangers. Give words to the sort of laughter you hear. Let the music move you. Stop for thunderstorms and raindrops.

See the colors your child likes to wear, the things you place on your walls, the way your cat looks at you, and how your neighbor walks across the yard.

Taste the food you are eating. Really consider what tastes satisfying and why. Taste your paper cuts and salty lips. Taste your friend’s name as it leaves your mouth.

Touch the varied textures around you. Notice the rough grit of the sidewalk, the way your pillow supports your cheek, the delicate skin of your belly. How does it feel to have a breeze on your face, or water pressure on your neck, or an orange burst in your mouth?

Let your senses matter. It is the seed of a spiritual moment that must be purposefully planted into your soul. This. This is what it is to be awake.

Next, attach each natural element to your knowing. Vigilant focus on these elements allows a growing awareness of something often overlooked. To be awakened is to pay attention to what we often dismiss, and thus we remain asleep. Don’t miss the lessons of simple elemental experiences.

Fire, in all its forms, conveys your passion, your drives. A candle, a bonfire, a grill, a sunrise, a spark of electricity. It burns and it fuses and it warms and it lights the way. Notice how fire represents our desire.

Water holds your emotions. Boiling, bathing, stirring, flushing, lapping, dipping, splashing water. Consider its temperature, its purpose and its healing quality. Water represents the simmering and pounding waves of emotion.

Air brings intellect. Messages upon the wind. Stillness on the front stoop. Blowing a kiss. Your breathing while you climb a hill. The rising and falling of a lover’s chest. The long deep sigh as you surrender to something difficult. A gasp as you realize something new. Air and breath allow room for ideas.

Earth is the physical realm of the body. Cold grass under bare feet. A smooth rock inside your palm. The ash of a burned log upon your fingers. The blood and bones of a burial. A silk scarf and linen pants. The coffee grounds you pour into the grinder. The raspberry you pluck from the vine. The earth’s soil, rocks, plants and species are entirely connected to the life form of a human being.

It is our divine right to be connected to that which inspires life. Our rudimentary needs are natural, not that of technology, finances, or progress. Spiritual awakening requires the answer to primal callings. Our spirit is fueled by conscious contact with the rhythms of nature within us and beyond us. Make the choice to wake up!

Soul Mates, or What?

I spent my life hoping to find a soul mate, the one person who would feel like pure cosmic energy was zapping between us when we were together, even when we were apart, and still going long after death. I have been both blessed and cursed with many loves, and I always believed there could be many beautiful mates to my one passionate soul. I believe, you know, life is a river, always flowing and evolving, not an isolated lake. But that was all before I found him. As a woman in her mid-fifties, I have come to find that this one is definitely my soul mate. I am not sad it took so long. I am thrilled it happened at all.

Some part of me always knew, deep down, and sometimes declaring to the world, that the men I have loved have never been my true blue. That doesn’t mean I didn’t love them. It did mean I spent a lot of time wishing it was different in key ways. It did mean that when the chips were down, I was utterly alone much of the time. I don’t regret it. It was all necessary, I suppose.

It didn’t mean something was wrong with me. Although, there were lots of things wrong with me. It wasn’t about that. It was about the solid fact that I may learn a lot from this relationship, but we were not meant for an eternal time together. I’d still take a bullet for a few of them. Most of them meant something important to me.

It didn’t mean something was wrong with them. Although, there were plenty of things wrong with all of them. Being my soul mate has never required perfection, nor actually anything even close to that. Perfection is boring and repulsive to me.

It’s just that now, it is different. I don’t know if I found him so late in life because I took this long to love myself. A lot of people believe in that. I am confident you can find your soul mate long before you learn to love yourself, and I have seen it happen. Perhaps our soul mate helps us get there.

Yet, there is something quite lovely about finding someone when you finally understand that you are worthy of such an ecstatic love, a love that feels safe and constantly thrilling all at once. A love that will spend an entire day eating and lounging and playing and maybe even challenging each other, if need be. A love that you can just tell is never, ever going to ditch you, or betray you, or think you are embarrassing. A love that erupts in serious belly-aching laughter, in a vessel you can’t seem to stop touching. A love that takes dancing lessons for you. A love that feels exactly that same way you do about that love. The sort of love that makes you smile when they have a funny walk or stupid jokes or likes a song that sounds like a chainsaw.

A love that feels like you just came ashore after epic battles with mythic beasts. A love that is simple but never boring, even when you are doing nothing at all. A love that you just know can never be replaced, no matter how great other people can be.

If I lose this love, to another, or to illness, or to some dark fate, I will be done looking elsewhere. I would keep living, since that is my right and my duty, but to try to love this way again would be a great disservice to anyone new. It would be far better to find other ways to find joy than to spend a single hour searching for something I was blessed to know at all. It would be greedy. I am a realist. I spent a long time thinking he was possible, but knowing I might be karmically fucked. So now, I intend to treat him like a king. I will count that blessing every day, after he is gone, and thank the gods for the fact that I finally got what I had always hoped to get, for however long I could hold it. And for someone like me, a woman of raging fire and unwavering ice, that should say a lot.