12 Steps for “Normies”

If you are not a devoted recovering addict or alcoholic, you should know that those of us who are might affectionately coin you a “normie.” We, of course, refer to the normal people of the earth, which you and I know is absurd. No one is normal in my book, but “normie” implies that you might not belong to our subculture tribe of confessed addicts. And we love you. And also we’d give anything to be you, since we could then drink and drug with abandon!

Nonetheless, there are plenty of people familiar with the twelve steps originally created by the founding fathers of Alcoholics Anonymous, and they occasionally share their wish for such a supportive program for themselves. They sometimes wish they had what we have – a way of life that gives us some basic rules of engagement.

The 12 Steps do, after all, provide amazing spiritual growth, an awakening of sorts, and the fellowship (imperfect and humanly messy as it is) is priceless! While we evolve as a species, many earthlings hold a curiosity and a respect for the seemingly God-given gift of a 12-step program. Therefore, I have decided to give an overview of how it works for those of you who might find it useful. It goes without saying that there are volumes of literature and videos available on this subject. It is not a secret really. Not anymore. But perhaps this simple effort could lead you to address how universal addiction and addictive minds are now proven to change via a spiritual path.

Although, originally, the steps were written by Christians, I can promise you, they were wisely written to help people of all walks of faith, including the agnostics, who think it might be safer to just be “a good person”. I cannot speak for the atheists, nor do I tend to address spiritual matters with those who deny its potential.

It must be made clear now that these steps are best worked with someone who has worked them as well already. The humble nature of the steps requires us to let others help. There is no room for those too proud.

Step One requires a surrender to the fact that total self-reliance has left you still wanting. The addict (be it to chemicals, food, sex, money, gambling, work, clothing, fitness, or love) must confess he needs help to stop his compulsive obsession. This seems to only happen when we have tried and tried and tried to proudly and defiantly do it on our own, and failed.

Step Two asks us to consider that we have a form of madness, our thinking, justifications and defenses, are out of our own control, we swear to stop but we continue anyway, which might be eased with a spiritual relationship to a higher being.

Step Three suggests that we make the decision to follow what we believe is the will of a higher power. We allow a higher power into our hearts and minds in order that we can gain control of the addiction.

Step Four promotes an honest and thorough inventory of our current and past behaviors, fears, resentments, guilts, conflicts and unresolved problems with others.

Step Five requires a confession of Step four – to one other human being and our chosen higher power.

Step Six asks us if we are absolutely ready to change – but only with the help of a higher power.

Step Seven takes some time as we ask our higher power to bring on these changes. This implies that we trust our higher power to bring us opportunities to behave in new, improved ways.

Step Eight is a list, often using our fourth step as a guide, of all the people we have harmed, no matter how much more or less they have harmed us.

Step Nine …ugh, step nine…guides us to make amends. This is a tricky one, since we can go in with good intentions and only make things worse. We must tread carefully to assure we are not causing more undue harm. Sometimes an amends is indirect or lived out with new honest living. But speaking directly, face to face and with great compassion, is often the only way to truly mend the wreckage of our past. This step may take courage beyond any other step. It is a relief that we are only responsible for the effort.

Step Ten allows us to maintain the squeaky clean life we hope to have now procured. We consciously review our behaviors daily and swiftly own our shit when we are wrong.

Step Eleven builds a ritual of daily contact with our higher power, which as you know can be fused with every nuance of one’s day. The closer you stay to the divine, the more likely your spiritual fitness remains. This is not between you and those to whom you preach. This is between you and your higher power alone.

Step Twelve celebrates your resulting awakened spirit, and you must give these lessons away in order to keep it.

The greatest gift of being an addict is the endless gratitude one gains from her recovery. This is why I do not hold any shame for my recovery from addiction. The only reason the program is anonymous is to protect us from those who should cruelly or ignorantly use it against us.

The Soul and The Spirit in Pandemic Form

Ever wake up wondering why you are feeling low? You begin by attributing it to outer realities, like the weather, your current personal predicaments, your relationships, the tasks that preceded your sleep, the experience of sleeping or not sleeping, your physical strength or pain, the looming day’s plan or lack of plan. These realities impact your spiritual state and thus, your emotions.

Oftentimes, the senses determine our moods as well. Is there a jarring noise present? Do you smell the litter box? Are you hungover? Do you realize there is nothing good to eat and must now forage for more?

What is available to us, and also what we seek and procure are the very sparks of energy that inspire us or leave us wanting. This is the case with Spirit. Spirit, or breath, is inhaled and exhaled, granted resources necessary for life. Spirit also breathes into us an energy that comes from the divine source. In this way, we are sponges for sunshine, birds singing, pancakes and a good massage. When we awaken to source, we build a vibration that resonates with all the gifts of our world, both inside a single home, inside the neighborhood, or expanding out on a global level, and finally also into other dimensions for which we may connect through meditation, dreams, and intuition.

