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.

The Spiritual Bridge Between Us

There are three roads we can take when we find that someone holds entirely different values from our own. Imagine a giant, impassable canyon between two lands, each side holding fiercely to their own safe, sustainable territory and believing the other side to be one of dark, brutal ignorance. I am speaking first of personal relationships, among family, friends, coworkers, neighbors and community. Navigating those arenas alone is a milestone for most of us. To be honest, I am not equipped to rally on a global or even national level. Today, I am speaking directly to the individual and the others with whom they must personally contend. After that, we rely upon the media and our chosen leaders to give us the truth, and that, my friends, is for another conversation.

One response to our personal fractured relationships is to avoid and judge, which is often swollen with contempt, and taps a deep pain of feeling misunderstood. If you cannot understand me or my people, I will stay away and protect myself. I will build my own army, and there will be only US and THEM. The reason this way looks peaceful is because we stay on our own side and never cross into the land of our enemy. But it is not peaceful. It is a temporary truce with wary implications. We stick with our own, but we vilify those who do not belong. Eventually, divine interventions and occasional human need will catapult us across the divide, and then terror and war will strike.

Another choice is to follow the opposition only when they are around, thus creating an inauthentic illusion of peace. If I don’t like what you stand for, I will just remain passive. I will play nice and secretly abhor your ways. I notice this happening when people say that it is your business if you are gay, or stupid, or colored, or divorced or married, old or young, poor or privileged, or of a certain religion, but I am only tolerating you as a gift of generosity. See what a good person I am! I don’t care what you do, as long as it is on your land and not mine. I will remain inflated and condescend when I must. The two lands remain separate, steeped in superiority, since people generally see right through this tactic.

I suppose I am willing to fight pure, raw evil. Yet, how often do we determine that there is evil within something for which we have almost no deeper knowledge? How often do we declare someone a demon, when we are treading in foreign territory and cannot even speak their language? Too often, I think.

The third option is the most challenging. It also requires our most spiritually fit state of being.

We can do this one if we are ready, but it calls forth some pretty impressive acts of unparalleled love and true courage. There is no room for ego-driven fear or distorted pride.

When I am up against another human being, whom I perceive as potentially antagonistic or vastly contrary to my truth, I am learning to take this rare and effective approach, but it requires something for which I have not always been capable. It requires a deep belief on a grand scale, an eternal longing to bridge the divide, to bring unity and secure a common ground. I don’t do this for the sake of others; although, it can certainly benefit others. I do it to hold myself accountable. If I fall from this state of grace, it is no one’s fault but my own, and I am the one who suffers in spirit. Spiritual warriors can not survive in a state of disdain for others.

Humans are very quick to make false assumptions based on limited information, and they become very ‘all or nothing’, which simply incites prejudice and scorn. We even build a case over time to justify our hostility. We ignore the whole picture: we neglect the act of learning more.

This third road to righteous peace creates a bridge across the divide, so that we can come closer to feeling safe and knowing an authentic calm:

  1. Be the curious observer. Enter the realm of the opposition with a sincerely objective and open desire to understand. Watch with the eyes and ears of a scientist. Stop taking it personally. Note all of the behaviors, not just the ones you find offensive. Give credit to the positive where it is due. Record in your mind the reasoning of the opponent. When we understand how someone thinks, we gain grace and wisdom. For a short while, suspend your opinions and learn more about theirs.
  2. Take your own inventory. If I am harboring guilt and shame, I am incapable of seeing others as they are. Worse yet, I am blinded by my own sense of inferiority. When I have done the work to mend my past actions, it is much easier to see others with compassion. It becomes possible to accept that they may never like me, but now, finally, I am more resilient and carry an ease in my heart. Because I’ve addressed my own shit, I am strong. If you think you are exempt from this step, you are sadly in denial.
  3. Validate when you can. When people feel that you have really listened to them, they soften. They need to be respected as humans and that means telling them what you do understand. We recognize where it all makes sense and their emotional world is honored. “I can understand why you feel that way.” This is pure gold on the bridge across the void. When I humbly sit with someone’s truth, I feel my heart fill with love.
  4. Ask questions. One of the most insightful discussions I have ever held was when I learned what it was like to be homeless, why it can be a choice, why it happens, how it remains this way. On the same note, I had just as much to learn about what it was like to live in significant affluence. Both have their own culture, their own codes of conduct, and yes, their own real struggles. This has been a gift as I would teach English to students on both ends of the continuum and could then provide sensitivity to the issues that arose. I don’t ask leading questions or rhetorical questions. I ask authentically interested questions with no idea what I am about to hear.

