Healing Ritual

I was collecting rocks at the beach. Wind blew hard against my face and I was glad to have the many layers of clothes I had worn. It was time for a healing ritual, an unloading of unwanted accumulation.

stones1I sat on the sand like a kid, examining and fingering each rock. Some were perfect and round, others jagged with veins of white running through the center. They were every shape, variety and color. I unzipped the pocket of my fleece and pulled out a magic marker. Each rock would represent a burden I carried that I wanted to release.

On one rock I wrote the name of a friend whose connection had become strained and heavy. I wanted to keep the friend, but not the troubles surrounding us. On another, I wrote the word, stagnation, sighting my desire to travel and my feelings of being stuck. I wrote the names of foods I needed to stop eating, foods which pleased my taste buds but harmed my body. I went on this way choosing the right rock for the outgrown belief or trouble I carried.

When I finished, I piled them in two plastic grocery bags with the intention of walking as far as I possibly could to bring the reality of what I was doing emotionally into a real world understanding. I hefted the bags from the beach and began to walk. I had only gone a few yards when both bags broke open and spilled on to the sand. Determined to finish, I took off my jacket and bundled them inside. It was more difficult to carry as one bundle, but I managed.

I looked around. The beach was fairly empty, a tall man in an orange coat with a golden dog walked in front of me, and a handful of people who played by the parking lot entrance disappeared behind. The wind encouraged my efforts as it blew against my back, making it easier to walk. I thought about all I carried as I made my way down the shore. I thought about how heavy it was and how tired it made me feel. There was a moment which mirrored my life, when I actually felt proud. Wow, look at me, I thought. I am so strong and can carry so much. I wanted to celebrate my strength. Emotions rose and fell with each new step.  After awhile I slung my bundle on to my back and realized how familiar that felt. I looked so normal from the front. No one would guess I carried such weight out of sight.

When I could bear that no longer, I shifted the rocks from shoulder to shoulder and finally pulled them in front of me, where I acknowledged them for the troublesome weight they were. At one point, I noticed a sand dollar and wanted to pick it up, but had to ask myself if I could do it. I wondered if I could hold my burden and reach for what I wanted at the same time. I studied it. It was small and beautiful and would add no weight, but there was the juggling of the load to consider. Would it be easier to pass it by? How symbolic that moment was, as I remembered my recent desire to book a massage and how easily I had over-ruled it, sighting lack of funds or too much work. I carefully lowered myself near the prize, plucked it from its resting place and tucked it in the pocket of my shirt.

After walking three miles, I came to a path that led away from the shore and up to a cliff where I could perch on the point and rest. The path was sand covered, steep and shifting, a challenge on a good day. I struggled to hold my bundle as I grabbed tree roots for balance and leverage. I pulled myself to the top exhausted and panting,  dropped to the earth and gratefully took in miles of shore line, seagulls, fishing boats and the distant orange speck of a man and his prancing dog.

The mountain served as a welcome protection from the wind as I waited for my breathing to descend from chest to belly. The sun warmed my face. I pulled each stone from the bundle, thought about its shape and size, and the words I had written. I cried about some and settled into my willingness to release them.

I knew from my healing practice that it was not enough for my mind to decide things; my body had to decide also. This ritual was making my decision both integrated and real. I remembered a client I had seen a week earlier who felt he had lost his masculinity in an overbearing marriage. He had complied so much that his essence seemed to have disappeared all together. It had been helpful to talk about his feelings, but it wasn’t enough. What worked was a physical ritual that placed a knife in his hand, called his warrior self from memory and brought rage up and out of his belly in great howls of self-claiming. Ritual is the missing spiritual piece in our ability to heal. 

Finished on the cliff and ready to head back, I prepared to leave. I picked up my bundle and was surprised to feel my body recoil in resentment. But my ritual was not complete, so I picked up the rocks, made my way down the mountain and walked to the ocean’s edge.

Waves lapped at my feet as I pulled each stone from hiding.  As I threw them into the water, I spoke again of releasing the energy they carried, but this time I invited new energies to take their place. Where there was conflict, I invited harmony, where there was stagnation, I invited invigoration, and so it went stone after stone until my hands were empty. 

I finished with a great feeling of liberation and peace, but the wind was no longer at my back. I tied my empty jacket over my head to shield my ears and walked the three miles back to my new beginning.


beach-windI have a place in my heart that will not heal. It grows but does not diminish. Coming to the ocean helps me empty it when it gets too full. The pain is an ache, a heart break, an intolerable hurt that makes me wish I could throw it up and out.

I am displaced, a person put down on the wrong planet, a snail pushed naked from its shell. The people here are nice; most are sweet and kind. We interact but my sense of belonging and sisterhood remains disengaged. Where is my tribe? Where are the others like me? Where can I plant my feet and feel my spirit returned to its home place?