Spirit is that which gives us inspiration to act, to fight, to love, to hold someone’s hand, and to rest, to keep going. Spirit is the life force within and without the body we inhabit at this time.

Soul, on the other hand, is that which resides within eternally and independent of spirit. It includes our inner thoughts, an untold or realized purpose, memory – both conscious and unconscious – the history of wisdom in this lifetime and prior lifetimes, the family’s genetic imprint, the current experience as an individual entity, and the future calling to another purpose, even beyond the grave.

When we think of a soul having depth or mass, power, equal levels of shadow or light, it is so often out of our human sphere; it is one of fate and divine orchestration, especially noted only if we are paying attention. Of course soul and spirit are inter-related as well.

In a pandemic, our spirit, or life source, is limited by the experiences which protect us from illness, death, and loss, and questions our responsibility to others. We must adapt in order to keep the vibration at a tolerable, or ideally, a joyful level.

We complain and cry out because we are lost and must fight in this new reality. We are agitated and clawing for the upper hand. We are also comforted when we find that the human collective shares in this. We are then not alone, even if we are alone.

However, in order to adapt, we must also surrender to what is. We must come to know new ways to feel inspired, energized, and hopeful. And let’s face it, we are being stretched, and only the strong will survive. The strong will see that they must evolve with it. The strong will continue to use their imaginations and sheer will to their own advantage. Madness may be inevitable. Yet, madness is on a continuum, and we can nurture ourselves out of it.

We have always freely used the world at our disposal. Now our world gives less of what we know. No more vibrating in massive groups. No more breathing in the collective energy of electric concerts, the drive of sporting events, traveling with abandon, and the aesthetic of movie theaters without great risk of meeting the silent, invisible spirit of death.

The soul lives on and integrates a new piece of what it was always meant to know. This pandemic is only another part of the eternal experience. Lessons are being taught.

The question is clear. How do we keep the breath of spirit moving? How do we now honor our ancient or newborn soul by feeding its own divine nature?

Thoughtfully. Intentionally. Bravely. This pandemic has left us weary, but there is still much time left to endure.

For me, it is one simple hour at a time. What does my soul tell me? What does the divine provide? What will I do, but more so, what will I choose to believe?

I can tell you that I believe in the bigger picture. I believe in me. And I believe in us. I believe in a song. I believe in looking into the eyes of the people I love. I believe in looking into the eyes of strangers too.

I will smile. I will sit in silence until the tears come. I will do the dishes and paint and write and dance. I wlll read and talk with my family on the phone. I will spend an hour just taking a bath or tending my nails. I will allow naps. I will walk outdoors as though on a pilgrimage, seeking new roads I have not yet tread. I will watch a comedy. I will curl up to the side of the few that I can, human or animal; it makes little difference if I decide it. I will close my eyes and listen. I will taste every bite.

When the holidays hit, and I am possibly alone, I will play Little Drummer Boy and drink egg nog anyway. I will keep the rituals that build a divine source of spirit with candles and pine boughs and bells. I will be grateful I am alive in a world that will find its way back to its natural state, a tiny sprout of green among the burnt remains.

I will dream of the day, not so far from now, when a warm mist rises off the morning streets, the children of God delight in the fragrance of lilacs and wet soil, and the earth swells with hope.

The Solo Experiment: What One Woman Learned about Living Alone

All of my life, I lived with people: family, friends of family, friends who seemed like family, even several different families. I had therefore learned a lot about tolerance, my own willful need to have control; harmony was scarce, and compromise could be daunting.  I confess, I always believed that living alone was the ultimate paradise, and a symbol of the ideal American woman. 

Over the years, I learned that living with others required some basic rules of engagement: Do your part. Shut your mouth. Ask for help. Don’t complain. Try to have fun. These were things I had mastered eventually. 

During those years, I had fantasized about living alone. Oh I did. I imagined the gorgeous planes of solitude. I pictured the hours of quiet and the freedom of nudity, the naughtiness of leaving a mess, the righteousness of something maintained! 

To be alone would be so very lovely. 

I could dance to whatever I desired. I could have lovers, and no one would know. I could binge on absurdly stupid programs if I so deemed it.

No one would interrupt my calls, or question my motives.

No kids, no partner, no nothing. Just me.

I knew I would be okay too. I was smart and brave after all.  I had been Head of Household for much of my life already. I had been raised with obscene levels of self-reliance since I was a small child. I was also generally healthy.

