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“Every individual soul chooses the significant people in that life.”—Brian Weiss, MD

There are very few shopping malls or large-chain book stores in the state of Maine. I prefer it this way—for the forests where I yearn to wander to remain sprawling, and the shops less-plentiful. I tend to do my acquiring locally where the parking is limited and the offerings distilled. The one exception being LL Bean’s super-sized, 24-hr campus where I once purchased a new pump for an inflatable air-mattress at midnight—the starry sky filled with moonlight and autumn’s chill, my pregnant belly loath to sleep on a deflating, rectangular balloon in our new and yet-to-be-furnished home.

Despite my preference for the quaint, I sometimes find myself in South Portland in a more heavily-populated, shopping nucleus with a few minutes to spare. Jonah, Adrian and I venture into the massive bookstore across from Macy’s with its rows of bargain books, colorful display of calendars and the latest works to top the New York Times Best Seller list.

My boys beeline for the children’s section of the discount isle where the books are immense and overflowing with colorful photos and plentiful information. They pounce on the materials about wild animals or superheroes and sprawl out on the tightly-woven, carpeted floor as if they are lounging on the wool rug at home between their two twin beds.

I hang around for a moment assessing their safety—wondering whether their bodies draped across the aisle will bother anyone—and then wander to a nearby magazine display filled with glossy art & design and travel covers. I take in the exquisite images—minimalist living rooms with flourishing, lavender orchids, photo ops of celebrities at art openings and fashion week, rugged, backpacking getaways to faraway places—take only what you’ll need.

I imagine purchasing a few, tearing out the most appealing photos and creating a collage of what I hope is yet to come—acknowledging the paradoxical desire I possess for both a deepening-connection with my fellow humans and a simultaneous extraction from the relentless connectivity of modern life.

Recently Jonah was exploring the webpage Google Earth. We were having a discussion about the Dalai Lama and we opened the program because I wanted to show him where Tibet was located on a map. He took the little, yellow-person icon from the right corner of the screen and dropped it into the mountainous region to the northeast of India. When the frame opened-up to a satellite view we saw the image of two backpacks lying on a mountain peak—the shadows of two hikers hovering over the packs as captured by a lens in space.

It illustrated so succinctly a symbolic form for the places and manner in which I would still like to go. It captured the dream of unplugged connection.

Walking away from the magazine isle empty-handed and toward a display table, I thought about the deceptive-promise of a polished life. I thought about how so-much of what I value and what has made life meaningful to me could be interpreted as too-ordinary—too-messy, or even too-traumatic—to be depicted as something to aspire to as a benchmark on the pathway to greater contentment.

I also contemplated what it means to weigh the desire-for-more against a backward-trust-fall-into-the-moment—brothers lying on the floor-of-a-store turning pages on a September afternoon between appointments tipping the scales heavily.

I like to believe that we have the opportunity in life to grow through joyful expressions and experiences—that we might remember our divinity without having to pass through a doorway of pain. And yet, some of the most challenging experiences of my life have propelled me infinitely farther into my capacity for compassion than any of the chapters graced with ease.

It is unusual for me to buy three books for myself at once, especially when they each explore—from diverse perspectives—the topic of personal-evolution, although I am almost always reading something in this genre.

I was sucked-in by the circular sticker on the front cover promising that if I bought two, I would receive a third book for free—a bibliophile’s extra donut in the baker’s dozen.

Deciding to purchase the one with the sticker was an obvious choice. I had read one of Brené Brown’s other works and was a believer in her stepping-into-the-arena message.

Her research and the book I had read were inspired by Theodore Roosevelt’s thoughts on celebrating the brave few who expose themselves to vulnerability through expressions of their most daring, truest works—regardless of outcome—while unmasking the critics who cast judgement from the sidelines.

Reading Daring Greatly helped me to begin telling the truth of my experiences and showed me how-to-know who could be entrusted with those personal discoveries. This book invited me to live and create at a level that was measured by my own criteria and not by the model of the masses.

I had never connected with the fact that Brené Brown was from Texas—a place for which I have complex feelings—and I-for-certain had no-idea I would be in the Lone Star State anytime soon and specifically in her city, Houston.

The second book I chose was sitting in clearly the wrong spot in front of Eckhart Tolle’s book, A New Earth—one of the most transformative reads of my life. Someone had obviously picked the book up, decided against it and put it back incorrectly on the wrong shelf.

