Spring Cleaning

Release MuckAhhh. It is that time of year when I start getting the urge to purge; the itch to clear out the old; the desire to open up the house and let the fresh air blow out the musty, recycled air. I always feel so much better and lighter and freer when I clear out the clutter of my life. Spring is that time for renewal and rebirth. In order to make space for the new, we must clear out the old. We must release things that no longer serve us. We must let go of those things that hold us back – physically and emotionally.

Physical clutter clearing is the easiest for me. I pick a room, closet, cabinet, shelf, etc. and just start to go through the items asking what do I still use and what have I not used in over a year. Clearing out those items I have not used will open up space, but sometimes there is an emotional attachment to an item. I feel a resistance to let it go. I want to keep it. Even if it is hidden at the bottom of a drawer where I rarely see it, there is comfort in knowing it is there. Most times, the item triggers a good memory for me. I like the feeling I get when I remember that good memory. I must remind myself that if I let go and release the item, the memory is still with me.

Emotional clutter occurs when we hold onto old beliefs, old angers, old fears, old betrayals, old sadness. We may have regret for something we did in the past. We may wish we had chosen a different path or had been more open to opportunities that came to us. All of those kinds of stored up emotions keep us weighted down. They do not serve us to carry them around on our backs every day. What happened in the past, happened. It cannot be undone. We can examine the past and learn from those experiences, but then it is time to let go and work on releasing the emotional clutter. Be gentle with yourself as you do the work. The pay-off in the end is well worth it when we are free from the emotional baggage we carried.

Back in November, I created the above mandala. I asked myself the question, “what do I need to release today?” After I finished painting it, the title ‘Release the muck” came to me. The brown muck in the center of the circle represents the emotional clutter that is ready to release. The message of the mandala is that it is time for me to examine the thoughts and beliefs and relationships that no longer serve me.

After pondering this message for a while and digging through my emotional closet, I decided to address some of the toxic relationships in my life. I tend to be a very optimistic and giving person. I have many, many friends who are the same in that regard. There is balance in our relationship with giving and receiving and uplifting one another. And then there are those friends who seem to only reach out to me when they want something from me. They tend to create a lot of drama in their lives and then dump that drama at my door over and over again. That drama is not mine and it creates a negative energy in my life. It drains me to help again and again and again.

This presented a good opportunity for me to strengthen my boundaries and work on saying ‘no’ to those toxic relationships. I am worthy of healthy relationships and my time and energy are valuable. My mandala shows the bright, colorful energy that is ready to come into my life when I clear out the muck. The positive energy flows and swirls all around me.

What will you find when you dig through your emotional closet to clear the clutter? What muck needs to be released from your life? Happy Spring Cleaning to you!!

Namaste!

 

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Self Care in the New Year

Lotus LoveWelcome to 2014! A new year and a time to start fresh. I am not one for making new year’s resolutions. Gave that up a long time ago. I prefer to set intentions for the year. Intentions are not measurable goals, but more of a mind-set.  Intentions set the atmosphere in which I live and breathe each day.

For 2014 I set several intentions. Self-care is the one I am focusing on today. When I think of self-care, I think of slowing down from the whirl-wind of modern life to take care of my needs. It is taking the time to nurture myself and making sure that I am replenishing the vital energy I need to make it through each day. Many times, that basically comes down to loving myself enough to do things that feed my soul. Loving ourselves is not always easy. Each of us is the only person who sees ALL of our personal demons and weaknesses and hears the running voice that beats us down for mistakes we make. What if, instead of listening to that voice, we shower ourselves in unconditional love each day? What if we each plant a seed of unconditional self-love in our heart and let it blossom?  What if we planted many seeds?

