A Place for Women

Last week I visited an amazing place in Rockford, Illinois – an organization called Womanspace. Started by two forward thinking (and somewhat rebellious) Roman Catholic nuns back in 1974, their headquarters are warm and inviting, nestled near a pine forest—a quiet place away from the madding crowd with a meditation garden nearby and beyond, the most extraordinary labyrinth.

Stepping into this thoughtfully designed haven, one feels immediately as if she has come home. Meant to be a refuge, it has the spirit of a sanctuary—peaceful, calm, and oh, so welcoming.  That they could imagine, way back when, that such a place would be a necessity, not just a luxury in a world changing too fast for anyone’s good, is indeed a blessing.

I had long since known that primitive tribes so revere a woman’s spirit—her intuition and instinct to be precise– that they send their women away eight times a year to such a place. The tribal fathers had a knowing that all would be well if women could be  off duty and together in a natural setting, free from work to simply feel safe and contemplate what really matters.

It occurred to me that we all need sacred space—womanspace. The world so often comes crashing in on us compassionate people-pleasers that if we don’t find our own refuge we too, will crash.

I returned home moved and determined–intent on redesigning my office, making it my haven, a place with only objects and artwork of my choosing. And because I love the sound of water, I am purchasing one of those fountains that you plug in and it gurgles away all day long.

All women should have a material place within their home and a place outside—in nature—to which she can retreat. Where would that be for you and can you find a corner in your abode? Happy hunting and do indulge yourself.

Nordic Ski Races

Last week I found myself in Ketchum, Idaho visiting my grandkids—an out doors playground for the rich, famous, and very fit!  A highlight of the trip was trudging out to an immense field of snowy mountains to watch the Nordic Ski races. Some three hundred very fit and very young skiers had flown in from all over the world to compete for 4 days in this winter wonderland. It was thrilling to be close up and personal with Olympians and others working their way toward such accomplishment.

For a while it was exciting to watch event after event as these thin, trim, muscular men and women did their thing, each motion smooth and skilled, each stride seemingly effortless. It wasn’t until they crossed the finish line and collapsed, (literally!) that I realized what training and discipline it must take to be accomplished in this sport.

Eager to take it all in, I attempted to run from one trail to another to catch a glimpse of the front runners but alas, both the altitude (6500 feet) and my no longer youthful somewhat out of shape body inhibited me from seeing much. I found myself wishing I had had an individual sport when I was young—that I would have cared more about conditioning and athletics, both of which would have come in handy with the onslaught of aging.

As I watched the awards being handed out and the beaming faces standing before me on the podium, I vowed to begin once again and give my body the attention it deserves. I bought myself a pedometer—10,000 steps a day, they say, will not only jump start one’s metabolism but keep the doctor away.

Try walking that far—it’s actually fun competing against yourself.

Chase the Moon

I am turning a deaf ear to the horrific news that has been permeating the air waves for months now. Not that I don’t care or have the greatest sympathy for those made to succumb to man made chaos, such as the oil spill in the Gulf and the nuclear leak in Japan, to name a few. The very sanctity of the earth is being disrupted by the powers to be and it would seem that Mother Nature herself is rebelling (rightfully so) against this total disregard for her laws.  Yet, on occasion she offers a phenomenon  that, if we take the time to notice, proves her power over all.

Such is the reason I headed out Saturday night to chase the moon. Having read that a “super moon” was to appear on March 20th I felt the need to be proactive—to support nature and praise it’s life- giving properties. And so, my friend Cathy and I packed up some wine and cheese  and headed to the Chatham Fish Pier—an easterly point on Cape Cod– for the “promised rise”. To our surprise the place was packed with locals, equally excited to stand in bone chilling wind to “wait for the light.” The expectancy was palpable—the crowded pier heartwarming. It seemed that I wasn’t the only one craving hope in her heart.

Sure enough, some ten minutes later than predicted, there appeared a swash of pink and orange and seconds later a half circle which soon became a full blazing ball on the horizon, and voila, we had our spectacle—a giant orb, uncharacteristically huge, almost seeming out of place, the color of the sun not the moon– an upside down moment that utterly captivated.

