When the Story Becomes Hollow

We use stories to make sense of our experiences. These stories shift and change over the course of our relationship with them. The way we speak of an experience that just happened is different than the way we speak of that same experience a few weeks, months or many years later.

Our relationship with our stories defines and shapes us to greater and lesser degrees. Sometimes we become very attached to the story we tell, to the version of ourselves we have lived out over time.

Some of these stories are truly defining moments of our lives. Some of them offer moments of journey we visit over and over again, looking for lessons learned, looking for healing, looking for moving on. When I wrote Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness I described it as a process of peeling back the layers of the onion, only the onion seems to grow new layers even as we are shedding the outer ones. It can be annoying, frustrating and downright disheartening when we discover the story we thought we had outgrown still has life within us.

onion-276586_960_720These story themes are rooted deep within us. Depending on your beliefs, some of these patterns may have been carried into this life time from past lives (or future lives perhaps) and some of them may be within us as a result of being passed from one generation to another. We might not know or discover the root of the patterns we live out in life, relationship or typical conflicts we may find ourselves in.

IMG_4882So, when do you know the story is healed – finally, perhaps forever? I am sure there are many possible barometers but one of them (newly discovered in my awareness) is when the story begins to feel hollow. It has no substance, no catch, no grab, no hijack anymore. Like a quantum resonance you can see or sense it just within your field of awareness – like a ghost image asking to be let go. You could possibly put it on and wear it again, but like that comfortable old coat you use to wear seemingly forever, it no longer fits, no longer offers the protection or service it once did. It no longer defines you or your look – since your physical body often also changes noticeably when new levels of healing take shape.

I’m not sure it is something we achieve. I think it is something that graces our awareness in the moment it is revealed. Then we can acknowledge the journey, thank the story for all it has offered us over the time we have carried it and turn our awareness to the future and to the new story that is already emerging within the fabric of the old one that no longer defines us.

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Doing the Work While Looking Away

There is such pressure to do everything full on and perfectly – including or especially the spiritual journey – that it induces guilt and even shame in people whose experience is more spotty. Like, most of us. It is the rare person who has an epiphany, an enlightened moment, the moment when everything makes sense now and forever, our life, habits and patterns forever changed. Some strive for it so ardently you can hear the strains of it as they talk about their spirituality, their practices, their connection to spirit. It has a ring of falsity to it and yet it arises from the pressure of perfection.

bandaged heartFor most of us the spiritual journey is more like fits and starts. The moment of clarity arrives through some deep spiritual experience – in a meditation, on a retreat, in the presence of great spiritual teachers – or in a mundane moment of living – doing the dishes, mowing the lawn, having a shower (since there is no one way that these moments arrive and no right way) – or in the moment of great life transformations like marriage, divorce, having a child, being with a loved one as they die. Gradually, over time, the epiphany or moment of enlightenment becomes a bit obscured and then more so by attending to life, relationships, work, demands on our time and attention.

And then, something brings our attention back to the moments of epiphany – days, weeks, months, maybe even years later. We are reminded that this is our path. Instead of turning to embrace it, we often give ourselves a hard time – the itty-bitty-shitty committee that sits on our shoulder – for having strayed away from “the path”, for letting ourselves be overwhelmed by life. We give ourselves grief because we don’t light candles every day, or meditate or have some daily ritual that would ensure our spiritual purity. We forget to allow ourselves some grace and compassion in the journey of life.

In a conversation with a friend and colleague who I coach, she said she feels like she is looking away from the work she needs to do. It is a thought that carries weight and heaviness – not just for her but for everyone of us who has had this experience. It occurred to me as I listened that we may also be doing the work while looking away. This does not need to be mutually exclusive. There may be many reasons why we look away.