Any time we come to an impasse with others, it is likely we will have much to learn from each other. I am fascinated with the enemy. I can see that my higher power puts them in front of me so that I can grow. It helps if they wish to learn as well. However, I find that I often need to take the first step across the divide. I often need to wave the white flag and invite scary people to reveal themselves fully. I wish to see the child inside the imagined monster. I also have a full belief that we all have monsters inside. Let me love you anyway. You are no better or worse than me, even if you think you are. I must lead with an honest desire to promote a mutual healing if I am to walk freely in this life. Let me be the bridge. Let me at least try.

Say It to My Face

There are many ways to leave, and among the most heartbreaking and cruel is the scenario of one person slipping away without a word. You know the story: someone comes home and their loved one has taken all their belongings, and simply vanished. Listeners claim there must have been signs along the way, but isn’t that just putting the blame where it doesn’t belong?

This form of abandonment is not just in love affairs or marriage. It can happen with a best friend, suddenly behaving as if you never existed. It can happen to children who lose a living parent without explanation. It can happen at work, when one slowly realizes they have been excluded, uninvited to the regular gatherings of their peers.

Some people do the slow fade for damage control, constantly excusing themselves from your efforts, or canceling plans at the last minute. Some people never reply to your texts or answer your calls. Some people play nice, even hugging you when you unexpectedly show up somewhere. They politely ask if you are well, but then they slink away as soon as they are able.

We, the exiled, are first confused, even deny that it is happening. Then we ask, “What is happening? Why have you moved away from me?” It is a bitter taste when they refuse to discuss it, or worse, lie to your face in an effort to avoid getting real.

I am not sure why people do this thing, but I know it feels absolutely unnecessary, and much like a giant punch to the throat. The word coward comes to mind. Self-serving. Perhaps self-righteous. Even neglect. Yet, these words are too small to match the harm of such an irresponsible act; this is a choice of dishonesty and chaos and lingering regrets for all parties.

Wait! Am I just too scary to confront? I have been told this is true. So I double down and determine to always be calm, humble enough to hear the difficult truths, and capable of a dignified conversation. I make damn sure I am safe and approachable. I prepare for whatever it is. Please, I beg of you, just tell me.

There is little we can do, though, when we are not given the chance to hear it. And we will spend great spans of time wondering how we became unlovable. Somehow, this person you called friend, this person you trusted, decided you were unworthy of an explanation, and you have been robbed of any opportunity to fix it, or even understand at all.

This is why I promise the people I love that they will never have to wonder. I promise to tell them swiftly and directly what has left me disappointed or angry or hopeless regarding our relationship. I honor people enough to say the difficult things, hopefully with grace and compassion in my voice, but at least some honesty, absolutely looking them straight in the eye.

In order to respect myself, I must respect others. Even those who have done some really bad things, or those I must leave for any reason at all. Especially those who don’t even know what they have done, or if they even did anything. Telling someone in person why you wish to pull away is an act of integrity and courage. Life is not fair, I know. But where is your soul?

Today, I seek champions who feel the way I do. I watch to see how they treat those they leave. I watch to see how they behave when they are left as well.

Perhaps people who leave without explanation are merely weak and undignified. I guess I’ll never know.

Struggling to Love – Expected Flaws or Epic Fails?

In response to a friend’s question: How do I love my husband, despite his flaws?

No matter how much we love someone, they will eventually frustrate us to some degree. And if this is a long term, daily relationship, this challenge is likely to become a regular thing. Therefore, it is crucial that we understand what is a small annoyance, what is worthy of fair battle, and what is a deal breaker. Our love relationships are unique and personal and the variables are great. Still, there are some universal truths.

A wise coworker once told me that a marriage should be 90% fantastic and 10% challenge. I admired his marriage and could see that my own marriage was more like 30% pretty sweet and 70% horrible.

People have a lot more grace with divorce these days, but it is by no means an easy exit. It is rife with loss and a painful sense of failure, and yes, there is still judgment from others. Yet, with divorce and major break ups now a more common experience, I have learned that there is a big difference between what conflicts I know are almost nothing to what I know is seriously threatening our earnest promise to exclusive and lasting love.