I followed-suit, picking it up and placing it back down again several times—in hesitation— wondering why Eckhart Tolle hadn’t written anything new, anyway.

One of his brilliant books would have been an easier selection.

I was both weary of the subject matter—wanting so much to sink-into this lifetime—and somehow feeling like the book wouldn’t let me leave without its presence in my hand. I had read another title more than fifteen years ago by the same author—a psychiatrist who utilizes past-life-regression to assist people in overcoming obstacles in their lives. He was a Columbia University and Yale Medical School graduate who had risked his credibility in order to explore an esoteric path that lead to his blossoming life and the healing of many people.

Some explain away the idea of experiences from past-lifetimes impacting our current lives as illusions created by the subconscious mind. Even so, I found this author’s first book compelling—especially relating to the feeling of having a deeper knowledge of some people beyond our current, shared life-experiences.

I remember once meeting someone for the first time and the thought immediately coming to my mind—Oh, there you are.

I succumbed and added the book to my pile.

The third choice was a less-complicated selection—recommended by a woman whom I admire and who recently lost her dearest friend to cancer. She has been utilizing the wisdom of the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu in their Book of Joy to wade through her grief.

I stumbled upon a talk given by the Dalai Lama in Central Park in New York City in the summer of 1999. Although I was on the very outside of the many rows encasing him, his simple message of compassion and impermanence—his gentle presence and wisdom—has stayed with me.

I was eager to learn from him again.

At the check-out there was a plentiful display of candy and tchotchkes and the news that my particular book choices did not qualify for the sale mentioned on the sticker.

I felt like I was playing a game of whac-a-mole with Jonah and Adrian—keeping their hands away from the many tempting treats and toys as I chatted with the cashier about the confusion over the sale.

I shrugged off the full-price status of my purchase and gathered my books along with a stack I had bought for the boys.

The expansive parking lot and the inside of my car radiated heat as we climbed back in—Jonah and Adrian finding a good spot for their books in the seat between them while I tucked mine on the floor beside me.

Labor Day Weekend and one-final, end-of-summer getaway were on the horizon.

All was well.

 

** Due to the lengthy nature of this story and the desire to do justice to the nuances, I’ve decided to break it up into a few installments. I hope you will enjoy my journey through these three books and the way they spoke-to and supported me during a difficult time caring for my mother who is struggling with a sudden illness. Thank you for any good thoughts of healing you might send her way.

 

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“Give light and people will find the way.” —Ella Baker

I’ve come to the front porch where the sun is concentrated and making my hair warm to the touch, my wool socks redundant. The unseasonable presence of heat these last weeks has continued to grow my flower garden despite October’s arrival. The grass remains a vibrant green and slightly damp from the night’s dew, a few leaves lay golden on the ground where they should be—at rest this time of year.

Bees and butterflies have flocked to our flowers—sedum and daisies and rose hips—like tourists to these parts arrive in the summertime drawn to our rocky coastline and plentiful trails to explore. My kitty, Autumn—born in and named for this season and usually kept indoors—is creeping around the yard, low to the grown as if in pursuit of some unsuspecting prey. A sizable bumblebee lands on my white shirt again and again, intent on abstracting the nectar from my sleeve. I twice use a nearby branch to remove her gently and send her on her way.

The Summer Solstice—the longest day in the Northern Hemisphere—is often celebrated as a time of transition, a moment for letting go. On the solstice this summer the sky glowed a vibrant, melon orange and soft, peony pink at sunset as I drove away from the scene of a poignant loss. Three children whose father had just died, for the moment within my care. Together we made the sunset our distraction, the miles passing by as we traveled to my home where my own two children would be waiting to meet us.

Their moods rapidly swung back and forth from despair to wonder to shock over and over again. I told them that the sky—that breathtakingly beautiful display of color—was their father speaking to them, that in a sense he was still present and would always be so. I said the sky was a reflection of his spirit casting off of a world where his body wouldn’t let him be. There is a can of Moxie sitting on the bookshelf of my dining room now. The children’s eyes brightened when they noticed it on their last visit. The orange design with its large white letters outlined in blue was a favorite of our friend and serves as a colorful reminder of the way in which he lived.

A few hours later—after getting the children to sleep and after midnight—my phone rang. It had to be my friend, the children’s mother. But it wasn’t. It was the news of yet another departure. Not one, but two lovers-of-life gone in a flash. My body took over—shaking and sobbing in a way that I had never before experienced. Life has a way of surprising us sometimes.

