Lessons from Louise - Boundaries

Lessons from Louise – Boundaries

Louise and I were sitting at a table at an outdoor mall. Ok, I was sitting at the table. She was sitting on the ground. A man walking into the store saw Louise and started admiring her. When he got to about 15 feet from us, Louise stood up and started growling. The man respected her limit. He stopped at the 15 feet mark to tell me about his boxers. Louise, still on alert, made sure he knew she did not want him to come closer. After saying a little more, the man went about his business and proceeded into the store.

On our way home, I found myself comparing Louise to other dogs who let people come right up to them. I said, “Louise, why were you not friendly to that man?” As soon as I said that, I heard, “My dog has great boundaries!” I immediately apologized to her for questioning her. The man totally respected her. Why didn’t I? I was like one of those parents who make their kids hug or kiss relatives or family friends when they don’t want to. Oh no! Ok, well, not really, because I did not make her do anything. But still!

The general cultural lesson for young boys and girls when I was a kid was that being polite was more important than following your instincts. This was the unspoken rule when we were encouraged to hug people we really did not want to hug. What a terrible lesson! Fortunately, this has changed a bit since I was a child. The side effects of such a bad lesson are far reaching. How were we supposed to know the limit of this? What was the limit of this rule? When did we get to honor how we actually felt and honor our instincts over politeness? Sadly, many people are still following this rule.

I had worked to unlearn this myself and have worked with many clients on this exact topic. Here was Louise showing me where I still needed to learn – showing me that I still potentially had a potentially unhealthy expectation. Namely, that she should be friendly and polite to any seemingly friendly person who wants to come up to her regardless of how she feels. I wondered if I still had that expectation of myself. She makes it clear that people are gonna meet her on her terms. Her motto is don’t you touch me until I have sniffed you out and I am comfortable!! She made it clear that it wasn’t her job to please this man. It was her job to set boundaries and allow herself to determine her comfort level and her limits. It was my job to back her up. This was all so interesting, because I imagine it was actually me she was guarding in the first place. This baby girl is a great teacher! She reminded me to pay closer attention to how I actually feel when people I don’t know, and even those I do, want to approach, hug or kiss me. She reminded me that following my instincts is more important than being polite! This is a lesson I hope every young boy and girl learns early on. Deep bow to you, Louise! Thanks for helping me remember. Maybe later, if I am brave enough, I’ll share how she taught me the dog bark method! 🤪🤪🤪

Basking in Death

This one is dedicated to those who so bravely teach us how die. May we learn how to die before we die so we can truly live. It is called “Basking in Death”. I wrote it months ago after a hospital visit to a family friend. Tonight I post it in honor of her, other dear friends lost and my husband’s sweet aunt who passed away just minutes ago.

Basking in Death

There she was lying there hours away from dying. She was still breathing but not conscious. Her mouth was hanging open much like a person in deep sleep. My husband wanted to go and say goodbye to this kind woman he has known his whole life. Death is always hard to see. Watching someone who is usually so full of life even in her illness lying there, still breathing but mostly gone is jarring.  Death feels like a haunting presence.  It brings up a lot of questions, emotions and mystery.

After saying our goodbyes we ran into some family downstairs at the hospital. We visited for a while and for a few minutes talked about life after death each of us sharing our musings. One of our relatives talked about her belief in reincarnation and how right now our friend’s soul could be traveling to enter a baby about to be born. One of my in-laws said, “That baby already has a soul. Maybe it’s a baby about to be conceived”. I added, “Yeah, maybe someone is taking a pregnancy test, and the result is confusing”. Everyone was taking comfort in the idea that our friend lives on and laughing a little about exactly how that happens as if anyone really knows. After taking it all in I said, “Man, I hope she gets a long beach vacation or something first. It seems like a lot of work to have to immediately begin again”. Everyone erupted in laughter. It was hilarious especially because I was serious.