Let’s begin with the obvious. If someone is living in a way that is soulfully damaging US, such as gambling to the point of unpaid debt, cheating sexually, or using violence to control me, I am out. Most people would agree that this level of behavior must have a hard line NO. Some people will stay due to the vows they made, but let’s all agree, the person destroying the relationship is not the victim. It is the person who first broke their promise to be your support, your ally and your protector, leaving you in this horrid position, forcing you to save yourself.

Then we have the other side of the continuum: The small stuff. Honestly, I have gotten to the point where certain issues are almost not worth a single breath of my time. Leaving crumbs on the countertops, toothpaste on the towels, and snoring. If this person is vegetarian and I love beef and pork, I just get creative. I mostly take care of these issues in silence. Why? Because I love too much about them to give a damn. If my partner tends to laugh nervously when we meet people, or they grow silent at dinner parties, I think my loyalty should override their idiosyncrasies. If my partner likes to watch football and I prefer a foreign film, or he seems more invested in hunting than playing with the kids, it is not a difficult thing to ask for what I need and establish what I can expect. If these are the sorts of things that bother me, perhaps I am overlooking the real problems. It seems like this level of complaint is either smothered by our love, or inflated by the fact that I don’t really want to be in this relationship to begin with. The small things can become big as a decoy from the scary stuff that is being ignored, avoided, deflected, or denied. If I am in a safe and loving relationship, these little contentions are easily resolved.

However, things are not always so big or little. There are subtle ways to threaten the harmony of a significant partnership, and over time can burn away the affection we once held. This grey, gone unchecked, is a growing cause of torturous angst. Perhaps this person misses work too much and spends hours a day sleeping; they’re not pulling their weight in the duties of the home and finances. Perhaps they overspend in unnecessary ways. Maybe your partner has emotional affairs with those who are attracted to them. Some partners hide their whereabouts, or become unreliable with mutual social commitments. One of the most damaging and elusive behaviors is sarcasm and calloused criticism, even the painful experience of being told you are unworthy of love; often these messages are only implied. Some partners grow possessive and accuse us of things we have not done. These grey areas can leave us confused, and we hope the deterioration of our trust and esteem will not ultimately ruin our love. These are the areas in which we wonder how long we must endure it, or if there is hope of change.

I would contend that long term experience with the grey can become unbearable and generate such a level of contempt that one begins to dream of one’s freedom, however that might occur. If we honestly approach them and our partner listens and agrees to change, then continues to do the very things that cause us pain, it is unlikely in today’s world that we will endlessly suffer. We know today that we can leave. We know that we have a choice; unfortunately, it will still come at a price. We spend much time and energy deciding if the price is too high, or if we are better off being half-content.

It seems important then to establish the spiritual nature of a love relationship. Love is not living under the same roof. Love is not having someone around so you don’t have to be alone. Love is not paying the bills and sitting at your mother-in-law’s table. These are the things that happen to support the love that is already there.

The spiritual nature of love is to honor something that occurs between two people, beyond the grave, beyond their choices, and beyond our petty desires. Love is an unconditional grace and resolve. And most importantly, this sort of true love must be matched by how much you love yourself. If someone is hurting me, I must love myself enough to assure my health and safety is first. If I love someone, I must measure my capacity for tolerance. If my partner does not honor my safety and trust, I must love myself enough to leave.

It comes down to these honest questions: Is this person I love doing their best? Are they sincerely trying? Am I also doing my best? Has it been made clear what is going to be enough? Is it clear what is not enough? If you don’t know where the line is, do not expect your lover to know it.

This is all that we can ask of each other in this messy world, and if his best is not enough for me, then perhaps I should step aside and let someone else love him instead.

Just Be Yourself, Whatever That Means

People often say, “Just be yourself!” Forgive me when I scoff at such a flippant remark! For there are great excesses of bold and subtle contradictions in this world. Who I Am is not only constantly changing, but sometimes straight up bad.

When people do a very bad thing, they say, “That is not really who I am.” And I argue that perhaps that is who you are, not wholly, but come on, partially, right? Our true nature is going to be capable of harm. The sooner we understand this, the more we will forgive ourselves and get on with the show.

Just be yourself. But, you know, not that part.

Just be yourself, but maybe just a bit better.

Just be yourself. But you will have to pay.

Okay, but additionally, can someone tell me who I am?

