Happy Little Nature Rampage

From the Sanctuary:

Nature rampage lately…so healing to the psyche! First to Southwest Florida to explore with friends. My first day there they introduced me to their resident tree frog who peeked at me from their balcony bromeliad. Adorable beyond words! In the five days that followed we walked the beach, visited a nature park and drove to the Everglades, a destination that had been on my bucket list since I was five and read a story about it in Kindergarten. I wasn’t disappointed as we saw plenty of alligators and manatees. I ate fresh shrimp and tried Conch for the first time sitting at a picnic table by the water in one of the restaurants near the old City Hall. A teaser trip, I’ll be back.

Another highlight was our usual fishing outing which takes us from Bonita Springs out onto the Gulf of Mexico through narrow passages by small mangrove islands and inlets. My friend is an expert navigator and patient fisherman, baiting the hooks and freeing lines of those of us who aren’t the greatest at casting.  I catch nothing but the wind in my hair and sun on my face, but that is enough. The trip includes the pleasant surprise of a school of dolphins feeding near the shore. We slow up to drift between them and marvel as they surface close enough to us so we can hear the sound of the air escaping their blowholes. Magical.   I’m quiet on the way back, letting my thoughts drift peacefully and as pleasantly as the water, glad to be sharing this time in my Florida Happy Place with happy friends.

I returned to New York on a Thursday at midnight, due at Allegany Nature Pilgrimage on Friday afternoon.   Different wardrobe packed, I hop in the car headed for a weekend of scenic bliss and a prescription of workshops that include searching for spiders (led by a delightful nine-year-old bug enthusiast), butterfly catching, instruction at a beaver lodge and lesson on rattlesnakes (not nearly as dangerous as I suspected).   I was reunited with a retired friend from my UB Engineering days and had a relaxing night fireside with cabin neighbor family, a couple and their grown son.  We enjoyed our pleasant banter that included the perfect cheater microwave recipe for S’Mores in a pinch when you’re in the mood and there’s no fire to be found. Had reports of a pesky raccoon badgering (pun intended) campers for food, but he didn’t stop by my place.

The following weekend I spent Saturday and Sunday on day-long hikes with my Earth Spirit Educational Services family for the final sessions of a four-part series on herbalism field studies. By the end, I was much more adept at recognizing plants in different settings of Western New York forests, fields, creeks and ponds.   In all, we identified more than 100 plants, including a blooming Tulip tree, majestically looking like those flowering beauties in Florida. The ground looks different now, not just a place to walk upon, but a world to enjoy the endless gifts that Mother Nature provides in all of her purposeful greenery. As is the case with all Earth Spirit events, this one came with sentiments of true nature appreciation. When our educator introduced us to poison ivy he pointed out that although it has a bad reputation, all nature does what it needs in order to survive.   The more educated we become, the less fearful we will be. That was definitely true of my recent spider and rattlesnake lessons.  Reflecting, I also thought about people I have needed to forgive during my life, and I smiled in the moment thinking of them with love and a new understanding.   Perhaps that is true of humans as well…we behave in whatever ways we need in order to survive.

As I write this I am grateful to be back at my own sanctuary enjoying the bunnies chasing each other, great blue herons by the creek, sounds of the birds and the spotted fawn who appeared with Mom a couple of weeks ago sporting brand new wobbly legs. And I am happy.

I prefer Shaman, Thank You

If the dead talk to you, you are a spiritualist; if God talks to you, you are a schizophrenic.” – Thomas Szasz

More than eighteen years after earning the label, “bipolar disorder,” I’m ready to trade in the title. After further review, I’ve found that it doesn’t really suit me. It served its purpose for sure, calling my attention to how misunderstood the mental health concept is in our society, and giving me a fresh awareness to just how embedded the stigma is because I’ve lived it on the other side of “sane.” The usual kind and sympathetic response I get when people hear of my diagnosis is, “I never would’ve guessed that about you.” A well meaning reply that translates to “sick, crazy, beyond your senses, out of your mind, lunatic, insane, deranged, unhinged, off your rocker, stark raving mad.”

My humorous side does not reflect any of these so it’s much more fun to think of myself as cockamamie, batshit, half-baked, cuckoo, nuts, daft, kooky, creative, loco, bananas, loony, unique and genius. That’s more like me, Certified. Yet of all the terms that could be used to describe my condition, “illness” or “disorder” do not factor in at all. As a matter of fact they defy it. I prefer the Shaman diagnosis, prevalent in history and Eastern traditions.