The next morning we found out she passed away. In my sadness I giggled thinking about the pregnancy test possibly being clearer today. Then I found myself thinking, “I hope she gets to bask in death for a while.” Death  – the point at which we stop completely. We are so afraid of it we make any kind of stopping the devil including stopping to simply to rest. We’ve got to keep moving, proving and producing.  We have to make our mark. We have to LIVE! Why is it that we don’t wish people would “rest in peace” until they die? It is as if living and resting in peace can’t coexist. Here on Earth it is all about doing for the humans anyway! At least that’s the case where I live on Earth.

Have you heard the old adage, “A body in motion stays in motion. A body at rest stays at rest”? I don’t understand what is wrong with that. Yeah, yeah, I know the saying is meant to promote exercise, but I am more concerned that it promotes “rest and you will die”. You must keep going no matter what!! What the hell? A body that rests is a healthy body. Think about it. You get sick, you are told to rest. I have never heard of rest causing harm. To the contrary rest often cures what ails us when even traditional medicine won’t.  It’s rest AND motion not rest OR motion. They are both necessary, but we marginalize rest.  We have made real rest an unproductive thing, and I could not disagree more. Even phrases like “power through” marginalize rest even though they may not mean to. Producing and doing are revered and resting is lazy or somehow not enough. We walk around trying to prove how much we have to do as if it legitimizes us. Sadly, it does to many people. It places us higher in some strange hierarchy that we seem to accept as true.

Learning how to truly rest is one of the most productive things I have ever done! I am not only talking about rest when I actually stop, get still and breathe, play dead, nap or sleep. I am also talking about the rest that comes when I allow things to happen instead of reacting to every little thing and living in a state of brace. When I get my mind out of the way and die to the idea that there is certain way of doing things, I am able to tap into my own way of doing things (my own nature) and things happens so much more effortlessly. I get way more done in smaller amounts of time, and it often feels like my everyday self isn’t the one doing things. It is like I have tapped into a bigger self.  None of this would be possible without stopping.

We separate life and death just like we do everything else. We make one good and one bad. If one is happening then the other is not, which nature consistently disproves with her seasons. Nature, with her seasons, shows us life and death happening simultaneously all year long. In her own way she reminds us that, “Death is not the end. It is the release”. [1]

[1] Hampl, Patricia, Virgin Time (Ballantine Books), p.14

Inner Persecutor vs Julie

Conscious Conversations: Short stories and other musings.

Inner Persecutor vs. Julie

I got so sick of reading other people’s stories. I had reached a point where I really wanted to connect more deeply to my own…to hear myself. I looked to books and “experts” for confirmation more than I looked inside myself. I knew I finally had to stop looking for confirmation and insights outside and start spending time inside. It had been a year since I shut down my counseling practice, and it had become glaringly clear that spending time inside my house did not equal spending time inside myself. Or maybe I was spending time inside myself and realizing how very chaotic it was in there. I quickly learned that having nothing to do was not exactly stress free. In some ways it was a little harder. There was not much to distract me from me. I came face to face with some really harsh voices that before now I just thought were common sense or smart. One in particular was actually quite mean and full of torture.

Constantly spouting off what I should do, what makes the most sense and questioning every move I made the Torturer (or Inner Persecutor as I sometimes call it) was abusing me. It was constantly telling me I could do better, I could be wiser, I should be doing more, I could say things differently, which were all ways of saying that nothing I said or did was good enough. I learned that the Torturer was truly with me 24/7. It got into EVERY SINGLE MOVE I made, every feeling I had and every decision. It was a devil cloaked in angel’s clothes convincing me it had my best interest in mind all the while keeping me captive.

I started to write down things that would go through the mind that were torture. These were common thoughts I had since I could remember, but this was the first time I was realizing they were torturing me. This list was constantly growing. The Torturer wasn’t interested in what I wanted or what felt good and free to me. It was concerned with “rules” or what made the most “sense” or what was the smartest and most logical. Even though I had ignored it many times in my life when it came to the big things like switching careers, moving to Michigan, marrying into a different culture, opening my own practice, closing my practice and others, I did not realize the Torturer was working non-stop on every other detail of my life all the way down to whether or not I should eat something for dinner if I had it for lunch. The Torturer never consulted my body. It only consulted the rules of the world – none of which were my creation. This Inner Persecutor was constantly on my case. It found every opportunity to beat me up. It even beat me up if I tried something new and didn’t like it whether it was food, clothing, a class or whatever. Anything that didn’t work out perfectly was a fail and a shameful waste of money in the Persecutor’s eyes.