The mandala I have chosen for this self-care topic is called Lotus Love. It was painted for a friend who asked for a mandala representing unconditional love that she could give to her husband for their 10th wedding anniversary. Lotus flowers are sacred and often represent enlightenment and beauty. They symbolize the timeless and continual process of birth and rebirth. At night, the lotus flower sleeps. At sunrise, with the waking of the sun, the lotus flower emerges to life. Little heart seeds grow in the center of the lotus of my mandala. The lotus flower’s opening petals symbolize the potential for the soul to expand and blossom. In this mandala, a love that continually grows deeper is blossoming. Imagine applying this deepening love to ourselves each day.  We can renew that love and self-care for ourselves each morning as we awake.

For me, self-care takes many forms. It is taking time to get quiet and still to meditate. It is making time to paint and create art. It is reading that book I have been dying to read. It is taking naps in the middle of the day. It is not booking up my schedule every moment of every day. It is leaving free time to sit in nature and day-dream. It is propping up my feet and enjoying a good movie at home. It is treating myself to time with friends and family. It is learning to say ‘No’ when asked to do something I do not have the time/energy for nor the desire to spend my energy that way. It is saying ‘Yes’ to myself for those whims of sleeping in really late or going to explore someplace new. These are just a few of the key ways I take care of myself. I’m sure that as I apply the self-care intention throughout the year, I will discover all sorts of new ways to promote self-care in my life.

What does self-care mean for you? What does it look like in your day? Do you feel selfish or guilty when you take time to care for your personal needs? My wish is that you take time each day to do something that nourishes your soul and replenishes your energy.

Namaste!

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The Message of the Dragonfly

DragonflyI am blessed to be part of an amazing online support group for women with Rheumatoid Arthritis. We have adopted as our symbol, the beautiful dragonfly. Dragonflies look to be very fragile, but they have 20 times as much power in each of their wing strokes when compared to other insects. They have the ability to move in all six different directions and can fly up to 45 miles per hour. Their eyes are impressive as they can see in all 360 degrees around themselves. Dragonflies live most of their lives in the nymph stage and only fly for a few months in their adult stage. Their short life reminds us to live in the moment and live life to its fullest with what we have.

The symbolism of the dragonfly is inspiring to our support group. Dragonflies symbolize change and change in the perspective of self-realization, especially understanding the deeper meaning of life. The dragonfly’s scurrying flight across water represents an act of going beyond what is on the surface and looking into the deeper implications and aspects of life. Dragonflies exhibit iridescence on both their wings and bodies. The magical property of iridescence is also associated with the discovery of one’s own abilities by taking off the masks we wear and removing the doubts one casts on his/her own sense of worth. They also remind us to be aware of and grateful for our inner and outer beauty.

The women in my RA support group are the strongest women I know. Some of them (myself included) may look fragile, but we are powerful when it comes to living with chronic pain and fatigue and stress. Some days the pain knocks us down, but then we get up again the next day and do what needs to be done. We juggle family, work, schooling, along with our disease management. We face the change that comes with an auto-immune diagnosis: change in our bodies; change in what we can and cannot do; and change in our priorities. We reach out and support one another through the tough times and the triumphs. I consider them all to be my sisters!

Over the past weekend, we attended our national Arthritis Introspective conference for people with all forms of auto-immune diseases. It is the one time of year that we get to be face-to-face with each other. I cannot tell you how thrilling it is to hug these sisters of mine and laugh and cry with them in person. We feel ‘normal’ when we are all together. I can say only a few words about my daily experiences with Rheumatoid Arthritis and they all GET IT!! They KNOW what 98% of the other people I encounter in my life DO NOT know about living with these diseases. We can relax and know that we are accepted and honored by each other.

As a kid growing up with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA), I did not know anyone my own age who battled this awful disease. I always felt so alone in dealing with it. I was diagnosed with JRA at only 18 months old. It is all that I have ever known. My childhood experience was different than the experiences of my classmates. Having a chronic illness forced me to face things that other children don’t have to deal with. One thing I am deeply grateful for is that I had caring classmates from kindergarten through 8th grade. They never made fun of me or treated me as an outcast. I appreciate the gift that they gave me with that acceptance.