I expected everyone to break into cheers and a round of applause, but instead the spectators were strangely silent—it was  as if we were experiencing a sacred second and collectively needed to honor the inexplicable. There was no reason or justification for the moon making its closest approach to earth in 18 years—it just seemed to happen. Although much is discordant and unsteady on this earth, things in the heavens run smoothly as if by clockwork.

As I sat and relished the sight, it occurred to me that there was no controlling this occurrence, nor do we have any control over the rising sun, the tides, the seasons. We are made to accept the ebbs and flows but if we are alert and awake we must seize the day when nature presents us with visible miracles.

A strange sweet melancholy filled the car. We had both endured a tough year and in need of witnessing something bold and hopeful—to be buoyed, I suppose, before we were made to walk back into the darkness.

“Do you remember the old farmer we met on Iona last year?” I asked my friend as we sipped our wine.

“You mean the one with the white beard and dazzling blue eyes that we called the Druid?”

“Yep, him. Remember his theory about global warming—that by invading the moon back in the 60’s and stirring up all that moon dust on the surface of that sacred and important place, we somehow disrupted everything.”

She nodded.

As I’ve learned over the years to find solace in the natural world, this recent bold reminder affirms that even though I can’t control the chaos that abounds, just LOOKING can be a satisfying act of kindness to myself—a necessary peaceable act to keep me going. May you find such peace by simply sitting still and waiting.

A Tribute to My Friend, Sylvia Bays

It’s been a decade since Sylvia Bays came into my life—a tall, stately woman who oozed casual elegance. But after the first few meetings that persona melted away and what emerged was a strong spirit—an unfinished woman, for certain, who was quietly in search of truth—of knowing herself  beyond the roles that she played and then simply BEING THAT.

Wherever she was, be it Iona, Scotland, the Kenwood Inn in Sonoma, Cape Cod on retreat, her cozy home on Balboa Island, visiting children in Syracuse and Modesto, you could be certain she would be involved—aware that the sand moving through the sand timer never stops and thus, not a second of this precious life should be taken for granted.

Then came the dreadful diagnosis. A doctor, at his most insensitive, gave her the grim prognosis and Sylvia (who rarely felt the slightest bit sorry for herself) teared up.

“What are the tears for,” the doctor asked.

“I’m not ready to go,” she answered, promptly exiting his office with a quiet determination. She had miles to go before she slept, and so began her crusade of connection—criss-crossing the country via airplane—touching down like a fairy godmother waving her wand of love.

Relationship was everything to Sylvia—be it a friend, family member, son or daughter. She was truly a  GRAND mother to us all. And how we benefited from her quiet generosity, snippets of wisdom, unfounded compliments, and encouragement. Whenever I needed a dose of truth or a no nonsense perspective on anything I would call Sylvia. She always had a more than satisfactory answer to get me through a crisis or calm me down in the midst of one.

What’s more, Sylvia’s suggestions were always to the point. “Don’t get involved in your son’s divorce—it will eat you alive. Being alone is better than being with someone non-authentic. Make sure your grandchildren know who you are. Compliment, don’t criticize. Love. Touch. Hug. Breathe. And at the end of the day, get down on your knees and thank God for all the blessings he has bestowed upon you up until now.”

She also forgave herself the few mistakes she made, taking solace from the poet Robert Frost:

“Do you have hope for the future?” someone asked Frost.

“Yes, and even for the past, that it will turn out to have been all right for what it was…something  we can accept, mistakes made by the self we had to be or was not able to be.”

Fortunately, for Sylvia, she had learned a long time ago that for her, love was the ruling principle and authentic connection was a must. She stepped up her game, particularly with her grandchildren. (Even her old email address  identified her as grammy@something.com).

She hardly ever missed a musical performance or  sporting event, made it to everyone’s First Holy Communion, took her grandsons camping, and who could forget the infamous trip to  Disney World.

As for the grand daughters they went to London (probably to see the Queen), did some incredible shopping, indulged in fancy lunches, stayed in fun hotels, and always kept the room service people very, very busy.

So I am not surprised that she would chose to leave this earth around Valentines Day—she gave so much from the heart that we who benefited will be imbued with her love forever.