How could being alone in an urban artist loft be difficult? There were people in their own compartments rising six floors above me. Certainly, we would be friendly. There was a park across the street. Surely, we would establish community

Despite a Covid quarantine, I moved into a place that looked promising. I would do all the things I hoped to do. Time to be alone would never be boring.   It was going to be easy to fill my hours with painting, writing, exercise and meditation, cooking, cleaning. Visitors and long walks would be plentiful. The Farmer’s Market and Music in the Park would fill the gaps remaining. Also, the artist co-op was just two blocks away, and there were classes and events and a full service kitchen there! What more does a single woman living alone need?!

But I was lonely anyway. 

I had bouts of joy, independence, and satisfaction.

But I was more often lonely anyway.

I prayed and meditated and communed with the divine.

I suffered with lonely still.

I had daily conversations with myself, admonishing my weakness, determined not to allow the loneliness in. 

But lonely had moved in with me. It slept with its pale, rubbery back to me while I stared at the exposed vents 16 feet up.

I let myself cry a lot. I laughed at myself too.

I wrote about the things that felt soulful to me. It helped a little. I downed some serious amounts of ice cream each night, then ran it off every morning.

I started to wave to the bench of homeless guys because I was longing for human connection; they seemed to understand me. Even so, I was not one of them.

My two cats seemed to purr, “I-don’t-really-care-about-your-bullshit-lady.” And I took good care of them as payment for keeping me alive.

I began to reconsider my choices. 

It wasn’t that living alone was a bad choice, and it wasn’t that I even regretted it. I truly did not. I liked learning, stretching, growing. I loved the daily dancing in my kitchen. I wanted to say that I had done it.

It didn’t seem to matter; I had started to believe that being alone indefinitely was mildly horrible.  

The people in the park were not interested in talking with me. The people in my building never even held the door. They seemed to have their own lives. I was invisible. The artist co-op was superb, but I couldn’t exactly sleep there. My family and friends would visit, but hosting guests required far more energy than a roommate.

I started to understand that I was not the sort of person who wanted to live alone. Contrarily, I didn’t want to live with just anyone.  It seemed now that it might be easier to live near someone who was only a room away, instead of maybe someone who was paid to give me medical attention.

Six months in, my experiment proved that I had spent my whole life as the luckiest girl in the world, having never lived alone! I was grateful for this knowledge, and I was excited to reinstate my old life as soon as my current lease was up…. in just another 8 months.  

Some people love living alone. Some part of me gets it. I even envy it. But part of loving my authentic self is being totally okay with knowing I am not one of them. I still love being alone. I just don’t love living alone.

Guess I will soak up all the silence and empty space and the bathroom door wide open while I can. Since I am likely never going to allow this again. 

Isa Glade inspires and educates her readers to build a more spiritual life through her blog Isaglade.com.  She is a retired newspaper columnist and high school teacher, an intuitive, empath, a solitary witch, feminist, recovering addict, and a metaphysical painter. She lives as an artist, writer, and an expert contributor of esoteric knowledge in St Paul, Minnesota.

Raising a Moon Child

The moon is my mother. My devotion to her is eternal and natural and big. She shows me how to live. Thus, as she appears in the night sky, glowing gloriously and sending waves of energetic power, a healing power, I too take her cue with my own children.

If my sons pay attention to the moon, the ancient crone mother of the universe, the soulful mama in tandem with our paternal sun, they will learn to listen. If my sons spend regular time acknowledging the forces of nature, the turning of the tides, the fact that we are almost made entirely of water, they will doubtless awaken in time. The moon is not a swift teacher. It lulls us month after month until its voice is no longer an occasional whisper, but a nightly calling. The energy of the full moon brings two gifts: Intuition and Power.

First, we come to know things which guide us along. This is priceless and ultimately the greatest gift the divine can allow. The Knowing is so often within us, but it can take effort to hear it, to respect it, to let it make your choices. What was once a baffling calamity will become a precise clarity.

Next, we increase our magical influence on the world. With wisdom and humility come the effective impact on our goals, dreams, and relationships. Learning the spiritual way of moon worship will inevitably bring forth abundance and quite specific results.

One would need to suspend disbelief for a year or more lest they dismiss such gifts too soon.

The smaller world of my home with my sons mirrored the greater world of the moon and the rare few men who will allow its voice to be heard. We are each separate humans, but we are still one.

As a mother of three sons, I have been leveled by their differences, each one’s unique and sometimes delightful deviation from one another. I honor my sons’ strengths, dreams, politics, loves, intelligences and humors. But each one arrives in their own clothing, attitudes, essence and approach to life’s requirements. Yet, I remain detached just enough to let them be men. They each have their own life to live. I will not depend on their choices for my own satisfaction. The moon lives far away, and yet we see it right there.