We might look away because we are distracted. Life has a way of bringing us many distractions as we live into work, relationships, health, dreams. We might look away because it is too intense right now and we need a buffer. We might look away because our body, mind, heart and spirit needs time to absorb what we are learning and experiencing. Absorbing is also part of the work. Allowing is part of the work. Self compassion is part of the work. Finding our way – even or especially in fits and starts is part of the work. Remembering is part of the work.

It is not a straight line between the first steps or awareness and the next or last steps. It is a winding journey that brings us to many experiences. This is part of the reason I wrote my memoir, Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness. It details the fits and starts of my own life journey – the moments of epiphany, the moments of losing my way, the experiences of being drawn back to the journey of openheartedness – because it illuminates the journey of an ordinary person fortunate to have extraordinary experiences that keep reminding me I am human and I am a soul at the same time. It keeps reminding me to focus on the soul journey and not the human tragedy version of the same story.

It is easy to lose our way. It is also easy to find our way back – if we allow that this is all a natural part of the journey of life. And we can still be doing the work – or the work is finding its own way in us – even when we are looking away.

Visions and Memories Can Be Whatever You Want and Need Them To Be

When I first became aware of my spirit guides, there were four entities that I tapped into regularly. One was a grandmother guide. I first became aware of her on my own, as I sensed her presence. For me, I sense the presence, tune into and then begin to “see” the quality, shape, colour, details of the presence. It can be whatever you want or need it to be and it will be something that resonates with you, something you need to be reminded of, you know or need to know.

In this case, I “see” my grandmother – Casey – my mother’s mother. She was 94 years old when she died but I never “see” her old in my visions of her. She often shows up in 1950’s attire and whatever age she would have been then. She is stylish and is often dressed as if she is out and about or ready to go somewhere – with a cigarette in her hand. She is full of spunk.

4 generations 1991

Two beautiful women: my mother – Mary Patricia Ann Ritcey Jourdain – with her mother  – Kathleen (Casey) Hackett Ritcey – in 1990 (the year my first son was born)

The same is true of my mother. I don’t see her as she was in her final years in long term care, physically diminishing with dementia. I see her in the vibrancy of an earlier age, happy, effusive. It is also how I remember her. Because I can remember her any way I wish and there are 50 years of memories to draw on. Remembering what makes me smile is good for my soul. Remembering what makes you smile is good for your soul.

These days, it is different guides and entities I tap into more regularly because what I need now, need to access, is different than it was then. But whenever I turn my mind or attention to my grandmother guide – or any of the others so prevalent at that time, they appear. Easily, readily, in the fullness of everything they have to offer.

The visions that come to us have valuable information. Trust the symbolism. It is specifically meant for you. Whether it comes from spirit or comes from your unconscious it doesn’t matter. It is meaningful and has meaning. Let yourself discover what it is and take joy in the beautiful images and memories that appear. They can guide your path and your intention, increase your vibration and allow more good to flow through and to you.

Drumming and the Soul

In 2000, I experienced my first drumming circle. At the time, it was a brief, but profound experience and even then I couldn’t imagine how profound it was, would be, as it reverberated through the next decade of my journey and beyond. It was so profound that my book, Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness, begins with a description of the drumming circle.

I did not deliberately seek out the depth of spiritual journey that showed up – at least not all the time – although the spiritual journey was persistent in seeking me out. At times it felt like I had no choice but to respond, to follow the nudges and to give in to what kept wanting to show up. This journey for me was an opening to gifts and talents I did not think possible for me or available to me. I had imagined only “special”, “deeply gifted” and “powerful” people would have access to these kinds of gifts. The realization over time is that we all have access, we all have gifts. Most of us just need to find our way through the persistent story telling that tells us otherwise, that tells us that these experiences are not real, that we are making them up. The mind does not know the difference between what we imagine and what is real – which is why visualization is so powerful.

In this audio clip from an interview I did with Terry Paul Choyce, she asks great questions about my soul journey and I share snippets of my experiences and understandings that have emerged through this part of my life journey.

My favourite picture from when my son and I made our own drums in 2009.

