A Modern Mystic

Musings on life, work and contemporary spirituality


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What’s Death Got to Do with Love?

DSC00094What’s death got to do with love? Everything.

Before you accuse me of being morbid, stop and think about the symbolism here: we’ve just ended one year and jump-started a new one. This bardo between one year and another is the perfect time to contemplate which endings will spring forth with new life.

In contemplating my own year, with its various endings, I can’t help but think how they pale in comparison to those of my sister, who lost her only son last February. Despite her enormous grief, she says in one of her last Facebook posts of 2014:

“Goodbye 2014. It’s been the hardest year of my life but I’m still happy! I have so much to be thankful for this year and that’s what is most important! I have some amazing friends and family that I love with all my heart and can honestly say that without them I would have not survived! I’m learning new things and learning how to create a different way to live in a life that is different but great also! Happy new year to all and I love everyone that is part of my world!!!!”

Wise words from a woman who has learned firsthand that death is part of love.

Not every death is so literal. In Chapter Five of the classic volume about the deep feminine, Women Who Run with the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes:

“A part of every woman and every man resists knowing that in all love relationships Death must have her share. We pretend we can love without our illusions about love dying, pretend we can go on without our superficial expectations dying, pretend we can progress and that our favorite flushes and rushes will never die. But in love, psychically, everything becomes picked apart, everything. The ego does not want it to be so. Yet it is how it is meant to be, and the person of a deep and wildish nature is undeniably drawn to the task.”

The best film I’ve seen on this subject matter is Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless,” released in 1961.  My husband and I watched the film for the first time a few nights ago and Pinkola Estés might have been summarizing the plot in the paragraph above. I was stunned by the similarities in theme. Breathless is as fresh and alive as the day it was released. I prefer the French title, “A Bout de Souffle,” which literally means “the end of breath.” The black and white movie explores the themes of letting go of our illusions of love and romance and does it in alternating thrilling, poignant and funny moments.

It doesn’t take much deep thinking to see that our culture has an unnatural insistence on permanence. Whether we are fixated on maintaining unwrinkled faces and tight buns well beyond middle age or we have an unrealistic expectation that the Dow will rise indefinitely, these will never be the natural state of affairs.

In all things, even in love, impermanence rules. Knowing this is the key to being present, again and again, to our lives and to our relationships.

What are you willing to let die so that love may flourish?

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If the Gown Fits, Wear it!

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 12.24.22 PMI’m re-reading Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ book Women Who Run with the Wolves. It’s a classic tome about initiating and recovering one’s feminine power and intuition, and it’s richly woven with fairy tale and archetypes. At the same time, and not coincidentally, I’ve embarked on two processes that promise to illustrate Estés’ thesis right here in my own life.

Project Number One: De-cluttering Home and Office

“In Eastern European fairy tales, brooms are often made of sticks from trees and bushes and sometimes the roots of wiry plants. Vasalisa’s work is to sweep this object made of plant matter over the floors and the yard to keep the place clear of debris. A wise woman keeps her psychic environ uncluttered. She accomplishes such by keeping a clear head, keeping a clear place for her work, working at completing her ideas and projects.”

As I come inside for the winter, my body and mind crave the warmth and coziness of home. Every year at this time I naturally gravitate to projects that beautify, organize and simplify my home. For a second year in a row I have joined a Facebook group devoted to spending December and January clearing cluttering. Already I have painted my living room a yummy Mid Century Modern turquoise and I’ve picked out a scrumptious orange to splash on an entry wall. I’m finishing an aspiration set last year for a “paperless” office by going through old receipts, files and books and removing everything that I can do without. I’m clearing out computer files, downloading and disposing of CDs and beginning the enormous task of digitally archiving a lifetime of photos. It’s a lot to consider doing but I allow myself to go one step at a time. And the rewards are substantial. I can feel my creative power surging when I care for my home and office, both extensions of my own body and self.