I am relieved to say that I have started to figure it out. And I conclude that in all my efforts to become a defined individual, I have arrived at the humbling fact that I am so much more like everyone else. That is a comfort. There are some unique fractions, sure. Yet, just being myself is basically recognizing that I am not as special as I once believed, and also, the only way to be my own snowflake is to sometimes lift myself up and away from all that society deems worthy, to defy the social constructs and admit in equal measure that the constructs are there for good reason!

So the search continues.

Let us begin with identity at the base levels, including labels and names and adjectives.

Typical American White Girl, privileged and yet honestly traumatized. Menagerie of European ancestors…Celtic, Nordic, German, French. Solid healthy Minnesota stock. Origins in the lumber industry of a river town. Also from a string of writers, artists, scientists, pragmatists, not always conforming, but not altogether oddballs either, passionate people, and plenty of educated smartypants.

We tend to be intelligent but neurotic. What can I say, it’s an uphill battle to overcome ancestral anxiety. Plus, we are largely brave, expressive, and sometimes overconfident. Knowing this about myself can help me to negotiate the crazy part of me, the part that suffers because of Who I Am. I giggle a lot, but sometimes I cackle.

Who I Am is also fluid. I am lazy when it comes to errands, procrastinating when my gas gauge is on empty, or there is little real food to eat. God help me if my tires are low. Seriously, if I were a billionaire, I’d have my own personal errand runner at my beck and call. Errands feel so meaningless after all.

I am highly motivated to charm people into doing what I want. Should I embrace this under the umbrella of being Who I Am?

When I wonder about others being who they are, are they refusing to behave in ways that are inauthentic, saying one thing but hoping for something else. Do you agree to things that suck your soul? Do you even understand what depletes you? Are you trying to laugh when you know it’s not funny? Do you work hard at playing to everyone else’s needs?

Sure, Being Myself can elicit humor, silliness, creative beauty, a thoughtful choice of fashion. There’s got to be something original and heartfelt in there. Yet, always I am toning it down so people will stay in the room.

Be Myself? Huh. I’m not so sure you know the ramifications here. If I am entirely Myself, people will experience a lot of curt replies, a shocking level of brutal truths for which they will likely retreat. And I will tell you things you won’t want to believe, like how I have this psychic ability, and I don’t care if you agree.

Being Myself will, in effect, annihilate half the relationships I hold dear. Because my true self is fantastically insensitive, impatient, and exhausted a lot of the time.

I know My True Self is capable of unconditional love, a fierce love, and a impenetrable loyalty, but also a senseless and grueling war. Deep down, I wish people would completely accept me as I am, but then they would have to understand that half the time, I know what I am saying is absurd. I don’t even totally believe everything that I say, since my brain is already considering the alternative. I wish to be given credit for seeing all of it when all you hear is half of it. I am not saying I am full of untruth, just that I am fully aware that my truth is flexible and I like it that way. You would need to allow my eternal right to change my mind. I’m only saying, when you suggest people should just be themselves, be careful. If you profess that you are capable of accepting people as they are, be prepared.

The Solstice Shadow

The Winter Solstice is upon us! This means we experience the longest night of the year, and it also means that each day thereafter will bring us to a longer stretch of daylight by just a few minutes, until Spring finally arrives! Up here in the northern part of America, we truly feel the depths of hibernation, and what it means to burrow in for an extended period – pandemic or no pandemic.

This year, I will make a special effort to honor the benefits of this quiet time. Today, I will intentionally walk in the daylight, all bundled up, even for a brief time. This evening, I will eat the warmed crusted breads, salted nuts, dried fruits and savory meats of my ancestral heritage, setting out a plate on my windowsill for the divine gods of the greater realms! I will ask for enduring strength and unwavering hope. I will light candles, tell stories of remembrance, and read poems of the bards! I will sway and twirl to Celtic drums and flutes! I will hold my cats among bells and pine boughs, and dream my mugwort dreams. This is a sacred night.

One of the beautiful notions of the winter solstice is that our shadow self is embraced. That part of us that has suffered and battled and longs to heal, waiting for the light and its warmth to return. Within each of us is a balance of our glory and our struggles. We must not deny the darkness, but go into the parts of us that need solitude and the salves of love. We recognize that we, like winter, are only here for a spell of time, and we are meant to accept our fleeting time on earth, we begin to treasure all that life brings. Nature is wise and relentlessly powerful. Let us accept our true, human nature, that which can only experience glory because of the struggles. No struggle, no glory. And the struggles are not only beyond our individual shells, but often a mirrored internal one, which requires our greatest courage and an iron-clad faith. The winter solstice reminds us to stop, rest, and reflect.