I did not meet anyone my own age with JRA until I was 26 yrs old. I was so excited because suddenly I was not alone in this battle. I wanted to hold tight to this girl and ask a million questions about her experience with JRA. There was such power in that connection. And as I met other folks with JRA, it was like this hole in me was starting to be filled for the first time in my life.

I know that all of my brothers and sisters, who live the journey with these auto-immune diseases, have their own stories. We are all powerful when we come together to share our stories.

Let us all remember the small but mighty dragonfly who teaches us to grow with the change in our lives and to live life to the fullest, no matter what is thrown our way.

Namaste!

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The New Year

New YearAs one year comes to an end, another new year begins. Our annual ritual of making resolutions causes us to reflect on our lives and see where we might make some tweaks to live healthier and happier. I personally do not like the word resolution so I prefer to meditate on my intentions for the new year. On January 3rd in 2000, I sat down to paint a mandala and asked myself “what does this new year have in store for me?” The mandala answer that came out was four-fold: the new year would have celebration, growth, release (let go), and love. This answer is timeless.

May your New Year be full of celebration for the big things and the little things. It is wonderful to celebrate the big milestones that we cross each year. It is also uplifting to celebrate the little things that bring a smile to our face or warmth to our heart as we make it through each day. Gratitude comes into play here. We are rich with reasons to celebrate and feel blessed each day. Look for those opportunities to celebrate. For someone like me with a debilitating disease like Rheumatoid Arthritis, just getting out of bed on a bad flare day can be a reason to celebrate!

May your New Year be full of growth. May those things your pour your time and energy into, sprout with lasting growth and new opportunities. May you invest in personal growth and see your life light up in new ways. May your personal growth journey open doors to more happiness and more fulfillment.

May your New Year be full of releasing those things or people that hold you back from your goals. Letting go of toxic relationships is difficult, yet must be done in some instances to allow yourself to blossom into who you are meant to be. Letting go of anger or hurt or sadness or betrayal is a challenge. The only way to move forward is to release it, to surrender it, to let it GO! Offer it up and move on to more joyful things.

May your New Year be full of love. Yes, all forms of LOVE!! The mushy-gushy love. The familial love. The friendship love. The love of the planet. The love of doing the right thing and giving back to your community. And most importantly, the love you feel for yourself! Self-love should never be left off the list. Love yourself and all your quirky flaws. Love your imperfections and be gentle with yourself. Life gets messy and in the end the person who never leaves you is yourself. Love yourself through whatever life throws at you!

I wish these things for all of you! May you all be blessed with an abundance of celebration, growth, release, and love!

Abundance Jar

Abundance Jar

As a way to invite more abundance into my life, my creative project to ring in the New Year this year is an Abundance jar. I decorated this jar and bought a cube of multi-colored note paper. Every time something good happens in 2013, I will write about it and put the paper in my Abundance jar. Next New Year’s Eve, I will open the jar and read about all the amazing things that happened for me. It would be fun to have all my friends and your friends do the same and then get together at the end of next year and share all the good things that occurred. What a gift to be reminded of ALL the good things we are blessed with over the course of the year!!

Namaste!

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Circles of Love

Circle of LoveMy heart has been heavy since the tragedy in Newtown , Connecticut last week. It is heartbreaking to see such pain and suffering in others. There is such a desire to do something to comfort them, but that is hard to do when you live thousands of miles away. My first thought always goes to sending them all prayers of love, light and comfort. My second thought goes to making a donation to an organization that will help them to heal. Sometimes, I turn to my art to create a healing mandala to honor those lost.  As an artist, I express myself best with water colors. I was inspired a few days ago when a friend of mine, who is a fellow mandala artist, had a loving idea to make Circles of Love mandalas for each victim and their family. She asked all her students and friends to make them, as well. The more people making them, the more it will exponentially multiply the love energy.  That is one of the many things that I love about making mandalas and teaching people how to make them: when you have a group of people making them at the same time, the creative energy is elevated and is tangible in a room. The same thing happens even if the people are not in the same room. The intention to be present and create the mandalas with similar inspiration can multiply the energy of that intention and inspiration.