Project Number Two: Accepting Mentoring

“I like very much this initiatory task which requires a woman to cleanse the personae, the clothing of authority of the great Yaga of the forest. By washing the Yaga’s clothes, the initiate herself will see how the seams of persona are sewn, what patterns the gowns take. Soon she herself will have some measure of these personae to place in her closet amidst others she has fashioned throughout her life.”

I have had many mentors in my life, some teachers or family members, others bosses. All have profoundly affected my capacity to step into greater and greater levels of awareness. Likewise, I  have mentored others, countless people throughout several careers. I’d like to think I made a difference with guidance, advice, permission, or just plain ol’ reassurance. So when I recently needed to cut back on volunteer obligations to focus on growing my business, I felt the need to ask for and accept what I give naturally. Instantly, a woman I very much look up to for her grace, wisdom and business smarts accepted me under her nurturing wing. For this recovering do-it-all-myselfer, it felt good to set the aspiration, to summon the courage to make the request, and to receive a heartfelt acceptance.

In our very first conversation I described to my mentor the age-old dilemma of knowing what to charge for the work I do. Without missing a beat she wrapped me in the most loving and empowering feminine metaphor, as cozy as my grandmother’s afghan. She said that determining the worth of my work is like designing and donning my very own custom-made gown. It is a personal process and I alone get to decide. Such wise words spoken in a way I could hear them! I was not surprised when just days later they were reinforced in my discovery of the Estés quote above.

Feminine inner work is rife with, well, feminine archetypes, images and metaphors. Here I’ve shared Estés’ womanly images of cleaning the home and wearing beautiful clothes. What images are haunting your dreams and musings, urging you to follow your intuitions and reclaim your power?


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The Fragile Heart

FragileHeartA gift box arrived in the mail this week. It revealed a beautiful blown glass heart, exquisitely hand made in rainbow colors. I can’t help but notice that it comes at a time when my own heart feels fragile.

At the start of the summer I decided to work on re-branding my business and deepening my connection to my work. I set things into motion: hired a branding expert and coach, enrolled in a training and credentialing course, and set lists and deadlines for accomplishing the many detailed tasks associated with moving my creative life forward. With everything planned and organized, neat and tidy, I then went on vacation, looking forward to giving these tasks refreshed attention upon my return.

Life happened instead, and I returned home to find the ground literally shifting under my feet. I first got the news that we had to move and immediately began the process of finding  a new home. The day after signing the lease, a close relative landed in critical condition in a hospital in the Midwest. I dropped everything and flew to be with family. I returned with barely enough time to pack and prepare for moving day, while monitoring my nephew’s progress long distance. And yet life hasn’t let up. There are rescheduled client meetings and make-up classes to attend, doctor’s appointments and birthday parties, Back to School Night, and volunteer responsibilities, new assignments and deadlines. It seems everything, including dinner, has a deadline.

Today I finally said it out loud. I expressed my frustration with not finding enough time to care for myself and a wise woman replied with a question, “Where is your heart?”

It was a gentle question that nevertheless pierced right to the core. What does Carrie need right now? How can I take care of her? I was stunned not to know the answer.

When did I lose the ability to check in with my own heart? Was it when I was a child trying to survive a dysfunctional upbringing? Was it when I got older and learned to associate my emotions with drama, manipulation and shame? Was it as an exhausted mother and exasperated spouse just trying to get one more thing done?

My Mahayana Buddhist training tells me to do everything I do while holding the enlightened intention to become Buddha (True Happiness) for the sake of freeing all beings from suffering. And yet because of my own personal growth work in the past – everything from therapy and 12 Step recovery, story-telling and memoir writing, to yoga and Buddhist meditation – I recognize the self-destructive side of doing for others to the point of exhaustion. I know I am not alone in this particularly feminine style of dysfunction whose root cause sends women to pharmacies and breast cancer surgeons in droves. We women are suffering because, in the face of all we are expecting ourselves to do and be, we are failing to get our own emotional needs met. At the risk of being blunt, we are shirking our number-one priority and responsibility, to take care of our own fragile hearts.