The Latin definition for inspire is to breathe life into. Funny that she succumbed to a lung ailment when she was a person who literally breathed life into others.

But most of all, what she insisted and taught me was the importance of being real. Our favorite verse was from the children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit.

“What is REAL?” asked the rabbit of the Skin Horse.

“Real isn’t how you are made,” was the answer. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the horse.

“Does it happen all at once, or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once. You BECOME. It takes a long time, that’s why it doesn’t happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.

Generally, by the time you are REAL, most of your hair has been loved off and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to those people who don’t understand.”

Oh to have been blessed enough to know Sylvia.

Use the “F” Word

A dear friend once said we needed to use the “F” word more often.

At first I was shocked, thinking of course that she was referring to the four-letter word we all know and try not to use.

But alas, she was talking about a three-letter word called FUN!

Ever since, I try to put some of that word in my everyday—especially when I have given a lot of time and energy to a project. And so, here I am with my fabulous assistant Cathy, frolicking in the snow (in Provincetown and Wellfleet) after our retreat last weekend. We have taught ourselves to revel in giving to the women who make the trek to Cape Cod but then make sure we receive the same and have fun ourselves.

“Joy is a duty,” said my mentor, Joan Erikson. And the Bible says, “The world loves a joyful giver.” But only if we refuel will we be successful at balanced living.

I have a calendar upon which I place stars every time I do something FUN for myself. Why not kick off your new year making the “F” word part of your plan?

Going to the Light

Finding Your Strength on the Clothesline

Thirty eight women from fifteen states believed enough in themselves to retreat to Cape Cod in the middle of winter to be off duty—to pause—to take stock of who they are beyond the roles that they play.

Many in this group of robust souls (who ranged in age from 30 to 75) were in caretaking professions such as nursing, teaching, social work, personal coaching—and as I watched them probe their own psyches it was pleasing to witness an attitude shift—from weary and bedraggled to beaming and serene—proving what Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote in her book, A Gift From The Sea that “If it is in a woman’s nature to nurture, then she must nourish herself.”

When I was on the Oprah show several years ago, there was a woman in the front row complaining that she could never get away… “she had children, a husband, a job, and no time for leisure.”

I surprised myself with my answer: “There are 8,700 hours in a year. If you can’t find 24 for yourself it’s pitiful.”


Oprah picked up on my sentiments and in her wonderful way shouted back at the woman: “Pitiful…you are pitiful!” The audience roared and I realized, after the fact, what a seminal moment it actually was. What’s more, it is pitiful to see how little it takes for a woman to actually refuel and turn her life around!

The Latin word for vacate is vacare—to be empty. That is precisely what happens on retreat—a woman can empty her overflowing container of everyone else’s issues and be selfish enough to regain some of what she has given away.

I wish for you, retreat time—be it an hour, a day, or a weekend, to recapture your essence and be that person full to the brim with feminine energy—an energy that will do a world of good to yourself and those around you.

Yoga: Body and Soul

Timeline to Know Your Strengths

Weaving The Colors of Your Life

Breaking the Rules: Bathrobe Clad Beach Walkers

Winter Solstice, Day 13, Online Retreat

One more day until the Winter Solstice, a rarely celebrated holiday but a meaningful one just the same, particularly because it is the shortest day of the year—the day with the least amount of light.

In Celtic tradition, this was a time to Pause, (what else could they do, without electricity the nights were endless?), and the Celts were left to build bonfires and huddle around until the dawning of day. During this darkest night women were asked to soul- search–to redefine what it means to be feminine—to contemplate one’s individual purpose and then to begin to plant seeds in the moist dark earth with the hope that they would germinate and grow seedlings as the light of day gradually became more prevalent.

Therefore winter, which includes a period of hibernation and waiting, seems the perfect time to continue our retreat work. If women are the “carriers of culture,” as Ashley Montagu once said, then we owe it to ourselves and those around us to continue our inward journey and see it as not selfish time but rather selfless time.  Imagine if women all over the world took this precious dark time when the spirit envelopes to continue to ask the important questions and then meditate on them during the months ahead.