My favourite picture from when my son and I made our own drums in 2009.

Not Just Cover Design: Sacred Art

Like the book itself, the artwork on the cover of Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedenss, has a story of its own to tell.  It is a story of synchronicity and timing, one of flow, one of channeling and of ritual or initiation.  It is the story of two things, each percolating for years, each on their own.  The book, of course.  And the artwork. And not just any artwork – sacred art.  Sacred art for me and for the book.

The genesis of the artwork was a long brewing curiosity and interest in possibly getting a tattoo.  Around 2009, when I felt the birthing of the second half of my life, I began to imagine getting a tattoo.  I didn’t know what image I wanted, nor did I know where on my body I would want to put this image.  At one point, my son’s girlfriend found a fabulous shamanic image of a woman and a power animal – which I bookmarked and then lost when I got a new computer.

When my interest in a tattoo renewed itself, I began searching the internet for images, knowing I wanted a lion as part of the image. Nothing ever emerged that resonated deeply for me or that I wanted to put on my body in permanent ink.  And then, early in 2013, at the same time my book was moving to its publishing phase, a Facebook friend began to blog about her journey to a sacred tattoo and I knew I was supposed to pay attention.

Through this friend, I got in touch with sacred tattoo artist Tania Marie.  The tattoo was to represent the spiritual dimension of my journey so I shared a couple of chapters from the book that reflected this journey as well as other reflections on what I felt the tattoo was to represent.  Tania meditated on me and my journey and began to channel the design.  What she channeled, before even reading what I sent her, was very consistent and resonant with what I shared.

Around the same time, the publisher started asking me about any ideas I might have for the design of the cover of my book. It was the first time I put the two things together.  Without even seeing the design, it occurred to me that the spiritual skin just might become the artwork for the book cover.   When I saw the artwork, I knew it was so.

Kathy Sacred Tattoo DesignArtwork by Tania Marie

There is much story contained in the elements of the art which embraces the elements of earth, fire, air, water and spirit and I will share some of it here, largely in the words Tania shared with me.

The medicine woman is in the process of shapeshifting into the lion who is my journey partner since my first drumming circle experience in 2000.  The medicine woman wears feathers of the eagle or owl in her hair, entwined twigs and leaves of Mother Earth, his mane and her hair and shawl all merging and integrating.

A lotus essence, almost like ethereal fire, emerges atop the swallowtail butterfly, with energy integrating into the lion’s mane, the medicine woman’s hair and shawl. The butterfly is releasing and freeing its creative abundance and joyful breadth of life-giving and is a messenger of powerfully transformative healing and regenerative energy and symbolism across time of the precious miracle of life, hope, love, transmutation, magick, joy,

The art is hugely rooted in shamanism, centeredness, balance, groundedness, empowerment, expansion, opening, releasing and honoring, as well as deepening emergence – all symbols and allies in deep journey and in transformation which is in continual motion.  Such a humbling experience to be offered this gift to be put at my back as a symbol of deeper healing, gifts, growth and protection.

Kathy 07 natural - Version 2

Photo by John Coleman and Michelle Murton

 

When it was time to have the tattoo inked on my skin, I went to see Kyle Bowles at Soul Harbour, the same tattoo artist that my friend had used.  It was done in two sessions, the first to do the outline, the second to do the colour.  Many people have asked me if it hurt.  It is hard to explain.  It is pain and not pain at the same time.  The only way I could think of it was as an initiation – like I might have gone through in a previous time, as the medicine woman depicted in the art, ritual, something that had to be done.

I love the colour version of the tattoo on my back – Kyle and I picked out the colours and it is even better than I imagined it would be.  And it was the black and white original art work that was to adorn the cover of the book.  I sent it off to the publisher and the design team there sent it back with the colour and shading that was just perfect for the book.

The interweaving of story, synchronicity, beauty, love and joy. A depiction of one aspect of the stranger in me showing up in the fullness of the openhearted journey.

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