Good thing my eyes were becoming my own and no longer one with the Torturer. It was no wonder my body was often so tender and sore. It was the Persecutor’s punching bag. Sometimes I felt like I had literally been beaten up. One thing was for sure: It was time to become the boxer. “Float like a butterfly, and sting like a bee” in the words of Mohammed Ali.

Two of my uncles were boxers, and I had boxer dogs most of my life. I figured my ancestry and my dogs had somehow prepared me for this. When the torturer started jabbing I had to learn how to duck and float. When it locked its stare, boxed me into a corner and started whaling on me I had to sting that bastard. There were times when I actually shadow-boxed around my house (which my boxer, Louise, really loved). I was training for one of the biggest fights of my life. My biggest moments happened after I studied its moves. I learned its patterns and shut it down at the first whiff of even a jab.

My favorite punch of all times was inspired by a “Grace and Frankie” TV episode. A character on the show told her domineering jerk of a husband who was always on her case to shut the f### up in the most amazing way I have ever witnessed. (The video is called Shut F##k Mountain and can be found on YouTube.) Watch it! I watched it over and over again until I could recite it in unison. I added several of my own lines, and this was the knock out punch that night when the Torturer tried to get in my head – which was the beginning of its pattern. I was victorious. The bastard was down, and my arms were up…literally my arms were up!!!

Is the Inner Persecutor part of me? It is part of a cultural voice? It is probably both, and where it comes from manners less than how it made me feel (emotionally and physically). I have heard many healers say, “you can’t dislike parts of yourself”, which I find useless because it takes people away from what they are actually feeling. The feelings are the guide. Either way, like people, parts of me sometimes need to be confronted and put in their place.  After all, the parts are not the whole. No one part is in charge even though this might have been the case for a long time. We have other parts that are dying (sometimes literally) to have a voice. When conflict between the parts comes up the conflict needs to be facilitated. We need to learn how to be facilitators and orchestrate a smoother dance.

A final note: As I was writing this, I noticed when I wrote the words “Inner Persecutor” or “Torturer” I wrote them capitalizing the first letter in each word. Logic made me change that at first because capital letters are only reserved for God, names or proper nouns. This Inner Persecutor was a tremendous force, so the caps stayed. For good or bad this force called me to the carpet (or into the ring) over and over again. One way or another it was gonna teach me to stand up and fight. I was beginning to see it as neutral – rather than good or bad. I simply see it as existing. It simply is. Trying to label it as good or bad immediately limits the wisdom. We spend too much time labeling things as good or bad, which immediately gets in our way of really knowing experiences or people and discovering any wisdom that may be present. Don’t get me wrong the “torturer” can still be a real pain in the ass, but I’ve got its number.

Conscious Conversations: Short stories and other musings.

Conscious Conversations: Short stories and other musings.

I had become obsessed and hyper focused on a creative project. I could only focus on this one thing and other things were getting a little lost. At least it felt like it. I couldn’t do anything else until I figured this out. I realized I was stuck and having trouble taking a break. I realized I was caught in the grip of some strange yet familiar pressure telling me, “Figure it all out now. Take care of it all now.” Then this conversation ensued.

Small Self: I hate myself right now. Why do things that seem so simple to others feel so damn hard and overwhelming for me? Why do I have to struggle so much about things that really aren’t urgent at all? Why do those things feel so urgent and create this terrible anxiety? Why can’t I change this when the issue is so clear to me and has been for so long? I hate feeling this way. I don’t know how to fix it.

Big Self: Julie…show this side of you more especially with your close friends.