On this particular Winter Solstice we will be further strengthened by the total lunar eclipse– a rare occurrence when the earth, sun, and moon are in perfect alignment. Isn’t that alignment precisely what we have been seeking as we have been pondering the meaning of our personal existences over the past few weeks?

If you were able to do just one day of retreat or if you were able to go through the entire process, some small seed of yourself is germinating and waiting to bloom.

For as the poet Rainer Maria Rilke said: “And now let us welcome the new year, full of things that have never been”

Ponder the Process:

Here is the process we used in the past several weeks in order to go inward and hear our own voices. By getting on-line every Monday and Friday you were:

Answering the Call of Your Consciousness

Becoming a Pilgrim to seek answers for your life

Relishing the Path – the adventure of the unknown

Surrendering to Serendipity and find new delight

Welcoming the Transitions you find yourself in

Seeking Seclusion so you can be without chaos and clutter

Accepting Detours as an inevitable part of living

Taking Action with personal intention

And all of these steps will continue to lead up to you becoming your own heroine.

Finding Your Center, Day 12, Online Retreat

Embracing Mystery and Ritual

It’s taken me years to walk a labyrinth and actually settle in to the experience. But once I accidentally discovered the ancient labyrinth on Iona it became the profound moment such a meditative ritual can offer the seeker.

So, I was looking forward to what message I might receive this time. It is always breathtakingly beautiful to arrive at the top of Colomba’s Bay moor and gaze down to the water’s edge—the grassy meadow dotted with grazing sheep, the rocky coastline laden with impish seals,  and tucked somewhere amongst it all,  is the labyrinth.

Once down near the shore I spent quite a bit of time searching for the “right” stone to leave in the center—this time a heart-shaped one. But with intention and purpose just now I hightailed it to the entrance.

The path is narrow making one concentrate hard to put one foot in front of the other. Maintaining balance is key as falling into another’s path would take away from my own personal path. But once I got a rhythm and was clearly on the way, I gave into the moments.

Shedding is what you are meant to do—leaving outside of the spiral all thoughts, regrets, ideas, projections—an attempt to stay clear and concentrate only on the task at hand—to receive a message in the center of the spiral.

Today I heard the words, Let Go—nothing dramatic, but surely a useful instruction. OK, I’ll take it, I thought, and left my stone on top of the pile before me. As I turned and began the equally long walk out, the tears began to flow—I had been holding on to so much that was outlived—regrettable experiences-lost dreams-cherished people that I had no power to rescue  and needed to release.

Once outside the labyrinth, I headed up the beach and came upon a Native American Medicine wheel indicated by a small plaque someone had embedded in the sand. Aware that many medicine wheels are built to call upon one’s ancestors, I realized that there would always be support from afar– that the saints and relatives that went before us stand now with a strength of spirit to hold our endeavors and assist with their guidance.

Profound would not do justice to the labyrinth walk today. It was a relief and comforting to think that none of us walk alone. May you all experience such a message by walking your own labyrinth.

Questions to Ponder: Who can you call on for spiritual support? What is in your gene pool that can rise up and be there when the event seems too large for just you to handle? How can you begin to let go in little ways?

Cutting Loose, Day 11, Online Retreat

Last night I took some of my own medicine and had a gathering of four women, three of whom had been with me on Iona. Invited for a glass of wine I put out some cheese and crackers, a few grapes, lit the fire, and uncorked a fine Pinot Noir as well as a Chardonnay. They arrived promptly at 5 and as like-minded women often do, we got right into it—discussing Iona of course, but then marriage, hopes, future endeavors, and dreams imagined as well as dreams tarnished. What was meant to be a quick drink turned into a five hour chatty marathon, made all the more interesting because we ranged in age from 30 to 65.

If you recall at the beginning of this on-line retreat, I insisted that this exercise not just be  about self improvement– it was also about having fun. Some of my suggestions were to enjoy a glass of fine wine, have lunch with a friend, get a massage, or buy yourself some fresh flowers.

Probably the most important thing for a woman to do during this hectic holiday season is to stop the doing and make time for being. That is precisely what we each must have needed last night as we seemed determined to revel in the spirit of friendship.

May you each find time not only for yourselves but for others whose company you truly enjoy.