Where are our hearts?

Each of us must answer this question for ourselves. It is only by staying true to our own hearts that we can truly serve others. As women, when we authentically check-in, we do not find lists and deadlines, flow charts and decision matrices. If we are honest, we find tenderness, vulnerability, moods, knowing without being able to show our work, and decisions that fluctuate and flow.

For me, staying too long in my head leads to dysfunctional emotionality. Without the balance of time for meditation, contemplation, dreaming, praying, creating, giggling, cuddling my cat, window-shopping and trusting my wacky self, I become needy and emotionally out-of-control. This always manifests as a messy house, jerky communication, and a chaotic life. These outward signs tell me it’s time to pause and contemplate, to discover where I have given myself away or sold myself out.

I’m sure you can discover your own patterns, positive and negative, if you investigate and make it a priority today.


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Guest Post:Feminism, the feminine, the artist and the mystic

The following post is by painter Kerrie Wrye, my guest for Networked Blogs’ September Blog Swap. Please check out her gorgeous site, Timeless Rhythms.

Painting by Kerrie B. Wrye

Kerrie B. Wrye, Study after T.H. Benton, Prismacolor, 21"x13.5

Quite soon after becoming acquainted with each other, online and having been paired through the blog swap project, Carrie Ure and I decided to write about feminism, the feminine, the artist and the mystic!

In arriving at the moment to swap blogs, I am still trying to comprehend the pairing of two women who were briefly strangers prior to this event, and yet who have quickly discovered how close we are to one another geographically, culturally and personally–a pairing made, amazingly by another woman whose life is half-way across the globe in Pakistan. On top of which, Sarah Rahman opted out by default, when there were not enough writing partners to match everyone together for this worldwide, social experiment known as blog swapping!

On my part, having struggled for a week past the deadline to post my writing swap, resignation after obligations have left me physically exhausted, has given way to approaching this project from the personal voice. Right now, life feels very vulnerable as I transition from what was to what is becoming. I feel all that I can legitimately offer is the habit of following the intuitive within; it is one of my greatest assets as well as greatest disadvantages.

Carrie Ure is a writer and single mother, seeking work while living in Portland, OR_ just north of where I live, as artist, dancer com yogini and single-mother, looking for work out in this recession-locked world! One of our first contacts seemed to light instantly on the common connection to Séraphine de Senlis. Six years earlier in my undergrad research, I had discovered that Séraphine was a French woman artist, described briefly and only as a “nameless foundling.” Not much other information of note was available on her life or work as an artist to include any depth about her in my paper, just six years ago! That Carrie had seen a film about Séraphine de Senlis this summer was surprising to discover!

During my academic studies, I found individual sanctuary in the Womens Studies Program, as it was here I began developing the research on French Women Artists that would become the focus for my Liberal Studies degree. Indeed, I credit the current director of the program as being a champion for my research, one who supportively recognized me as a scholar and consequently became the reason I graduated. Since its inception at a university in Texas, the pedagogical development of Womens Studies has advanced steadily to be found in many college curriculum offerings throughout North America. Simultaneously during this era, I have needed to live out a lot of life free form, developing my own sense of self through the healing expression of art.

Along this path, I have invested many years, in traditional talk therapy or Cognizant Psychology, which for me also required an intuitive balance of yoga, in order for the nature of highly charged emotional-psychological work to simultaneously make sense in my physical frame. The years of my early youth growing up in France, were ones of profound somatic connection that have also guided development in this defining lifelong intuitive intelligence.

For twenty-one years, I was mother to one precocious child living as we did in relative social isolation, so I could manage the largeness of this personal work for which my entire life prior to that time had been intuitively heading. One after another childhood realizations that ranged from varying needs for freedom of expression, to flat out independence, marked a significant developmental period in chaos that I now realize much, much later after all is said-and-done, how much my intuition has effectively, intelligently, creatively guided my abilities to navigate out of the web of impact, from mental illness in a parent, still in denial.