The boys are on their individual paths. Their mother is the constant. In our home, we all understood certain codes of conduct. We knew that a loud voice was intolerable in the first hours of the day. We knew that no one was obligated to tend to tasks unless properly notified. Because we suffered with a common and sometimes crippling anxiety, we all rejected immediate demands as a rule. We also found deep satisfaction in performing tasks when no one expected it, thus strengthening the ideal that volunteering to help had its own glory. We each disliked the expectation of thank you cards. We respected brutal honesty. Fierce tears were unapologetic. Demonizing ill people was absurd. These were the common ways of our bloodline and they sat solid in our bones.

The moon does not concern itself with secular, human law. My sons are flawed indeed, and I could list several irritating and even alarming character traits for which I proudly lack bias. It is not my way to present my sons as ideal or perfect or protect them from your judgment. You will judge and that is unavoidable, but the moon does not reject our shadows.

Scars, errors and tragic flaws are a thing of fascination. Polished and pure sometimes reeks hollow. I am not ashamed of my sons’ weaknesses, nor do I feel they are entirely righteous. Yes, I have been quietly embarrassed from time to time, but I try not to apologize for them. I accept them. I know them. I don’t wish to take their choices as a reflection of me any more than my choices are a reflection of the great divine and blessed moon. And since I worship the moon, I also emulate the moon. I stand back at a distance from my children and attempt to remain a powerful guide, but hopefully not a pious one.

When my children, now adults, should act mistakenly or foolishly, I hold a distant view. If they escape death or permanent tragedy, I celebrate the depths of their consequential lessons. I believe all errors are fabulous forms of wisdom. If my sons stumble, trudge, slip and scuff about, they are blessed with growth again and again. Their souls are strengthened with each success and each healed wound. And when their wisdom comes, I am a silent orb of peaceful light.

If my child falls off a stone wall, cries out, and merely scrapes his knee, my private thought is not to protect, but to say, “Good. Now you know not to do that again.” If my son loves a woman who will shred his heart, if my son borrows more than he can pay, if my son partakes in distorted appetites, or speaks recklessly, I trust that they will also navigate the consequences, just as the divine intends. Mama Moon shows me how to mother. She does not diminish. She glows. She does not lecture. She lets the ocean waves heave and foam in an endless memory of her power.

The Luck of Forgiving Trees

I wish I were a tree. Evergreens provide a healing tea; the ancient birch, Birkano, have a mother spirit encouraging everything around it to grow. The yew tree promotes visions to the mystics who sit beneath it. Red Cedars have unusually deep roots generating great endurance under sun and rain.

I wish I were a tree who could stay quiet when my limbs were lost, or go dormant in the chill of winter snow. Tree communities have roots entwined beneath the soil, relying on each other for support. Each separate tree pulls water, nutrients, and energy from the earth, but not one tree punishes its mates, nor holds a grudge, nor blames the other trees for falling.

Instead, I am a human. And we humans like to muck about in the dirt differently, churn in the chaos of our own pain, and unleash a suffering in the wake of our fury. We like to penalize each other for our pain.

When I am resentful, it is a festering wound, a slow drip of nitric acid, the shock of a paper cut, reminding me just how powerless I am. Blame and Ego, my self-righteous pets, slather salt into the wound, and voila, more pain.

The only thing worse than my resentments might be my guilt. And it is almost unbearable if I am not allowed to assuage it. If, for some reason, I cannot confess it, or someone refuses to hear it, I become obsessed with ridding myself of its barbs.

I recall carrying the guilt of a singular act for what felt like a lifetime. I would hold international peace conferences in my head, stare at the nighttime ceiling justifying my actions, cry in the shower over my loss, and consider ways to build a time machine.

Years later, I could see that no one was even thinking of me, or of my crime any longer. But I did. I still wanted to make it right. I was unable to find atonement for 30 years. When I finally sat in front of the woman I had wronged, she simply stated that I was then young and largely alone, that no one helped me to make the right choice because they would ultimately benefit from my fall. It was a profound thing for her to say that to me. I wondered if I had been meant to suffer all those years so that I would never again betray myself. My sin had harmed me the most.

There was a time after that when I felt forgiving others was an absurdity, meant for people who fancied themselves a god. I felt that forgiving someone would be an act of superiority, that forgiveness implied a pious condescension, an inherent power to bestow another’s freedom or hold them eternally imprisoned. I refused to forgive others because I did not believe I had the right to judge in the first place. It seemed distorted to be submissive, to beg another human to measure us. Detachment from the errors of those around me felt closer to the lens of a divine source.

This silly business of hate and judgment, this human condition of lording over another person’s injustice reeks of something rotten. I suppose I have grown quite calloused, almost numb in the face of everyone thinking they have the answers. I am tired. My mirror holds the vacant eyes of a refugee. I go numb in order to survive.

No one holds the corner market on pain. Some people hold their pain up like a thing of worship, but it is futile.