My Circles of Love mandala above was made for the beautiful souls who tragically lost their lives far too early. My soul weeps for them and their families who mourn their loss. My mandala expresses the love I feel for them all and my hope for them to feel the love this country has for them. I started the mandala with a soft wash of different colors: blue, green, yellow, pink, orange, and violet. The wash has a very ethereal feel to it, like their souls are floating around heaven. Then, I started in the middle with dots of different colors. Next, I saw and painted four pathways heading from the center of dots outward, like ribbons waving in the wind. The pathways were filled with love (hearts). I envisioned these precious lost souls traveling through these pathways. Next, I used my silver and gold metallic paint pens to create even more dots circling outward to the heavens. I love the shininess of the metallic pens and think they create a feel of the cosmos in this mandala. The metallic silver and gold lines around the outer edge of the circle are shooting stars in the beautiful cosmos. The last element I added to this mandala is the big gold metallic heart in the center. Love is the center of this mandala. Love is the strength of this mandala. Love is the message of this mandala.

I want to always remember to live my life with love at the center of every decision and every interaction. Some days I forget to come from that love-centered place. When I do forget, I hope I am quickly reminded to shift back to love. After the horrific incident in Newtown, I am reminded not to take anything for granted and to be grateful for the truly important things in life: family, friends and the love we feel for one another. Let us all remember to hug our loved ones tight and share our loving spirit with those we meet along our path.

If you are interested in finding a way to help or donate to an organization helping the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting, please follow this link to a page of How Can I Help listings.

Namaste!

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Blossoming Beauty

Recently, as my sister was packing to move, she found some old photographs of us as teenagers. My nieces came running over to show me the photos and I was embarrassed by how I looked so totally 80’s and so puffy-faced. Don’t get me wrong, I so totally love the movies and music from the 80’s. I just don’t love how crazy we all looked in bright & bold colors/patterns, big shoulder pads, heavy make-up, and big hair. Also, as soon as I saw that round, puffy-face of mine it triggered my memory of how difficult high school was for me. This one photo in particular was from the night of my high school graduation. I remember the on-going drama of what dress shoes I was going to be able to wear with my dress that night. This was not the same drama as most teenage girls trying to find the perfect shoes to match their dress. This was a rheumatoid arthritis driven drama about how would I be able to fit my deformed toes into a dress shoe so I could wear a dress AND walk down the aisle and up on stage to receive my diploma just like everyone else.

When I started my senior year in high school, my juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) went into a massive flare. I could hardly move my joints and I had the worst fatigue that I had ever experienced. My parents got me in to see a top Rheumatologist in the Phoenix area and he started me on large doses of Decadron, a powerful corticosteroid. He also referred me to a hand surgeon and a foot surgeon to help repair my terribly deformed joints. Thus began my journey into joint-replacement surgeries and powerful medicines to try to calm my immune system from attacking my own body.

I met my foot surgeon and showed him my JRA-damaged feet. He asked what my biggest priority for my feet was. I told him that I could not wear ‘normal’ shoes and that all shoes hurt my feet, especially my big toe on my right foot. I have teeny-tiny size 4 feet, but in high school I was wearing size 6 or 7 shoes to have them big enough to not hurt my toes. I told him I really, really wanted to be able to wear normal dress shoes to my high school graduation that Spring. That was my dream. In March of 1985, he did a major joint reconstruction of all my toes on my right foot and I was able to wear normal dress flats to my graduation. Years later, I was to find out that he was so moved by that request of mine that when he speaks to audiences about this terrible disease, he tells that story about me and my high school graduation and how something that most people take for granted like wearing a pair of dress shoes is something that is a challenge for people with major joint destruction from JRA.

