Circles of Love

My 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.


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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.


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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.


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Center of Balance

   What a strange and surreal feeling. It is almost that time again – time for me to have another joint replacement surgery. I have a little less than 5 weeks before I go into the hospital for a total knee replacement surgery on my right knee. I have had this kind of replacement before on my left knee so I am aware of what lies ahead for me. It was 25 years ago and has been a highly successful joint replacement that gave me my mobility back. Now my right knee is ready for replacement and I find myself with mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I am in so much pain that I feel ready to get the new knee put in so I can start to feel and walk better. On the other hand, I dread going back to that post-surgical place of prolonged intense pain and dependence on people and pain meds to help me as I heal from the surgery. I call this the dark place because it is like I fall into this deep dark pit when I have a joint replacement surgery. From the moment I wake up in the recovery room at the hospital, I start my climb out of that dark place. My goal is to get back to the light of my daily life.

Those first days after the surgery are the most difficult. I feel like each little step I make to climb up, is followed by a slide back down to the ground of that pit. I look for any hint of improvement each day to motivate me to keep pushing through the rehabilitation. Is the pain a little less? Can I bend my knee more today? Is it easier to walk? Can I put on my own shoes? Can I get to the bathroom on my own? It is the little things that we all take for granted that mean the most when you are recovering from a major surgery. Nothing feels better than getting your hair washed when you are on a sponge-bath only restriction!

Eventually, I start to feel sustainable progress being made in my physical therapy. I am climbing out of that dark pit and feeling stronger. I go from feeling frail to feeling my inner (mental) strength and my outer (physical) strength building. There are little setbacks and frustrations here, but no more sliding back to the ground. I am gaining more independence and more stamina. I focus my energy on healing and stay dedicated to my physical therapy, even when it hurts. It is hard work to rehab from a knee replacement. You get the best long-term outcome when you grit your teeth and do the hard work every day. I did it once before and I can do it again.

It will take me about 6 weeks to climb out of that pit and then another 6 months to feel really strong again. My hope is that my surgeon will be able to make my leg straight again with this knee replacement. I would love to walk with two straight legs for the rest of my life. That is what I visualize every day now.

Over the next few weeks, I will begin ‘nesting’  – getting my home ready to make it easy on me as I recover AND building my inner fortitude to tackle this recovery head on. This is the time I need to tap into my inner strength. I painted this particular mandala on my 42nd birthday and the question I had asked was: “where does my inner strength come from?” The yin yang is at the center of my mandala, showing a balance of energies at my core. My strength comes from this balance of energies. Even if everything is chaotic and swirling around me, I can tap into those energies at my core. I can tap into the silence at my core. As I make my way through my healing journey I can always tap into that strength at my core. I am rooted in this strength. It has been with me since I was a child.

Where does your inner strength come from? Remember to tap into it when things seem out of balance in your life.


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Happy Heart’s Day

Love, love, love. According to a great Beatles song, “all you need is love”. I love listening to their songs about the very groovy kind of love that existed in the 1960’s. Tonight, I send out this Valentine to anyone and everyone that needs some love. The internet opens a pathway that allows little ol’ me to reach out and connect with others near and far. If you’ve ever suffered a broken heart and dread Valentine’s Day, you are not alone. I wrote this poem after losing a deep love and thought I would share it because it may speak to your heart:

Ode to Lost Loves

He was a dream that suddenly disappeared.
The dream started as quickly as it ended.
I floated on a cloud to a place
where everything was magical:
the sunsets,
the moon,
art museums,
park benches,
endless conversations.

My soul had met its match,
or so I had thought.
It was heaven on earth
until it slipped away.
I was blind to the truth,
but the truth cannot be denied.

It all changed and I was left alone.
Alone to ponder what had happened.
Alone to pick up the million slivers of my heart
and try to reassemble them.
Alone to imagine a life, other than the dream.

How could such a dream disappear?
Where did it go?
Maybe it becomes the seed for the next dream.
Maybe this is all a dream –
every minute of every day.
Maybe I have never been alone…..

In today’s world, there seems to be so many conditions attached to love. It can be challenging to open your heart to another and risk rejection. We can feel isolated in our lives as we protect our hearts. I am very adept at keeping my heart protected by walls of armor. I painted this Valentine’s mandala to portray some of the layers of protection expanding and loosening their grip. There is some white space appearing between the layers. One day those walls will open and another heart can come in. Until then, I send this out into the ether. I send my love to all the souls out there who need to feel a splash of love. You are not alone. We are all connected. We are all worthy of a grand love.


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Over the Rainbow

A couple nights ago, ‘The Wizard of Oz’ was on television. This childhood classic is one of my favorites to watch again and again. I never get tired of this epic adventure through a land of fantasy. Watching it again reminded me of a mandala I created several years ago. For this mandala, I had asked the question, “where can my healing take me?” This mandala makes me smile every time I see it.  The message was so clearly that my healing can take me “over the rainbow”.

My mandala is full of not just one colorful rainbow, but four of them!  They are joined by a dainty lace-like trim.  In the center, there is a blossoming flower surrounded by hearts and another flower.  Symbolically, rainbow colors are related to wholeness.  When they all come together, they bring beauty to all who spot them in the sky.

I took this mandala to mean that there is no limit to the healing we can experience.  When Dorothy and her pals made their trek to the Emerald City to see the Wizard, they were all in search of something they thought they needed or lacked.  To their surprise, they each found out that they had everything they needed within all along.  Scarecrow did have smarts; Tin Man did have a heart; Cowardly Lion did have courage; and Dorothy already had the power to return home. Their power was deep within each one of them all along.  It was simply a matter of believing in themselves and invoking their own power.