The only way out of the pain is to feel it. Go deep into a hermetic state and wail. Purge the venom and suspend time until your blood runs clean again. Raging is understandable, but it won’t make a lick of difference. Love is the only way out. Dignity, which is just self-love, and Brotherly Love reign supreme.

I suppose the lucky trees know a thing or two, and we would be wise to emulate.

Mirror Magic: Attracting One’s Tribe

The day I turned 50, something important happened which had little to do with my age and a whole lot to do with how I was living. One of my closest friends, a person I had loved and respected for many years, had posted a message on social media that was intentionally degrading toward me.

In light of my shock and dismay, I phoned my friend. This “friend” was quite unapologetic; in fact, she was emboldened and claimed several others felt the same. She claimed I was “arrogant”, as in self-involved, too big for my britches, superior, narcissistic, full of myself. Through the course of the day, I came to learn from a couple people involved that I had been the target of some fierce hate for the past couple months. These women had collectively determined my value as a human being. Apparently it was quite low.

I had lost my core network overnight. This event became a gateway into more tragedy; the death of several family members, my son’s month-long psychotic break, the abduction of my cat, and the epic finale: my fourth husband’s demand for divorce.

It was a shit year to turn 50.

I spent that year watching the tower of All I Believed reduced to ash and rubble.

I didn’t pick myself up and get better like in the movies. No. I gave up on the love and life I thought I had. I stopped caring. Caring didn’t seem to bring good things. Caring only seemed to bring more pain. Instead, I turned in on myself and raged, brooding in a silent and eerie calm for the next few years. Think Maleficent. In some ways, things got downright twisted.

But there was still a tiny spark that seemed to eventually grow: The Spark of Curiosity. You see, I was a thinker. An intellectual indeed. And the only thing greater than my relentless, vengeful ideation was an honest wonder at my own part in all this. I knew I had been wronged. There was no doubt about it, but I couldn’t figure out why. Were these people really just cruel? And if My Best People were this cruel, how could I trust anyone ever again?

So I hired a very expensive shrink. And I paid her to be my friend for the next 2.5 years. I mean, I paid her a lot. After all, I was 50 and there wasn’t enough time to mess around, but there was still a lot of time to make it worse.

I didn’t figure out everything there in that office, but I figured out a lot. Meanwhile, I got spiritual in a big way. I mean obsessively. I read, practiced, discussed, sought teachers, listened, meditated, took a dark journey of the soul, deep shadow work, made sacrifices to the gods, mixed potions, stomped to moonlit drumming and warrior cries, drove alone across the country, subjected myself to mystical trials, and slowly built a whole new tower.

After seeking the counsel of about five strangely powerful people who had no need to destroy me, they each suggested something that would change me forever; it is this: We attract people who will treat us exactly how we treat ourselves. We are mirrors for each other. If you don’t like yourself, you will commune with people who do not like themselves as well. They will mirror your self-evaluation. I had built my old relationships on an idea that measured me poorly. It is true that I loved them, but it is also true that they would make jokes at my expense and I was always compelled to laugh it off to prove that I was not too “full of myself”. Yet, as my self-esteem rose, the people I had known for years did not like it very much. They resented my newfound self-love, my bigness, my confidence and my glory, and they wanted me to stay put in the little dirty box from which I came. Therefore, when I got too big for their comfort, they exiled me. They demonized me. They ruined me. Some people passively stood by. Others never spoke to me again. They might have simply talked to me, but that would not have done the trick.

The only way to heal from that is to start from scratch.

I was afraid I wouldn’t find any real friends, and it took a while. Slowly, one or two emerged and I held that loosely. I didn’t want a big circle anymore. It was too risky. Just a couple maybe’s was plenty. But the new circle grew anyway. These people were interested in something that ironically humbled me. They wanted me to win. They wanted me to shine. They cheered me on when I succeeded and they held me when I was sad. I had a new tribe now and mine was filled with people who didn’t feel threatened by my power. They felt that my power matched their power and together, well, the combined power was magnificent.

I’m not sorry about any of it now. Had I known I was meant for more, I’d have sought it out to begin with, but I didn’t realize I was meant for so much love! I had found a love that was not competitive, nor mean-spirited, nor cowardly. And I intend to spend the next 50 years loving all the golden-lit souls that come my way. I will not ask them to snuff out their light. I will sing their praises just as loudly as they sing mine.

Stealth Moves for Typical Fools: the art of hardly ever being wrong

Ever make a false assumption and then feel like an idiot? Ever jump to a conclusion based on an idea that wasn’t even real?

I have, and it has hurt me and anyone who noticed. I’m a smart woman, but sometimes I get inflated and impulsive and then here we go, stupid is happening.