In December, the ice now thickens and protects the earth, so that come Spring, we are blessed with a melting saturation, the water needed to drench the soil and restore its growing once more. These cycles, these aeons of time, bring renewal and the fortitude to once again unfurl. We put our past to sleep, then we awaken to a new beginning.

The Ferocity of Trust

Whom do I trust? Ultimately, to be honest, no one. Not that I don’t choose to trust certain individuals under particular circumstances. I trust my sister to show up five minutes early. I trust my partner to tell me if he is annoyed. I trust my girlfriends to respond when I reach out.

But I am always aware of how humans are vulnerable and can be manipulated, easily pulled to even subtle levels of dishonesty, small white lies, omissions, and hidden agendas. People can be seduced and pressured, and then they fall. They fall from their own values due to secret longings or most often their fears. It is ridiculous to fully trust people when one has been repeatedly betrayed. I have always trusted too many too much and it was foolish. The lessons and even the trauma never leaves. We become suspicious. We may even project our fears onto those who have every reason to be trusted.

We can ruin our relationships because we refuse to trust, waiting around to prove we are correct in our fears, thus pushing people out. No one likes not being trusted. I have battled with trust for years. I even purposefully put my energy into those I knew could not be trusted just to avoid all the promises I was sure would be broken anyway. No trust, no shock of betrayal.

However, as I grow and build a new life, I can see that trusting no one is deeply painful, bitter and lonely. I have come to see that no one can earn my trust. I must take a measured risk and choose it. I must act as if. I must live without investigating them. Being a detective means learning things I am not supposed to know. And if I am supposed to know, it will naturally surface.

Yes, yes, of course I will be far more discerning now. I will observe the people in my life. I will note who says the very things that give their intentions away. I will recognize when someone tries to reason with me but their actions suggest otherwise, even when they believe themselves. It is impossible to convince me that you are trustworthy, since I have seen beyond a doubt that all people are capable of betrayal. I no longer try to convince myself of their purity or their devotion. I have room for small betrayals now. I still forgive easily, but I know what I will no longer tolerate.

So how do I find joy in such a dark belief?

I am learning that the best way to trust others, a lot or a little, is found in the decision to trust in myself. Trust in my ability to be okay even if. Trust my intuition. Trust the solid boundaries I set. Trust in fate.

If I feel powerless over the choices that others make, I must fall back on who I am. I must remember myself. I remind myself that I am a warrior spirit. I am a fighter with two feet planted. I am a survivor. If the worst happens, I will accept the disappointment; it is not a reflection of my worth. I will pick myself up in the end. I will rebuild. I will eventually thrive beyond any wreckage someone left in their wake. There are some fundamental reasons I will heal: I like myself. I like my life, the one which does not rely upon any singular human. I will continue to live and find joy despite them. And it is a comfort. The beauty I create is soulful. It is not dependent on so-and-so being in it.

I remember that moments of love with another person are a gift. Laughter with my children. Intimacy with my lover. Fragile moments with the elderly, the healers, the magical sprites of the world. These gifts are not meant to be permanent. Even we earthlings are not permanent. And in this way, I can treasure them, instead of clinging to the inane idea that it must always be this good.

When I look back on the people who have left or lied or betrayed my trust, I don’t beat myself up anymore. I gently review the peaks of glory or tenderness we shared. Those things were real too. I can be grateful to have known that part of them that wished to know me and played with me for a while. We will always be a part of each other.

I can have boundaries about what I will allow and take responsibility for the risks I take. I must avoid overly enmeshed relationships. I must declare to my loved ones that they are free agents and not mine to shackle to a self-righteous moralism. Go and do what you will.

Free will is the reality of our time here. I must let others have free will to do as they see fit. It is not my job to judge it or control it. It is my job to be honest in it. I will hold people loosely and show compassion for their journey. If they falter in their trust between us, I can protect myself by showing them forgiveness and compassion. I can cry if it hurts, until it doesn’t hurt so much anymore. I understand that to love someone is to accept that they may not always serve my needs, but the divine universe will always provide.

I am able to love you, here, like this, because I trust in the divine orchestration of my life. I trust in myself fiercely.

5 Ways to Build Self-esteem

People tell me I am confident. Brave. Self-assured.