The definition of Shaman is a person regarded as having access to, and influence in, the world of good and evil spirits. Typically such people enter a trance state during a ritual (or naturally), and practice divination and healing. Indigenous people, including Native American and Eastern Cultures observe that individuals who have experiences that in America today are considered delusional and psychotic were nurtured and revered, because they had transcended into the spirit world, or that spirits had chosen them. In the Shaman world, these chosen ones are assigned a mentor, cared for and looked up to for their wisdom or spiritual connections.  Their gifts are nurtured. If you’re only accustomed to knowing about, experiencing and familiar with the traditional Western concepts of mental illness, that won’t make much sense to you. But if you do some research and look into the history and practices beyond the U.S. paradigm, you’ll find an ages-old, accepted and entirely different perspective. Who’s to say who is right?

I first became acquainted with the Shaman concept after taking a workshop and in a college course about science, religion and nature. As I researched and explored culture and anthropology further, I adopted it. It fits who I am. From birth I have felt guided by a force, which I once referred to as “God” and now call the Universe. And I have close connections with nature and my ancestors. Sensing that calling, I have studied Shamanism further, which draws me closer to the spiritual world. Driven by love and belief in the power of energy, I now have an appreciation for the more holistic approaches to viewing and treating mental “illness.”

Bipolar, Schizophrenia and related Disorders, are merely words to describe conditions that fall under the category of severe mental illnesses, a U.S. term that was born of a complicated layer of laws, policies, government, physician associations and medical codes, the mental health system. I understand the good that they attempt and the patients that find solace in them. And I don’t wish to take treatment choice away from anyone. But as someone who falls under this category, I feel pretty damn good, and not the least bit out of order.   We deserve the experience to be truly who we are and not what the system makes us out to be.   If we are only able to bring ourselves back to the perfection we were before our diagnosis and look forward from there with a different lens, we could see what is right about us rather than what is wrong.

I for one am definitely not out of order. Just deeply in touch with nature and my spiritual self. Shaman. Perhaps a little half-baked, too.  And I think those who know me closest would agree.











Manifesting the Future

Sometimes in life we have to be daring in our manifestations.  I finally have the courage to dream big about my future.  Why not.  My life has been fantastic up to this point so why shouldn’t I expect that to continue.  I’ve always had a roof over my head, food on my table, money in the bank, people who love me; everything and everyone I’ve dreamed about has come into my life in perfect time. There’s abundance in every area.  I used to think that circumstances in life were a matter of luck and that you jinxed it by speaking about how good it was.  Not any more. A few months ago I found myself contemplating suicide, trapped in the most desperate time of my life.  My reflective side had to think back and find out how someone that thrives in the light and has become such a beacon to others had sunk into such a dark place.  And I found the answer.  It was during one of the few times that I did not follow my heart.

We all have that inner voice that keeps us on our personalized pathways of truth, masterfully paved by our desires where we are watched over by the Universe and have our hands held by our spirit guides.  They reassure, like the canvass on my wall that my son’s girlfriend made me, “Everything will always be okay.” When we step off the pavement beyond that truth, the voice, or some other sign calls us back. I had turned my back on belief and put myself in a situation that brought me so far away from my path, that I couldn’t find my way back, choosing to ignore my guide. In this particular case, my friends, family, blogs, culture were telling me to behave a certain way when my truth knew quite another, and I was distracted to the point where my inner voice was merely a faint whisper, the feeling a mere twinge.  I couldn’t reconcile, so I gave in to the world, betrayed my heart and retreated into the blackness.

My spirit guide, of course, grabbed my hand and led me away from all of the comments, advice and opinions and I at last turned away from my despair and said, “No! My reality about this situation is different.”  And like a snapped rubber band, I catapulted back onto my path relieved, my sanity intact. My inner voice immediately responded, “Welcome Back, Mary.  What took you so long?”  Anger and sadness retreated, love flooded back to my heart, the light and joy returned and enveloped me. Harmony remains, and I wonder now, why do we sacrifice ourselves with that resistance of what we know to be right for us rather than trust our intuition?

I love this bold new future that I’m manifesting, based on the unlimited boundaries of where I dare to let my heart go now, one that I created with my own idea of perfect reality. I know, because despite what the world would have me believe, I’m already there, and I feel it.  Deeply.

My Thing-a-Ma-Jig

I have one of these novelty thing-a-ma-jig toys on my desk that is filled with clear liquid. When you flip it, blue and green colored streams from the top trickle slowly down to the bottom in a process that produces pretty relaxing bubbles throughout. It is an appreciated gift from a co-worker, something I wouldn’t have thought to buy on my own, yet it brings me a few moments of daily joy.