Sure, it is likely all humans do it. But let’s be real here, some people do it far more often than others. My conscious goal recently is to stop doing it altogether. Like forever. Thus, I am gratefully learning how.

From the other side of this experience, I have noticed that there are certain bits of personal information I no longer dole out thoughtlessly, since the average bear will jump to several conclusions, and they are almost always either wildly untrue or so oversimplified I just shut down or rudely roll my eyes, depending on my investment in the relationship.

For example, try telling someone you are (or were) an English teacher. They instantly bring their own insecurities into it, cover their mouth lest any grammatical errors escape, and presume my mission is to find fault in their speech. “I guess I better watch how I talk!”

In reality, it would be an extreme exception for me to correct anyone, even an actual student, unless it was in the act of a lesson. Yes, I notice language flaws because my brain is conditioned to do so, but mostly I just note whether I like the person aside from this fact. Some of my favorite people are not literary, nor eloquent, and I might find comfort in their casual language or even in their vulgarities. Speaking properly is impressive, but honestly, it isn’t even that common.

Additionally, there is the little fun fact that I have been divorced four times. When the truth comes out, I am pained to field the reactions, but worst of all are the fools that think they now know me, and that they, in all of their epic wisdom, would know better. Wise people seem to realize there is a six novel series of information they could not know, what came before the marriages, what happened in each separate one, and what has happened since. Most fools ask me why, as if the sum total of my life experience with love can be reduced to a singular sentence, to satisfy their sense of fantastic expedition. Or they conclude that I am clearly not meant to be married. Or they decide I have used up my love tokens and am better off never loving again, since I am the same woman now as I have always been.

And therein lies the ticket. Wanting to know more. So I have learned by my own painful feelings of being misunderstood that I too can easily misunderstand others. I am not above it. And I humbly confess it takes some real spiritual work to change it.

Recently, my dear friend and I have been sharing some deep memories of our childhood perceptions birthed from a multitude of sources. I was stunned by the private thoughts she has carried all these years. I suddenly saw her in a new light, and I felt a newer, deeper compassion for her. All those years, seeing her one way, and basing it on partial information.

It was humbling to learn more and I was honored she took the time to say it.

Yet, part of my spiritual journey is to make more space for people to say these things. To be calmer and quieter and really allow the safety to grow.

Secondly, I am learning how to share bravely in a way that does not reek of self-righteousness or blame or shame, but to openly model the act of risk within the dignified and sacred privacy of a safe circle. This, too, increases mutual expression.

Finally, the willingness to ask a question not for rhetorical fodder, but for authentically hoping to learn more of a person’s experience, for their own understanding of themselves, to honestly just listen and gain a truer perspective of their story and their emotional results.

Possibly, I would say aloud, “I am not asking to judge it. I am asking to know more, to understand.”

I word the questions carefully. I don’t ask, “Why did you do that?” Instead I ask. “Can you tell me about that choice?”

I don’t ask, “Do you think or feel this way, since I would?” Instead I ask, “How do you feel about that?”

I don’t ask, “Did you notice how that person behaved?” Instead I ask, “How did you experience that person’s behavior?”

That is how I have learned that people tend to know themselves better than I know them, and it is not about seeing through them. It is about coming to know them the way they hope to be seen, the essence of their right to be understood, as well as the innocence behind so many actions and values. It seems like the world has a shortage of that lately.

According to Saint Francis, it is better “to understand than to be understood.” But I would suggest: By seeking to understand others, we come to better understand ourselves.

Sharing openly without dominating. Asking mindful questions. Listening with objectivity. Knowing that false humility is only pretending to be small, but truly humble people see the potential of another person’s voice, another person’s view.

Indeed, I have often been the brave fool, leaping into chasms of unknown space. Today, I fling myself into the abyss of hidden knowledge, searching for the stories of others, and I aim to climb out with armloads of pure agape love.

The Epic Rewards of “No”

There was a time for me when saying “No” was nearly impossible! I recall an old friend asking me almost daily to drive her places, out for the night, over to her lover’s, back to her home, the store, anywhere and everywhere. And I would. Since I was afraid of her, and she must have known this on some level.

But after I became a teacher, my students would take advantage of my kindness (which was really just fear) and chaos would rule my days. Learning to say “no” to younger people was great practice for me because the one thing I needed more than their love was their respect. Eventually, I learned to say no to my peers, and family members, even occasionally beautiful and selfish men as well.

I didn’t have to be mean about it. I could say warmly and confidently, “I am sorry, but no.”

It became almost amusing to practice saying no without apology, to simply own the power vested in me and declare a simple Nope. Sometimes I’d soften it for those I truly liked. “No….(soft warm smile…wince)…sorry.”