I often wonder how they would see me if they knew what sorts of things I think about, how I worry about being rejected, especially when I am being my authentic self. Or how often I have felt misunderstood. Or that I largely believe I will be betrayed. I wonder if they thought I was brave when I was terrified to simply go get an oil change, and how I wish my bird legs were more athletic. I wonder what I do to create an image of self-worth when so much of the time I have to work at a fair estimation of Isa.

Generating a solid sense of self-worth takes work. It doesn’t just happen. I was not born with it. Self-esteem is not built because one decides he wants it. We must build it with action. Esteemable acts. It is true, I have a solid sense of my worth today, but it isn’t a permanent experience. I have to work at it daily, sometimes hourly. We are not marble statues after all. We are fluid and evolving and impacted by current variables.

How we see ourselves will influence every single iota of our time, our perception of others, and every choice we make – from the brands we purchase to our general attitudes to the people we love and how well we love them.

Therefore, I have been vigilant in the practices that have helped me along the way. There are a few crucial acts of esteem that prove effective in building self-esteem.

  1. Choose your friends and time with family carefully. Spend time with those who lift you up and especially those who respect you. For many years I chose poorly. Not always, for I have had some great friends, but often enough to keep me down in the dirt. Each time I shared something for which I was proud, my old friends would take it upon themselves to knock me down. If I used big words, they would roll their eyes. They felt that I would benefit from knowing I was not important. They did not honor my need to be important. These sorts of friends are not your friends. They are competitive and measure themselves by remaining just a little bit better than you. They make jokes at your expense. They tell you in subtle ways that you think too much of yourself whenever you begin to feel like maybe you are worth something. They lecture you, or dismiss you, and they expect you to behave in ways that serve them. Get rid of them. Cast them off. It is actually better to be alone than to be with them. Pay attention to those who listen and validate and guide you with compassion. With whom do you feel safe? With whom do you trust to remind you of your worth? Do they support your choices, or do they control your choices? Regarding family, be sure you are not seeking love from those who want to keep you in a box, or expect you to make choices that do not serve you. Stick with those who recognize your growth and respect your autonomy. Sometimes family revolts when we change and no longer play familiar roles. Family can make your life about them. Well, you are in fact that one who has to live it. So be sure it is what you really want. This “push back” is not yours to fix. Demand that people honor your choices when you know the choice is your true calling.
  2. Practice saying no. Be selfish enough to care for yourself. One of the greatest leaps in my esteem has come with my willingness to tell people that I will not do something just because they want it. I have determined that my needs are just as important as theirs. Additionally, I feel less compelled to justify it. People don’t actually want a huge explanation as to why you will not appease them. Keep it simple and show up for them when you can do so without harm to you.
  3. Make a list of the internal things you like about yourself and read it aloud daily. When I first tried this, it was difficult. I was afraid there was nothing. I was afraid of being too big. Today, I can list and recite openly those things that are simply true. I am reliable. I have a keen sense of humor. I take risks. I give honest feedback. I take care of my body. I am smart. I am caring. I am curious about others. I am fun! External things are great, like being popular or pretty, yes. But the internal stuff is not dependent on anything outside of our true nature.
  4. Find a spiritual path that constantly encourages your divine nature. As you struggle, and we all do, your higher power will be all around you and even inside of you to balance your challenges with comfort and power. When I am feeling worried or insecure, even inferior, I imagine my goddesses whispering in my ear, holding my hand, sitting next to me. Sometimes I imagine a giant span of wings attached to my back, or a crown of sparkling light over my head. I tap into the notion that I am a magical being with a soulful depth of power. I am divine in and of myself because I was created by a divine source. That source runs in my blood and sits in my bones. It emanates off my skin. I decide that I am going to move about in this way because it helps me feel I am worth knowing.
  5. Lift up those around you. The fast track to self-esteem is to celebrate the strengths and wins of those around you. Show them you are not threatened by their power. Recognize them. Compliment them. Soothe them. Help them feel loved. Choosing to actively inspire and appreciate another’s gifts and success is setting the stage for mutually supportive relationships. If those around you meet this behavior with distrust or dismissal, pay attention to whether or not they really have the self-worth to match you. They will either slowly get on board, or they are not someone you can count on with regularity.

Loving yourself will bring a beauty and an energy to your life and to others. As spiritual leader Marianne Williamson suggests, “Your playing small does not serve the world.” We are born to shine, so let’s get to it.