This amuses me occasionally when I am in need of a distraction during my workday or I need to fidget or am just absentmindedly losing focus on a mundane project. I also add it to my lunchtime meditation routine on the days when I stay in my office. The green bubbles make me think about the fresh opportunities, choices, experiences that are mine to embrace all the time. The cooling blue reminds me of all of my chances to take a few minutes out of my life here and there to notice and contemplate them. When they land at the bottom they combine into this fantastic blend of ingredients that I have come to know as my happy life.

It took some practice for me to recognize the simple perfection of myself this way. Once upon a time self doubt, indecision, negativity, inadequacy, victimization, etc. were all a part of my self-inflicted world. They were the solids that landed upon and crushed me. The right people, outlook and powers that be helped me climb out of the rubble, introducing me to the ebb and flow. Liquid is so much easier and pleasant to navigate, especially when you learn the tricks to stay above the water.

I have developed this habit of flipping the thing-a-ma-jig when shutting down my computer and leaving work every day like I’m signing out. It readies me for the evening, calling me to have some fun there, too. Enjoy whatever I’m doing, whomever I’m dining with, be thankful for the abundance of food, look up at the stars and hope to see the moon. If it’s cloudy, so what. They’re still there.

As I inspect the thing-a-ma-jig while writing this, I notice there is a label on one end that says “Warm and Fuzzy Toy” in tiny letters. I believe that’s the name of the company, but it suits me. Simple things for simple minds as they say.   So I flip it one more time and it makes smile again. When the joy arrives, I am reminded of a true pay-it-forward story a co-worker told me earlier in the day. Her son was having breakfast at a diner with a couple of his fraternity brothers over the holidays.   A man at the table next to them laid a $100 bill on their table as he left, telling them to enjoy their breakfast. Stunned, they in turn paid for their breakfast and for the family’s at the next table. Then they left the generous balance to the waitress.

I like my thing-a-ma-jig. Simply wonderful.

A Season for Giving; A Season Forgiving

To prepare for an upcoming call with my life coach I followed my usual routine, preparing written notes on what was weighing heaviest on my mind. Note: Yes I do use a life coach. I find that the combination of her wisdom, daily journaling and the occasional glass of wine keep me moving on my path of joy and positivity. I’m not quite sure whether this time of year factored in at all, but my topic was forgiveness. I needed to forgive some people in my life for the perceived wrongs they had committed against me. Since I did not have the opportunity to do so one on one, I role played with my coach. Visualizing my “offenders” sitting across from me in my living room, I began with the most recent, rattling off a list items and scratching them off line by line. It was cleansing to think them, write them down and read them. When all were expressed, I firmly declared, “I forgive you.” It was more powerfully immediately healing than I imagined it would be.

For the next person, I did the same thing. Her list was much smaller, consisting of only one item, but that had invoked a feeling of trauma within me. While I was writing it out, a strange thing happened. A conscious thought came to my mind about how after she did what she did I had behaved pretty badly myself, dragging her name through the mud by reporting the story to whomever would listen, and many people did. It was an eye-opening moment, which resulted in my remorse. Despite her behavior, I wasn’t proud to act that way; it wasn’t at all in line with the compassionate person I strive to be. After I wrote “I forgive you” under her entry, I added “and I ask for forgiveness. I am sorry for what I did.” An amazing feeling of calm overcame me (it wasn’t the wine) and I wished that these two people were standing in front of me right there and then.

I found this forgiveness activity so successful that I grabbed a fresh piece of paper from my notebook and visualized my life’s worst “offender” (my ghost of Christmas past perhaps?) and bravely began to write. I completed an entire side of the page before I was mentally exhausted and he was forgiven. Woah. In that moment I was thinking that sometimes the best of the written word isn’t reserved for the New York Times bestseller list, but in my own damn journal.

I’m glad I took the time to do that clearing of my heart Chakra. I feel like I shed every Holiday pound in the process. I learned so much. First of all, that I’m grateful to have so few people in my life that I feel I need to make amends with. Next, I gained an understanding that each of us has a different interpretation of what is necessary to receive or give forgiveness for. I am only able to understand those concepts according to my own values and beliefs, not other’s. Which is why it pays to communicate responsibly more in the moment when I have been hurt.  Otherwise the other person walks around clueless. If anyone needs to forgive me for something, visualize me in the living room, or better yet, step forward, let’s talk. We all will work better if we learn to share the love. Time and relationships are too precious to hold grudges, and forgiveness is a mighty elixir.

To All for 2017: Good Tidings of Comfort and Joy with lots of Love thrown in.

Photo Credit:  Megan Rose

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