For many of these adult years, I have readily defined developing intimate spirituality in the creative context of the sacred feminine. Recently, upon the approach of my fiftieth and after having read the book some years before, At the Root of This Longing: Reconciling a Spiritual Hunger and a Feminist Thirst, by Carol Lee Flinders, I created my first, Return to Community Ritual, in the description and guidance of yes, the seminal work: Emotional Genius, by Karla McLaren (who is now in rebuke of this major intuitive emotional manifesto, as an academic sociologist)!

In the years of post-graduate meetings with a feminist mentor, I often heard the term “mystic artist” pointed in my direction. My own under-developed academic research, a reflection of full-time, single parenthood, etc., was privately lauded as, “illustrating how women who happen to be artists also struggle as women to find our own voice and survive the chaos of producing work that is not valued and who are in need of environments where what we do is valued, exchanging mutual feedback in possibility-centered ways, to successfully move women’s voices forward!”

In the timing of returning to the academic setting to earn my degree, in my Womens Studies advisors, as well as in my post-graduation female mentors, I have criticized the male-tradition, competitiveness surrounding my female predecessors’ career success and in the ways this ethos has dominated the lack of informational access for women throughout all parts of the larger society. We have all gone wanting for an accessible lexicon to become better educated to all of the good information locked up in the academic study of women’s lives, abilities, and accomplishments. Not to be discounted, there have many battles my predecessors have indeed fought firsthand to break down this but one, bastion of historical male dominance. Like-wise after graduation, I did not find the feminist networks I logically expected would exist in the marketplace for job search, in politics for productive acceptance, and in the world of money for a new female patronage. As a consequence, my life has endured many years of needless yet very basic post-graduation struggle.

Right now, I feel as though the Doonesbury cartoon of a few years back, best articulates the lack of voice in a new feminism; a new generation of women coming of age particularly now, in the broad and long-range impact of this recession, as well as the “Yes! We Can!” social and political recovery from the Reagan-Bush era of full-scale reactionism, materialism and bold greed. A new language unique to the next wave of feminists is forming, and I expect it to be more inclusive. The issues they will confront are on a different scale dealing with global warming, sustainable food production and religious, spiritual and political acceptance, to name a few. I did however, graduate recognizing that I can continue as a creatively intelligent ally to the next generation! Most recently, in making acquaintance with a feminine-mystic writer, has given me a gift of inner renewal than I have not felt connected to in many years! I am inspired to have discovered such an ally so close by! Thank-you Séraphine de Senlis and thank-you, Sarah Rahman!



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Ask a modern mystic: cosmic job hunting skills

Picture 3Looking for work during a recession can be a daunting and exhausting endeavor. Some days I feel defeated before I even start, especially when my favorite morning radio program spews dismal economic statistics. Although such news reports have little relevance to my geographical location, lifestyle, or unique individual skills and experience, I can’t help being swayed by the national media’s insistence that I am only a dot on the bell curve.

How does the job-hunting Mystic curtail the sinking feeling that she is just another victim of an economy gone bad? She pounds the pavement of her inner path before ever venturing outside the house.

I counter the negative psychic effects of the collective’s fixation on bad news by spending time on self-inventory and self-care: lots of rest; a conscious cultivation of positive thoughts such as gratitude, faith and generosity; regular healthy meals; and plenty of down-time to dream and support my own inner vision.

Indeed, the following dream I had the other morning yielded an important clue about maintaining a sane and enjoyable job hunt even during hard times:

I am with my mother and my brother when there is a knock at the door. I open the door to find three masked children outside. They each throw a dime into my house and when I stoop to pick them up off the floor, I also find another coin, a heart-shaped quarter.

My dear friend and Tarot master, Hector Cerbon, intreprets my dream as a spontaneous nocturnal Tarot reading. The dimes represent the three coins, disks or pentacles of the traditional European decks. The Three of Pentacles reminds us that every endeavor, including the successful job hunt, involves community. It is the card of Teamwork.