I come to the ocean to heal, to breathe the air deep inside my lungs, to weep without apology, and be accepted by a vast watery expanse greater than my sorrow.

The man who owns the Oceanside Inn tells me that he is perfectly happy there. There is no place else on earth I would rather be. He means it. I know many people like him, people who are at one with the place they live, the people they interact with, the work that defines them.

I am a healer for the artists, the creative souls, the sensitive ones, the spiritual seekers. I know the landscape of their pain and the road they walk upon. I understand the loneliness of being different and set apart. I am the wise woman they seek to heal their hearts, because I don’t hold up societies mirror and tell them to be what they can never be. I show them the reflection of their gifts and greatness. I teach acceptance and celebration. I take them to the core so they know how to breathe into the sacredness of their lives. I support and love them as they become their dreams.

So – why can’t I do the same for myself? Why can’t I find my own path to freedom? What bridge will connect me to an experience of life that makes sense? When will I stand on land that I never want to leave? When will I look into the eyes of others and feel a sense of tribe?

Gib thinks I am elitist, but that is not true. This is not about class. It is about finding the lifestyle and energies around me so alien that I can not relate. He has no such problem. My husband is wired for this place. He slams up against life like a game of bumper cars, and is better for it. He rejects nothing, because it all makes sense to him, television, sports, taverns, community. He is in it all, racing up and down the highway every day, ready for the next adventure. Our relationship is one of opposites. I am the turtle and he is the train. I am exhausted by people, while he is recharged. There is a lovely tenderness between us that overrides this polarity, but it remains a challenge.

If only you didn’t feel every single thing, he tells me. If only you could censor or repress, like the rest of us. You don’t have the emotional walls we have to protect ourselves.

Maybe that is the definition of a psychic. Everything comes in. There is no shelter, there is no escape.

But I have not given up hope. I still believe if I keep traveling and searching that I may eventually find a place that resonates as home and a people I can call my tribe. If not, I look forward to returning to an unseen realm as expansive and vast as the ocean that cradles my spirit today.

A cool breeze lifts the papers in my notebook as I write, while an unexpected January sun lays against my forehead like a long lingering kiss. There is peace here, in this moment. I will take it with me; tuck it away like medicine for the secret broken place I carry in the truth-telling places of my heart.

Ode to Lydia

What is that instant connection with another person; that sudden timeless knowing that you know or have known each other; that warm immediate acceptance that feels like a welcome reunion between strangers?

It’s not exactly falling in love, but it is a falling of sorts, perhaps into the eyes of another’s remembering. This mysterious bonding can happen anywhere, with anyone, at any age. It’s a rip in reality as we know it, an opening, both uncommon and familiar.

Her midnight eyes caught my attention, not the color, but a spark, a flash of light; an almost tangible electricity. Our meeting took less than a moment as we walked in opposite directions along a quiet ocean shore.

Her name was Lydia, eight years old and going into fourth grade, but I wouldn’t find that out until the next day. Now all I had was the flash of recognition that we once knew each other and wanted to again.

Lydia’s long brown hair spilled over her shoulders in full waves of curl, accenting her vibrant turquoise jacket and pants. She watched me watching her, as she planted her hands in the sand and rose barefooted into a cartwheel, then another and another still; her young legs never quite extending above her confidence. She looked back as if to say, Did you see what I can do? What do you think of that? Pretty cool, huh?

Her parents walked beside her. Her father, a slender man with early grey hair, her mother average and withdrawn. They walked happily forward, insular in their privacy. Lydia shot me a knowing smile, she was an obvious beacon in their careful lives. That was Thursday night.

 I was at the ocean with my granddaughter, Isabella and my daughter, Kristen, having a mother-granddaughter vacation. I kept Lydia in mind as a playmate for Isabella, deciding to introduce them if I saw her again.

On Friday we rose eager to walk and explore the shoreline. The tide was out and small bodies of water dipped into little pockets of discoveries. Isabella found several starfish in purples, reds, browns and blues. She pocketed countless agates and two hard earned sand dollars. We climbed cliffs and discovered new views, Bella always staying behind to make sure I got up without trouble. I’ve got ya, she’d say, extending her hand over rocky terrain. When did we switch roles? I wondered. When did I become the one falling behind and not her?  The ocean air invigorated our spirits as we made our way back for lunch.

It was late afternoon before I saw Lydia again. Isabella was flying her multi-colored bug kite, the one with the curly tail and face that reminds me of a protective Hindu God. Lydia watched from afar, then pulled out a pocket-sized kite of her own, a dragonfly trailing yards of shimmering gold metallic. Both girls ran as only the young can to keep them airborne. As the kites slowed and fell to earth, I took the opportunity to introduce myself.