Small Self: What!! Are you crazy? Wait, that actually gives me a little relief. I could feel myself breathe more deeply. It also terrifies me. I do feel relieved though in my body.  I feel like I need to write this down.

Big Self: Wait, Julie. Stay here. It is not about fixing. It is not about telling the world things. It is not always about helping others. It is not always about what would make a good blog. Sometimes it is about YOU, Julie, despite what you have learned about sacrifice and helping. It is about your presence to you. It is about giving yourself the same compassion you give when you know someone is struggling. It is about the struggle and sitting in it rather than struggling with struggle or resisting struggle. It is about what you need right now in this very moment. It is about you feeling this relief and terror at the same time and holding the paradox. It is about you having this experience and simply being in it and letting it breathe…letting you breathe. Let yourself feel the relief and terror and wait. It is for you. It isn’t for others. You don’t have to run and leave yourself so quickly. You don’t have to give yourself away. There is wisdom in this, but it requires you staying here for you first otherwise you will always be running. Give yourself some space and tenderness. The anxiety is awful to feel, and it can also carry important information.

Small Self: I know, but it can creep up and snatch me and make me forget. I forget myself. I forget that it (the anxiety) is often the thing notifying me that I need tenderness. I forget because I am too busy struggling against it or buying its lies.

Big Self: That is certainly understandable.

Small Self:  It consumes me and pounds away at me until I realize what is happening and can create a separation. At first I feel like it is trying to convince me I have to get in the race NOW. I have to hurry up and share my writing. I have to prove i know things… that I am worthy, worthwhile and relevant.

Big Self: My dear, you are those things already whether you ever write another word, see another client, give another speech or teach another class in your life or not. If you write because it gives you life, then by all means write. If you are writing to hurry up and put something out there or solely to help others you are building a house on sand that so easily gets blown over by every little wind. Write because of what it does for you. If it ends up helping others then fine, and if it doesn’t that is fine too. Pay attention to what energizes you. Do what brings you life. Helping others hasn’t always brought you life. It has exhausted you at times, because you were more aware of the needs of others than your very own. Be in your own space. Be with you and let this learning take root a bit longer and a bit stronger. There will be time for the rest. You know how to engage with anxiety and create a space of tenderness. So, remember, dear Julie. Remember you.

When You Hate the Haters

Let’s face it, when you see people show up with torches and Nazi flags professing their hate it can ignite anger, hate, disgust and a host of other emotions in you. How can you handle these emotions responsibly?

First, be mindful. When you see images of angry torch bearing protestors you may think, “What is wrong with these people? They are so ignorant, uncultured or evil.” Yes, it is awful, but we can’t stop there. What are you really saying? Are you saying you are smarter, more evolved and better? Are you saying they are beneath you and you are superior? Superiority is superiority. Yours is not better than theirs. This mentality is the root of the problem in the first place. We have to do better. We have to look deeper at this.

If you spend a few seconds on social media, you are quickly immersed in people telling other people what they need to do about this. You see people pointing fingers in every direction, which actually gets us nowhere. All it does is relieve the ones pointing the fingers from doing anything about it. Blames tricks people into believing they are powerless. The fact is there is something each of us can do about it, and it might be the last thing most people are actually willing to do – deal first and foremost with your own feelings. No one else is responsible for your feelings. They may be responsible for their behaviors, but your feelings are yours. Spewing them all over social media, the office or your home might feel good for a minute, but venting is much different from healing.

There is power in anger, which is why feeling angry can feel good. It is also why it can be addictive. Think about it. When you don’t own your anger and decide it is always someone else’s fault you feel righteous and superior. It feels powerful, but that power always requires making someone else wrong. Just ask the protestors in Charlottesville.

What does it mean to own your anger? In my office it means expressing anger unfiltered and on purpose. This is incredibly challenging for people. They like to jump right into analyzing and fixing and right over being with what they actually feel. What they don’t understand at first is the fix is in the feeling.