Sometimes I was willing to give my reason calmly, but it was important to not give a tone of deference. It was important that the explanation was an act of compassion and not an obligation. It took me a long time to see that people do not always require an explanation.

My students occasionally suggested that I would be the coolest teacher ever should I grant their wish. I learned to reply that I was already entirely cool without their approval. I would even help them to understand that whining repeatedly was a form of manipulation I did not appreciate. This left them puzzled and melancholy, having grown used to their lifetime success at begging.

Saying no takes hutzpah, and that means one must conquer one’s fears in order to do it. Fear of another’s wrath. Fear of going to hell. Fear of being blamed. Fear of retaliation. Fear of causing someone discomfort, and of course fear that people will condemn you and leave you behind. Let’s face it. It happens.

People really do not like hearing “no.”

However, setting boundaries with a clear “no” is fruitful too. People learn that you will not be submissive at the expense of your own needs.

People are less likely to take advantage of you, period.

People will come to know that you are capable of saying Yes, just not every time.

People begin to respect you. People also think twice before pushing too far.

Life becomes fair. Less stressful.

The greatest gift of saying No is that you come to learn who your true friends are. Loyal people don’t go away just because you say no. Even you will like yourself a bit more.

In the social circles of addiction recovery, there is an unwritten code that one should never say no when they are asked to be of service. Addicts are by nature selfish, thus we encourage selflessness as a new behavior.

But in the fellowship of recovering codependents, this rule cannot apply. For codependents spend their lives serving relentless sponges in order to feel needed; and codependents pay for it with their souls, becoming a mere husk, blowing hither and thither at the beck and call of the ones they love.

For saying yes indiscriminately and without regard for one’s own needs is the surest way to resent our loved ones. It creates bitterness and eventually a passive poisoning of any love that once existed.

Here is where the spiritual part comes in…

Because I am certain that my soul is divine, a natural result of intentional communion with the gods, because I recognize my own holy, mysterious and powerful essence, a Yes is often and simply not required. The beauty of this capacity to decline is that no one ever has to wonder if I am secretly feeling burdened, or if I am disrespectfully pretending to comply with feigned affection.

When I say Yes, it is because I wish to say Yes. You can trust me to say what I mean. You won’t need to repeat the annoying question, “Are you sure?”

Please, do not ever say yes to me unless you truly want to, for sayin yes when you want to say no is, according to divine law, a form of dishonesty and cowardice I could not abide.

Say No, and watch me cringe and squirm. I will love you for it.

The Hope Dare

My sister and I hit the beach yesterday. We swam in the clear river, ate a tasty lunch from our tote, and spent three hours absorbing sunshine while breaking down every nuance of our lives. We love being together. We love to laugh at life and ourselves. We are thinkers.

My sister silently dared me to swim, she being a far better swimmer than I. I plunged quickly, avoiding my usual rationale to remain on the shore. We are sensitive, passionate women. Our feelings are real, but we prefer to entertain them less than our intellect and mutual dark humor. We come from a long line of thinkers who think that thinking is a very nice compensation for emotional distress.

Still, on this late summer Friday paradise, we considered Hope and its evil twin Fear. I told her that my fears of America under political tyranny were staggering, despite my lifelong determination to keep my political head in the lovely cool sand. Also, I shared that my fears of this election were so profound, that I preferred 4 more years of the current pandemic over any political tyranny of our country.

This implies that I was terrified and willing to negotiate with the gods.

Bargaining is a common part of grief. I was already deep deep into the third stage of the future grief I fully intended to experience, one day soon.

Additionally, the fear within my heart began to grow as we spoke. It was as if my words brought more energy to this wretched fear, and then multiplied like The Blob as I attempted to be understood, possibly even further united with my wise listener.

My beloved and level-headed sister was understandably intolerant of my defeatist tone. She stopped me right there and assured me that my greatest fears were unlikely to be realized.

She prompted me to view recent speeches and their power, and she encouraged me to rise to the power of dignity.

I sat up a bit in my beach chair.

I stared out at the choppy and wide waters of the St Croix river.

Then I felt a wave of hope.

I pictured myself on the morning after the election, with a smile so broad and so authentic, you’d have thought I had just beat terminal cancer. Or gave birth to a healthy child. Or finally found the love I had always wanted. Or really just simply got my way for once.

In my imagination, the tides had shifted and the sun was bright and warm; I’m pretty sure there were bluebirds tweeting as they helped to gather big white sheets from the line!

It was only for a moment really.

But it felt really good, this thing. This hope.

I mean, it actually felt really good. Much better than what I had been feeling just moments earlier. I could see that I was afraid to have hope, since I had hoped before. And it didn’t turn out so well. Thus, I was afraid that if I dared to hope again, and it didn’t go my way, I might not have the resilience to stand up again. It just might crush me in a way that could never be restored. Consequently, I chose fear under the daily guise of cynicism, sarcasm, and a vigilant preparation for the worst. Not even outwardly. But in the quiet thoughts of my inner world, where all good things go to die.