In my laundry room I’ve since placed a photo on the folding table of me as a bride—my face glowing with fewer lines and fuller with youth. My waist is so completely embraced in the image I can almost feel the warmth of my Aunt still surrounding me. She stole my thunder that day on the dance floor at my wedding reception. Having Down Syndrome only made her all the more appealing to most people. She took on the body she was given—or chose— with gusto and taught us to look deeper than the exterior. Job well done.

Throughout the summer and into this balmy fall, I have found myself cycling through various states of sadness and fear as I’ve born witness to the never ending news cycle of suffering caused by both natural and human destruction. It’s tempting to get lost in all of the sorrow. It would be easy to lose hope or to check-out. I find solace in the natural world. I find hope in circling back to what it is that I can do to contribute to a more loving and just world.

We are all called in different ways. It is in deep inner listening that we each have the opportunity to shift and come upon our own unique contribution. If we go slowly and with insight in the direction of these whispers, together we may be able to find a path of healing and create the prospect of safety and joy for all—each one of us—as one.

 

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“Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” —Emily Bronte

As a young girl, I attended a very small, missionary Catholic Church. In our little church building, the floor boards creaked and slanted with a low ceiling hanging over us. Many of the congregants only spoke English as a second language. Our leader was a Hungarian priest who was lovingly nicknamed Father B. The church later grew to house thousands of parishioners with a beautifully appointed interior, but at that time Mass came to life in a very humble space. As these last wintery months have crawled forward, my mind has been sifting through experiences of days gone by. The chorus of a song that I first learned there at St. Francis so many years ago has risen to the surface. I remember the feeling of being near my Mother singing that song, sitting in one of those creaky, hard pews and an emotion rising up in me like a tide. The song begins with a very soft and gentle description of a God who is present in the seas and the sky and of a God who is listening. Eventually it comes to the chorus. This is where I choke up—even now—as I relive this powerful song from my past. It is all beautiful, but it is in the chorus that we come upon a poignant phrase—one that might align well with most belief systems. “Here I am, Lord.” This line is sung very slowly—deliberately, even. It goes on as a lovely offering, but the words that I keep coming back to are these three. Here I Am. Here I am, Earth. Here I am, Love. Here I am, Friend. Here I am, Son. Here I am, Self. I see you. I am listening. How may I help? Maybe I cannot help, but Here I Am. This is my prayer today—and every day—here I am.

In the late fall, we made an harrowing attempt at transforming an outside-wall, gigantic fireplace in our home on the very windy coast of Maine into a wood burning stove. Once inserted, our stove had brilliant moments of burning intensely and shaping our large and drafty living room into what felt like a toasty ski lodge. There were other moments in which smoke came billowing into our home unexpectedly with the force of the fierce winds outside. In the process of trying to remedy this situation, we were introduced to a father and son team of chimney experts. They felt familiar to me from the start. The father was from Boston and had some of the characteristics of my father, of my Uncle. I will call the son, Greg. They were interested in my children and very caring about what we were going through with the fireplace. The first time I met Greg—a tall and unassuming man in his mid-30s—I noticed a turning down in his smile, in his eyes, that evidenced to me a deep pain. He was very sweet with my boys and interacted with them readily. I thought about asking him if he had children but I didn’t at first. The next time we met, I did ask him. There was a dramatic pause between us and he looked down heavily, his head drooping. I could see him catch his breath. Finally he said, “I did have a 7 month old son.” He went on to tell me a very tragic story of his loss and the death of his son. His father saw that we were talking and began engaging my boys. We talked for a long while. There were tears rising and falling from his eyes as he expressed his dismay and deep pain. He showed me pictures of his beautiful son and told me details as if we were old friends. Mostly I just listened. I offered to support he and his wife in whatever way that I could and gave him my phone number. His story lived in me for a long while. We crossed paths a couple of times after that and it was clear that we were bound. He is looking forward to a vacation! They had such fun! His wife is pregnant! They are waiting to hear whether they are having a boy or girl.