Noticing what is here now and being present with that takes learning and practice. I invite people to say whatever they want regardless of how petty, mean or childish it may sound. This is when they drop the act completely and have one goal: to be real and raw. We pause, notice and feel deeper into moments. Old wounds that need to be mourned might show up. They might meet face-to-face with a situation in which they feel oppressed that needs attention and action. The experience is different for each person, and it is often surprising.

I must tell you being with yourself this way requires bravery. I am thankful to those who embark on this type of journey. They are moving themselves forward and in the process inching the world forward. Peace in the world is actually an inside out kind of job. The war within is where you begin. Are you brave enough to go there? Will you do your part in moving the world forward?

How to Deal with Election Anxiety

This election has many people feeling stressed out. Check out this piece featuring yours truly on Fox 2 Detroit for tips on how to handle election stress.


An Open Letter To My Body

Dear Body,

I sometimes still treat you as something to conquer instead of the friend and guide that you are. I promise I am really getting this more and more. And even though I had the realization that I looked at you as something to conquer quite a while ago, I still fell into the familiar pattern of judging your messages as problems instead of seeing them as messages from you. You are the one who has always been with me – the one who is with me more than any other.

As my ally, you are constantly letting me know what works and what doesn’t. You are constantly showing me what needs attention. As much improvement as I have made in listening to you, there are still times I shut you up. I tried to convince you that the issue had been fixed when you knew better. As a matter of fact, what I perceived as an issue wasn’t even that; it was an attempt on your part to communicate. You never gave up though. You never stopped telling me. I am grateful for that and know my actions didn’t always show it. I am grateful that my learning here continues in large part because of your persistence and because of my willingness to expand myself.

I am committed to continued growth in this area. I am committed to expanding my awareness and paying closer attention to your messages a little sooner. I will give you more attention instead of putting my busyness first or trying to shut you up because some expert gave me the solution. My God, how many times have I told you to be quiet because an expert had the answer? No more, my friend.

You have showed me so many things. Remember years ago when I used to drag you to work when you were clearly telling me that wasn’t a good idea. Remember when I was forcing so called healthy foods down your throat when you were telling me no. I’m so glad I’ve gotten clearer. Remember when I was forcing dozens of supplements down your throat. Man, you made that one so clear, and I still did it for over a year. I kept doing it all because someone, check that, many people knew better. At least that is what I told myself and you.

What about the times I would feel guilty for taking a nap or the times I said no to a nap because I bought the lie that those were unproductive. HA! Oh and sexuality, how many lies did I buy about that! Thank you for setting the record straight. You have taught me so much. You told me when I was working too many hours and putting too many things or people before me. You let me know when I had emotions that needed space for expression. Sometimes I put you through hell. You had to use some tough measures because I didn’t acknowledge your initial messages. Remember when I wouldn’t speak up because I didn’t want to seem rude or difficult even though you were clearly uncomfortable. My sincere apologies, dear Body.

You even taught me not to beat myself up about the times I didn’t hear or ignored your messages. You made it clear that beating me up doesn’t resonate at all with you. I couldn’t pay someone enough to teach me what you have taught me, and I sure as hell tried. Thank you, Body. I am here, and I am listening.

I Am a Series of Transformations, and So Are You

I am a series of transformations. I have reinvented myself over and over again. I have faced myself head-on, and sometimes I hid from myself. My soul, my being, my essence didn’t care though. It was going to keep pushing (and at times dragging) me forward. When I let fear reign the pushing and dragging was hardest. When I allowed myself to jump even with the fear, things lined up in ways I could not have thought of with my logical mind. I have felt fear to the very depth of my bones, and I’ve learned how to sit with it and even befriend it. This seems to work far better than trying to hide behind boos, food, religion or even wellness – all of which I have done.