Just as the two Lovers come together in creative union to produce the third, their child, when we initiate any new endeavor we must acknowledge that it takes others to help us manifest our vision. The card represents the practical skills needed to plan and execute a vision. Working with others is the beginning, not the end of your job search.

That’s why Tip #3 from the Mystic Job Hunter is rally your team.

We all have a team or crew, those individuals who are there for us, whether as confidants and supporters, or because they have practical know-how to share. Some of us have large teams and others small. Some of us rely on the professional perspectives of our team members while others just need a little cheering-on. What do you most need that you cannot provide for yourself?

In addition to being a Mystic and a job hunter, I have long been a Networker. In my years networking I have assembled what my friend, Portland artist Jennifer Doheny, calls “My Team.”

Last night I visited Jennifer’s latest art opening at the Milepost 5’s huge 10-day event, “Manor of Art.” As I wait patiently for my turn to shake her hand and congratulate her on her latest work, I salivate over her series of gorgeous paper “batiks,” back-lit and glowing vibrant greens and indigos. She sees me in the crowd and grabs my arm.

“Carrie, I’d like you to meet Sarah, my graphic designer. Sarah, this is Carrie, another member of my team.”

There is instant recognition and connection, for although we have never met, Sarah and I know of one another’s work as part of the team that supports our artist friend. Of course we had each already heard of the other’s contributions.

Jennifer is not only an early adopter of the team concept–an idea that will become increasingly important as we reevaluate work and career in the new economy–she thoroughly embodies the principle. Her blog, entitled “The World is on Your Side,” states her message loud and clear. Jennifer has long made a living as an artist because she understands her role in the community. She relies on others  to help her plan and execute her mission to provide a positive and uplifting message through her art.

Another teamwork example comes to mind. During the second installment of a year-long course in which I’m enrolled, renowned teacher Caroline Myss discusses the concept of the Crew. At the beginning of the workshop she announces that hard times being upon us, we have to realize we’re all in the same boat navigating the same waters.

We’ve got to row with our crew if we hope to make it, she explains to a ballroom packed with spiritual seekers. The rest of the weekend entails finding a crew and processing some high level spiritual data together.

My crew and I are still together, months later. We navigate four different time zones to participate in bi-monthly conference calls. We also use more informal methods to “check-in” and support one another in our spiritual growth. Not surprisingly, four out of six of us are dealing with the issue of work and career.

Another of my teams is my “family.” My sweetheart, also in the midst of a career change, tells me how much he loves me on a regular basis, not because I’m insecure, but because I have told him that I particularly enjoy positive verbal affirmations. He is also there when I need a hug and he listens without comment when I get discouraged and just need to vent.

Likewise, I pick up the phone when he calls during the day because I know that he likes to share a triumph or disappointment. I edit his cover letters and help him relax when his focused activity turns tense. Our children support us both by helping us laugh, play and enjoy the process!  They remind us that family time is one of the most relaxing and nurturing ways to unwind after a day on the job search.

Finally, don’t underestimate the creative ways in which your team can help out. I recently met with my financial advisor, a savvy business woman who spent the entire hour not evaluating my IRA mutual funds, but brainstorming ideas for getting my freelance career off the ground. A true crew member will support you in the way you need to be met, rather than with a pat one-answer-fits-all approach.

While I am lucky enough to count healers, teachers, financial wizards, neighbors, computer specialists, marketing and sales experts and artists among my crew members, any one of them can be counted on to provide the extra service of acknowledging and affirming my unique contribution to the greater community.

As a Mystic job hunter, I am learning important skills that aren’t taught by career coachs and the popular job market press. I’m learning to assemble a team of experts who know me, believe in me and support me in the precise ways I need to be loved. I’m learning that one of the first practical steps toward getting the job I want is to ask others for help and support from a place of self-awareness and mutual respect.

And building your personal team is good practice for team-building at work. Try it before you get hired!