I know you, I said running next to Lydia, You’re the girl that did those amazing cartwheels on the beach yesterday, aren’t you?

She did not lower her eyes or pull back in shyness. No, she met me eye to eye drinking in our conversation like the desert wanting rain.

Yes, that was me, she said. I’m eight years old and going into fourth grade. I’m here on vacation and I’ve been here before. We live in Washington. We came here last year too, only it wasn’t so cold then.

Her face lit like the sun itself, radiating light in all directions. I loved watching her generate words from her inner excitement and give them to me, like small wrapped gifts from an unseen self.

I do lots of things, she continued. I study gymnastics and learn piano from Miss Barker. She’s been my teacher for two years and she lives in the brown house just down the street. It doesn’t take long to walk there. She has a really small dog with red hair who waits for me by the corner of the house. His name is scruffy but he is not at all scruffy. You would like him, I bet. Have you ever been to the ocean before?”

I come to the ocean every few months because it’s a short drive and beautiful in all kinds of weather.

The ‘every few months’ part struck her as impossible. She was mulling that over when her mother approached.

People can do that when they live near-by and this woman does not know who Miss Barker is, Lydia, nor does she care. Lydia’s father stood next to her now, joining forces with her mother like a bucket of water waiting to extinguish light.

We have a nice fire going, I offered, and plenty of marshmallows, if you’d like to join us. I’m sure Lydia’s as good at roasting marshmallows as she is at doing cartwheels. She beamed in my direction, unable to contain her excitement. Can we mom, can we?

We’ll make a fire before we end our vacation, her mother promised. An indirect and unchallenged refusal.

Are you enjoying your time here, I asked.

 Now we are, the father offered, but we had to move our lodging when we first arrived because the landlady was getting too friendly.

Oh, I see, I said, and I did. Point taken.

Lydia looked at me for a moment and beyond to distant flames that spit and rose in the air.

Perhaps we’ll see you out here tomorrow, I said, It would be nice for the girls to fly their kites together.

We’ll still be here, the mother answered, collecting Lydia’s pail and shovel. Her father folded their beach chairs in one arm and Lydia in the other.

I’ll be here tomorrow, Lydia said eagerly. I’ll be here at 9 a.m. and if you want to, please come get me. I’ll be in cabin 18 ~ right over there. Her eyes were saying, I want to go home with you, as her body turned in reluctant compliance.

We didn’t see each other the next morning. She was not on the beach, but my daughter saw her later that afternoon while I was resting. Yes, they played together for awhile, Kristen said, but Lydia had to leave. She gave Isabella a butterfly kite as a goodbye gift.

How were the parents?

Distant, separate, aloof. Lydia did not stay.

 And that was that. I never saw Lydia again and don’t expect to.

But here I am two days later writing about her. She is on my mind. She left an impression. I’m pondering her journey through life and what it will be like as she reaches toward the cornucopia of the world, while her parents diminish the flow to crumbs of fear and safety.

Lydia is a child living in radiant color next to shadow people. I wonder what affect that will have. I wonder if their fears will come to own her, or if she can use their example to push past them, into her own growing wisdom and remembered knowing.

But most of all, I wish I’d had a moment with her; a small island of uninterrupted time when I might have spoken into those clear receptive eyes; when I might have spoken with the freedom people have when they recognize each other from another time and place. I think I wanted to tell her that it will all be okay and that there are others like her here. I wanted to say, Don’t worry dear, you are not alone.

written 8-12-08


I sit in a circle of women, each one different, varied and rich like the spices that line the shelves near my stove. We are a variation on the theme of writing, creativity, seeking and womanhood. Being here I slow down to notice my breath and my place in the circle.

 Yesterday I stood at the ocean on a quiet deck overlooking an undecided day. I held pieces of bread in each hand, my arms outstretched like a scarecrow. In seconds the airborne flapping of wings blanketed my body, flying, darting, and diving. Birds less brave sat along the railing, or the crest of a nearby roof hoping for a scattering of crumbs.

I love being surrounded by birds. I love their freedom and beauty, all swirling in crisp ocean currents. The gulls are the sea bound relatives of their British cousins in Trafalgar Square, the bridge between Charing Cross road and Portland Place. 

I love being surrounded by these women as well. Fellow travelers on the inner road to the soul. Women who make a path one word at a time, our destination both known and unknown, an active journey of discovery and revealing. The pen delivers surprises, the information from head and heart landing like treasures on the pristine landscape of the page. A light turning on in rooms forgotten.  We do not fully know what we know without putting pen to paper. 

I sit in a circle of women.

I stand in a great flock of churning seagulls

and I stand in myself.

Each moment a gemstone in my private collection.

written 3-7-08