How often, when we face a problem or challenge, do we doubt our abilities to handle the challenge? How often do we feel we are lacking something that everyone else seems to have? I think the human condition set us up to feel this sense of lack. Our ego speaks to us all the time. It is the voice that likes to keep us feeling separate and small. I laugh every time the scene comes on where Toto reveals the man pulling the levers behind the curtain and this small man says, “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” This reminds me of our ego, pulling the levers and strings, making itself into the ever powerful and knowledgeable master in our lives. But, the truth is, our inner spiritual wisdom knows this is false. The man behind the curtain is simply pretending to be more powerful than he really is.

In my life, I have been on a healing quest for more than 20 years now. The first 20 years of living with chronic Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis was all about survival – just getting through each medical crisis and trying to live day-to-day life and go to school. After graduating from college and starting my career, I had to face the challenge of living independently and I welcomed that challenge. I had to erase the messages that I was weak and incapable of truly being independent. Over the years of my life, I accumulated a lot of physical scars and emotional scars. My healing quest has been all about appreciating my body’s ability to heal from each surgery, each fall, each set-back, and each JRA flare. On the emotional side, I struggled more with the healing of the emotional scars from feeling so different from other people and feeling misunderstood throughout my life. I was so happy when I discovered the mandala art form. It opened up this whole new way for me to work on healing those emotional scars. I feel like Dorothy discovering she had the power all along to return home. I have the power and intuition inside me to heal and become more and more whole.

I truly believe that whatever it is we need to heal from, we all have the power within to complete that healing. So please take a journey down the yellow brick road and join me in claiming our power!


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Hidden Away

Back in 2006, when I sat down to create this mandala, I asked myself the question: “why do I keep myself hidden away?” This is a key question for me. By nature, I am highly introverted. This does not mean that I am anti-social. It simply means that I need time and space to be alone to recharge my inner batteries / energy. Being in groups of people drains my energy. When it comes right down to it, the person I feel most comfortable with is ME. Other people drain my energy, so I tend to spend a lot of time alone. This is a choice I make.

When you add on top of that innate desire to be in solitude, the fact that I have a crippling disease that causes strong feelings of pain and isolation, you have a killer combination that results in the intense desire to hide myself away. After 40+ years of living with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis and all the joint damage that comes along with that disease, I battle thoughts that I don’t fit in with others and that I can’t keep up with others. Sometimes I feel like I am a burden and other times I feel like no one understands what this life is like. I feel trapped in a body that does not move that way other healthy bodies move. I have crooked joints and less physical strength than most people. My young nieces and nephew are far physically stronger than me at this point.

And to throw another fun complication into the mix, as I wrote about in my blog from August entitled ‘To Cry or Not to Cry’, I hate to cry or express the sadness I feel about my illness and how much pain I experience. When you mix all of those things together, the imagery of this mandala makes perfect sense. The center of the mandala is made up of tear drops. They are the profound sadness I feel at my core. They are surrounded by four layers of walls to keep them buried and to keep others out. Then those walls are surrounded my even more reinforcements. Talk about Fort Knox! Nothing is getting in or out. I hide myself away on so many levels: the physical, the mental, and the emotional.

Last week, I had an epiphany that ties into this mandala on an even deeper level. During a holistic therapy session, which is known as Body Talk, my practitioner was able to see information about one of my past lives. Now, I know many people may not believe in past lives. I respect each person’s views on this topic. My personal view is that I do believe in past lives. I believe in the spiritual evolution of the soul, where souls come back to earthly life over and over again to learn lessons and evolve. I believe that things that happen in one life can have a carry-over effect in that soul’s subsequent lives.

The particular past life that was revealed to us, was a pivotal one for my soul. In that life, my soul was a young woman in the 1800’s. She was full of life and had an idyllic life: nearly perfect on many levels with love, family, friends, wealth, and great happiness. She had every opportunity open to her and a bright future. In her early 20’s however, she became gravely ill with a disease that was incurable. Back in those days, the terminally ill were shuttered away. This young woman was literally shut away into a dark room to suffer in solitude until she died. She was devastated to lose all the good and promise her life had held. She felt profound sadness, grief, and agony at how life was snatched away so quickly. She died young and my soul made a decision at that time that it will never, EVER be that happy and fulfilled again. It will do whatever is necessary to never feel that profound loss and sadness again. If it is never that happy again, then it can never feel the deep loss and devastation. This ingrained belief got carried into subsequent lives. It is with me in my life today.

I came into this life and within 6 months of my birth I was showing symptoms of Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. That is a very early age of onset for this disease. I’ve always felt that my soul chose the challenge of this disease. I couldn’t really describe that feeling as a child, but as I got older and more spiritually aware that sense grew stronger. What better disease to ensure that I would be locked away into a sick body than rheumatoid arthritis?! I’m not locked away in a dark room anymore, but my soul is locked into this body that limits my abilities. That past life resonated so strongly with my current life. In my mind, things suddenly clicked into place and I recognized that I continue to choose to keep myself hidden away. I play it safe and don’t take risks. I keep myself surrounded by walls. Well, I don’t want to choose that any more. I want to break out of those walls. My first step was to write this blog. I was afraid that people would think I am a freak by writing about past lives. I was afraid to put this intensely personal story out there to be critiqued or judged. But I am going to stand in my truth and say, “No more fear.” I choose to be free and fulfilled! I choose to open up and believe I deserve to be deliriously happy and live fully!

What part of yourselves do you keep hidden away? What can you choose each day to open up your lives?


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