I know myself at an intimate level now, and, trust me, I don’t always like that at first. I know when I am hiding and I’ve gathered resources along the way to deal with that. I have even learned how to allow the hiding temporarily. Teaching others how to navigate transformation has been one of my reinventions. I left a career in accounting to follow a calling to help people at a deeper level.  It just so happens that the same year I completed my Master’s Degree in Counseling, I got married, sold my home, moved from my hometown where I lived my whole life, and started a new life with my husband. The marriage, the sale of my house, and the move from New Orleans to Michigan all happened in one weekend. And did I mention my husband and I are from two very different cultures. He is first generation American and my family has been here for a few generations. Talk about having to face ourselves!

Life really is a series of processes, and so are we. We have to look at ourselves consistently along the way. What is going on in every area of our lives is always a reflection – do we dare to look? We’d rather hold up the mirror for other people, and of course, we need each other for that at times. Do we look when the mirror is held up for us by others and by life? Ultimately, it is our mirror that holds the most clarity and freedom. I’ll say it again: our lives are a reflection – a reflection showing us what needs attention. The health of our bodies is a reflection. Our relationships and job satisfaction are reflections. Our relationships with money and sexuality – you got it – reflections. All of these reflections constantly guides us and point us in a direction. I do dare to look – sometimes sooner than others, but I look. With each reinvention I become more whole….more me.  And now I sit side-by-side with people (or sometimes stand in front of groups) and help them see their reflections. I get a front row seat in witnessing their transformation.

What is waiting to unfold for you?

My Easter Epiphany

Many voices came up around this writing. There are those who are going to see my references to religion and Jesus and immediately dismiss this. There are those who are going to think I am challenging their faith. And there are those who might be inspired by it as it relates to spirituality or other aspects of their life. All of these voices are welcome. Some of the anticipated voices caused me to wonder whether or not this post was a good idea, but I would be missing the point of this experience if I chose not to publish this. So here it is.

I grew up Catholic. Truth be told, I am not sure how Catholic I really am anymore at least by certain standards. I still value the richness of some rituals but also struggle with what I call the “stuckness” of the Church. In my childhood home Good Friday was observed like this. We did not turn on televisions or car radios, and we fasted that day. Thanks to my mom we kept things really simple. It was a day of remembering what Good Friday was all about. I have gone to Good Friday services and been part of the reading of the Passion many times over the course of my life. Somehow this year Good Friday felt heavier than ever to me even just reflecting on it in my own home. The pain and suffering was ever present. I’m not sure if it’s because of the state the world is still in. So many people feel like someone is threatening their spirituality. Many people are not given the liberty to freely practice their religion, and so much violence still occurs in the name of religion. Maybe the day’s heaviness was also an energy that still lives on in other ways. I try to look at such occurrences as opportunities to do my part in bringing healing to these world issues.

I sat and read some things in one of my books by William Barclay – a biblical scholar. I like his books because he explains the context of the time. He explains the Jewish traditions, and it helps deepen my understanding of the Gospel readings. One of the things I read that day was about the crucifixion of Jesus being completely political, which again reminded me of the state of the current political arena. As I read and reflected I did my best to allow these heavy feelings to stay and move through me. The day came and went.

As Easter Sunday approached I tried to decide whether I wanted to go to Easter Mass or not. Sometimes the Mass experience is wonderful and sometimes it leaves me furious. I often prefer to go sit in the silence of an empty church. I went back and forth. I decided because Good Friday was so heavy this year for me, I would go. I wanted to participate in the celebration of the Resurrection – the rise from suffering. My husband and I got ready and headed over to the church. We settled in with the Easter crowd, and I noticed the beautiful flowers and soothing music. The first reading came from the Gospel of John. It spoke about Jesus as the way, the truth and the light and how Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” I sat in the pew reflecting on that reading. What does that really mean? It seems we have made it all about religion. Is that it though? Had I really thought about what that meant? Sure I had, but here was the question once again looking to go deeper. I wanted more time to think about my own interpretation of this reading. I made a mental note to write my thoughts about that later.