The irony of causing my own current discomfort, even sometimes paralysis, was a surrender to ideas that would certainly bury me alive.

But if I dared to hope for another flash moment, that strange comforting light returned straight away! Then I was once again relieved of the wicked trolls of Doubt, Cowardice, and Passive Aggression.

Hope is a direct sign of courage. Hope is the hallmark of a warrior. I began to remember that I have never ever hoped to be some infantile worrier subject to the beastly authority of any human. If I wish to remain the daring goddess-infused woman that I must choose to be, then I certainly must not choose this putrid, acidic, alarmed state.

I will rise, and I will fight for a vision of glory. I will absolutely dare to hope.

Champion Your Loneliness

There is speculation that Americans, for all of their proud self-reliance, actually promote some of the loneliest people on the earth. We are so interested in gaining freedom from the authority of our parents and the limitations of government; we balk at communal burdens and social obligations. We feel entitled to our own bedrooms, bathrooms and automobiles. We just don’t have much tolerance.

Still, there comes a time when people just need people. It is no secret we are pack animals. Also, even the most introverted people who long for solitude will eventually peek out of their caves hoping someone awaits.

Loneliness is at times so severe that one can lose their mental stability. Long term isolation in prisons and living off the grid in exile has been proven repeatedly to injure humans to the point of madness. Sometimes the elderly are neglected in homes. The soul slips away one day at a time until the shell readies for death.

But there are also lessons to be learned from loneliness.

To begin with, I have felt lonely much of my life, even when surrounded by people. I have often felt misunderstood, an outsider, and certainly experienced hostility too. This casts a shadow of disconnection and sadness. You show up, but no one seems to care.

Additionally, I have suffered with a longing for love as well. It is hard ground to be raised where one is never held, never told they are loved, or asked how they are doing. Or to sleep in a bed with someone you no longer know. This too is lonely.

Moreover, to exist without a partner in an empty nest is sometimes a loneliness that smacks of one’s lost worth. To recognize that no one cares if you leave for a walk or that you lie awake at odd hours, to see that no one wonders where you are at all…this is a new, quieter lonely.

The thing is, being lonely is part of being human. And, barring the cruelty of one’s imprisonment, we do not have to suffer so very much. I know this because I have figured out a way to lessen this emptiness. There are practices that bring succor, and it does not require a constant social network or popularity at all.

Obviously, one must reach out and try to make personal connections, even insist on actual human contact as opposed to the simulated social media. You don’t need me to tell you this.

But loneliness is not always about being alone. It is about intimacy. And the capacity for divine intervention.

Initially, we must promote our relationship with nature. Commune with our pets, commit to gardening, spend time walking or sitting in the wild, immersion in the natural elements is a spiritual lift like no other, even if we do it alone. I rarely feel lonely in nature. In fact, I generally feel as if I am where everyone else would rather be.

Furthermore, we can create. When we put our energy into the creation of any one thing, we forget ourselves. Something beautiful comes of it. And I hate to say this, but even when people choose to create something wicked, they are lost in a purpose that leaves them full. In the end, harmful creation will bring one’s own destruction. But to create something that serves us aesthetically, or in a practical sense, or for societal needs can bring solace to those of us who once felt nothing at all. We begin to feel seen. This is why we must choose to create. It lifts us to a state of pleasure, a higher spiritual ground, to sustain, to build, to rise to a place of satisfaction and deliverance. I create daily, often for hours, and it works.

Finally, and ironically, we can stop fighting it so hard. Sometimes, we can surrender to some moments of loneliness. As the sufi Rumi says, “Suffer the pain.” This comforts me to know that in my loneliness, I am growing. I come to know myself, and I can choose to love myself in it. I am not above dancing alone and laughing alone and cooking fine cuisine alone. I talk to myself and there is no shame in it. I am seeing that there is a time for me to be alone and sometimes, inevitably, it will feel lonely. And that is okay.

It is not natural to never feel sad or hurt or lonely. Lonely is part of the deal here on earth. I can cry or sit with it. I can even talk to it or write to it. I can bathe in a salt bath and watch the lonely run down the drain. I can put myself to bed with lonely and accept that this is not tragic. It just is. I can choose to believe that my lonely is not the enemy. My lonely is what makes my love for others more powerful and deeper than ever. I can see that people who are lonely know a wisdom that comes from all suffering. The preciousness of life and its living souls grows. The greatest connection I have ever experienced is when I look into the eyes of another human who is just as lonely as me. It is a gentle thing. Therefore, the lonely in me honors the lonely in you.