As I look at this photograph now, I can see the puffy-face caused by the high dosages of corticosteroids and it reminds me of how self-conscious and insecure I was back in those years. Those medicines made it possible to function and I was grateful for that. They plumped me up when I had started to waste away, due to the JRA flare, down to 75 lbs by Christmas time of my senior year. High enough doses of corticosteroids give what is called moon-face because they create a round, puffy face. What teenage girl wants to see that in the mirror? I certainly did not like it. Thankfully, over the years of adulthood I have come to see my own unique beauty. Yes, I have scars – many, many scars. In this photo, you can even see the fresh scar on my left wrist from the wrist-fusion surgery I had the very same day as my foot surgery on my right foot.  Each scar tells a story of what I have been through in my journey with JRA for 44+ years.

The mandala I chose to share along with this story is of a nurturing bud vase. It has many layers and colors to wrap the flower stems in nourishment and protection. They can grow and blossom in their own time. The flower buds can grow bold and colorful. They can be twisted like my crooked joints and still be beautiful. They can be surrounded by the warm glow of love.

I was definitely a late bloomer in my life. I’d like to think that I am still blossoming. I don’t try to hide my scars. I see their beauty. If you ever meet me and want to ask about a scar, ask me. I am happy to tell you the story behind it.

Namaste!

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Freedom’s Flight

Recently, a friend asked me to choose one mandala that had the most significance to me. What a difficult choice to make! I’ve been painting mandalas for over 16 years now and have hundreds of them. Each one is like one of my children. I created them and artistic creation is like a birthing process of sorts. The inspiration comes from deep within and it is not always easy to bring that inspiration into physical form on paper or canvas. Each mandala I create contains/reveals a part of me and has a special meaning. Sometimes the birthing process is long and drawn out, like when I wrote my book, ‘Inner Landscapes’. From the creation of the mandalas in the book to the inspiration to pull them all together into a book to the writing of the book to the actual self-publishing of the book – it took a long and winding 12 years! Sometimes the birthing process is quick, where I feel an inspiration and within an hour I have painted the mandala. How do I possibly narrow them down and choose one as my favorite or most significant? Each one reflects me at a certain point in my personal growth. To choose one was going to take some serious contemplation!

After much thought and review, I chose my ‘Freedom’ mandala. I created this mandala in November of 2005. I was just beginning a huge transition at that time – I had stopped working to go out on permanent long-term disability. I was sick as a dog and physically & mentally exhausted beyond belief by that point. After catching up on some much needed sleep for about a week, I sat down and asked myself the question: “what does my relief for not having to work anymore look like?” After meditating on the question, I got out my paints and this beauty poured out of me. As I was painting, I felt this huge weight lift off my shoulders. It was like the sun had come out and I could see the light in everything. All the colors of this mandala are so vibrant and alive. I feel they represent how much healthier I could be when I’m 100% focused on managing my health.

In this mandala I see two gorgeous butterflies ready to lift off and take flight. There was a new freedom emerging. This mandala was pure emotion spilling out of me and a vision for my future. I was being given the gift of freedom to focus on my health and do what was necessary to create a healthier ME! That energized me. And it reflected the transformation that was underway in my life. Butterflies in mandalas represent transformation and an announcement of a dramatic shift to a new way of being. I was leaving my old job behind and was moving into my new job as the holistic manager of my health.

Today, it is nearly 7 years later and I still feel blessed to have that freedom to focus on my health. I’ve had some ups and downs in my health since that day back in November 2005. That is what life with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis is all about – it is a chronic auto-immune disease that is relentless in the damage it does to my body. I’ve had three surgeries and three recoveries. I’ve had two really bad falls that took a long time to heal from. But each time I go through one of these health challenges, I come back stronger. I eat healthier and exercise more. I take better care of my body and have been able to eliminate or reduce the dosages of many of my medications. One day I would like to be free from the medications. Until that day comes, I like to visualize myself floating in flight, like a colorful butterfly.

What does freedom look or feel like to you? Are there things you would like to free yourself from? Freedom is a remarkable gift. Do what you can to create the freedom you long for in your life.

Namaste!

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