The Mass goes on, and here comes the homily. This is the part where I sometimes have trouble. The priest begins, and so does my inner turmoil. I am hearing nothing about the celebration of the Resurrection. I waited. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. I waited some more. I heard a little about the Resurrection, but it all came back to a lecture about what’s right and what’s wrong or who’s right and who’s wrong. Where was the celebration? After all, Mass is just that. Even the priest acknowledged that every Sunday Mass is really a celebration of the Resurrection. I didn’t feel the celebration.  I didn’t hear the joy. I kept hearing force. I even thought of shaking his hand later so that I could share some compassion for this palpable frustration. I kept thinking,  “Maybe he’s making some points. Just stay with him”. Then the homily was over. I made it.

It was time for him to walk around the church blessing everyone with holy water. The priest dips an instrument into a beautiful vessel filled with water and sprinkles the congregation. This is symbolic of Baptism and renewal. As he went around the church people were chuckling a little because they were getting wet, but I could only feel force. It was time for me to go. I looked at my husband, and said, “Let’s go”. My body was almost moving before I could even register my thoughts. I remember this one woman in particular watching me, and I remember feeling guilty. Maybe I was wrong. No one else was leaving. Was I doing the right thing? Should I be leaving? How many times in my life have I heard that the Mass is not about what the priest says? I can respect that, and I can also respect my own feelings.

I paused with all these swirling thoughts and questions. My husband and I walked into the overspill room where the Mass was being projected on a screen.  I sat in this room where I could also look out the window at nature. I just stared out of the window thinking about this whole experience.  What was this? Whose was this? I had recently had a similar experience at a doctor’s visit and so much came from that. I sat and compared the two. I allowed the questions and the guilt to simply existed. I knew intellectually this guilt was not appropriate, but I could not deny its presence. I was also aware of the ancestral energy that was potentially impacting me. After sitting with all of this a little longer and feeling myself relax a little, I was clear. I was ready to leave. I touched my husband’s hand, and he knew I was ready. This was not the first time I walked out of a Mass. It was the first time I paused this way before leaving. I had to let all of these questions and feelings have space before simply moving on.

We walked outside to a statue of Mary. We said a prayer there then walked across the beautiful church property and left. In the car, we proceeded to have conversation about the experience. My husband shared his perspective being a non-Catholic witnessing this Mass. And, of course I was not short of words about mine. I shared with him my thoughts about the first reading. What does it really mean to follow Jesus?  I shared my observation that we’ve made that all about religion. But what does it really mean? When I look at His life, I think of one who knew His purpose and followed it. People thought what they thought about it, and He continued to move forward. To me that’s what it means to follow Jesus. It means finding our purpose and following it and letting people think what they think about it. This is no small task, and it goes far beyond religion.

I thought more about William Barlcay’s work. He explained that Jesus is still alive and still very much present. Then he described the tendency of people to look for Him where he is dead. That spoke to me so profoundly. I had to think about what that meant for me.

I reflected more on the Easter Mass and remembered feeling more peace and more clarity as I sat and looked out of the window at nature. I felt more peace when I allowed my feelings to simply exist. I felt more peace when I honored my own experience. I didn’t have to stay and go through the motions when everything in me was saying it’s time to go – when it was clear I was not being fed the way I desired. I realized it actually takes courage to get up and walk out when no one else is.  What if that was actually Jesus leading me out? I remembered walking with my husband on the grounds of the church and stream of water flowing through the property. It was clear to me that Jesus is alive in me, in nature, in music. God is alive in my marriage to a man who is Hindu. God is not limited to one religion, one church or a particular circumstance. Most faiths believe that God is unlimited, so why do we limit God to particular religions, parameters or experiences.  I know these things, but it is so easy to forget.

My husband and I arrived home. As we pulled into our driveway on that gorgeous day, three eagles were hovering over our home. I am not even sure I would have believed it myself if I didn’t have my husband as a witness. There they were with open wings soaring so effortlessly in the blue cloudless sky. In many societies, the eagle represents spiritual illumination and connecting to the Greater. Somehow this was confirmation for me. Eagles fly high and have tremendous vision. I couldn’t help but think of the need to rise above routine in order to see clearly. And once again I thought, “What does it really mean to follow Jesus?”