Spring has finally arrived in Maine! Our final snow—we hope—landed discreetly in the night ten days ago. Yesterday, Jonah, Adrian and I discovered a bed of crocuses flowering in a very sunny spot with a bee busy doing its work of moving pollen around. Jonah joined in when he discovered a bit of pollen himself and began blowing it off of his fingers. There is construction work going on at our house again and we are displaced at the moment. This morning I traveled back there to feed my kitty, Autumn. It is a glorious day with sun rays bursting through the clouds after a morning rain— a day unlike anything we have seen in Maine for months and months and months. When I arrive home, there are many trucks in our driveway that I recognize but there is someone pulling in ahead of me that I am not sure of—I think it must be one of the workers but when I get out of my car I see someone bounding toward me and this person—his face—just lights up. It is Greg and he looks so happy! We had offered his father the cabinets that we are replacing in our home but I didn’t expect to see Greg at all. He bounds toward me and he is thanking me for the cabinets and he is telling me the good news. His face is beaming. His wife is doing well and they will be welcoming a baby girl in August. Here I am. Here he is. Here we all are. I see you. I hear you. I am you.

 

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“I want you to be everything that’s you, deep at the center of your being.” —Confucious

I’ve just left our bustling household. My husband and I made a quick hand-off with our boys and I am now heading for a meeting at their school. I’m snuggled in my car now and I’ve got the heat blasting despite the onset of Spring. We are still measuring snow in feet here in Maine. I take in this wonderful sensation—chilled bones heating up with toasty air. I’ve driven about a mile now and reach forward to turn on the radio but bring my hand back to the steering wheel instead. I decide to allow the silence to wash over me like the waves of heat now coming through the vents. It is so still and quiet on these hilly roads. I can feel myself softening—the boisterous voices of my children falling away, the requests and needs no longer surrounding me. I’m driving along and I notice a little pine tree in front of a home still decorated with colorful holiday lights. I am suddenly taken back to the Christmas tree of my childhood and I feel little tears come to the corners of my eyes. Normally my emotions are secured in a much deeper place, but that tree—it triggers something. The intense feeling passes quickly and I wonder about it a little. I’m coming to a sort of intersection now where cars can merge seemingly out of nowhere and I’m remembering another car ride with my now four year old son, Adrian. It was right about here—at this strange intersection—that he said a few magical words to me, that I have tucked away for safe keeping.

It was one of the first snowy days that we’d had this winter. We had rushed out of the house to pick up my bigger boy Jonah early from school. His slightly irritated eye had rapidly revealed itself as “pink-eye” within the first few hours of his being dropped off. We were driving along and I was noticing the way the snow met the windshield and I was both rushing and trying to be careful of the increasingly covered roads. Adrian was looking at a book in his carseat and he wanted to show me an image he saw in the book. It was too dangerous for me to be turning and looking even quickly so I told him that he would have to describe to me what he saw. I felt rushed to get Jonah and I felt guilty for not noticing that his eye was on the verge of a bigger issue. I asked Adrian to describe to me what he saw in the book and he said, “There is a little girl with a butterfly on her head and she looks grateful.” I heard his description and I felt my entire body relax. We continued propelling forward in our car on slippery roads, but in my mind time suddenly slowed and then came to a complete stop as I found myself momentarily living in the spaces between his lovely words, “there is a little girl with a butterfly on her head and she looks grateful.” I took in the beauty of the snow kissed tree branches now almost in slow-motion while my heart dangled on Adrian’s words. It was the butterfly on the little girl’s head—a magical butterfly. It was that word—grateful. It was Adrian’s capacity—at age three, then—to notice what grateful looks like. It was the unexpected nature of being stopped in my tracks on that snowy, rushed drive. I repeated Adrian’s words back to him and told him how much I liked his description. I thought about stopping and writing his words down. We moved on, though, and soon we were picking up Jonah. He and his teacher met us at the school door. His eye was watering like a faucet and was really, really pink against his bright green jacket and the white snowflakes coming down. We collected him and hurried for the car where we would call the doctor and carry on.

As I have embarked upon bringing my new website to life, I have been holding space within for revelations about what more it is that I would like to share here. I have been listening deeply for what I am called to share here. I believe this will ultimately unfold as I sit down to write and my thoughts begin revealing themselves, however, in this moment I keep coming to this, to the moments like these with those magical words that I received from my son—thinning the veil and slowing time for me. I keep coming to the idea of sharing about the places where our lives are speaking to us and the times in which we may meet those messages with peaked attention, allowing them to offer us a sense of our own purpose, a sense of that which will matter at the end of this chapter of our lives and ultimately in the final pages. My wish is to share about this and about so much more.

I hope that you will stay with me as I move slowly into this work of putting these moments, these ideas, to the “page”—my life remains so full with my family and with my art. And I hope that you will stay with me when my webpage decides to slow time as well—there are still a few kinks to be worked through! And if my words are speaking to you, please consider sharing them with the people in your life who may benefit.

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