Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Emotional Health, Healthcare, Living with Illness, overcoming adversity, Spirituality and Health, Storytelling

How Does It Feel to Be You Right Now?

We live in tumultuous times and it’s scary waking up every day with so much uncertainty in the world.  The truth is, even when things are in alignment politically, socially, and atmospherically, the person we are is always in the uncertainty zone.  How is that possible?

We’re complex beings physically, mentally, and spiritually.  If you look around your community, watch the news, or truly listen to the stories told by your friends and family you come to understand the depth of our complexity.  Unfortunately, along with complexity comes fragility, that sliver of vulnerability that exposes our human Achilles heel.


My father called me a couple of days ago and opened our conversation with, “You know I’m at an age where a lot of people I know are dying.”  If nothing makes you vulnerable (at least in your own mind) mortality usually creates an emotional and spiritual gash in our armor.  It makes everything frighteningly real.  It exposes our imperfections while simultaneously accentuating our strengths.

We greet one another with the age-old question, “How are you?”  What are we really asking?  If you ask the question, are you prepared for the truth? I like the question “How does it feel to be you right now?”  It’s a question of connection.  It gives the person you’re connecting to the ability to be in the moment.  It gives each of us the opportunity to understand what it’s like to live in the body, mind, and soul of another human being.

I was involved in an ethics discussion about the interaction between doctors and their patients.  We were exploring the idea of empathy. When we have these discussions, the debate is often about sympathy and empathy.  Noted anthropologist, and one of my mentors, Angeles Arrien expanded the continuum.  Her research and experience shared that sympathy amplified suffering because it emphasized the pity we felt for the another.  Sympathy often comes from the vantage point of “better you than me”.   When we’re empathetic, we end up doing the work for the other person, letting them off the hook because we take on the pain.  However, if we feel compassion we don’t have to go into the emotional state of the other, but we can be totally present.  The state of presence is healing.

Where are we going with all of this?  I want to be present with you.  I want to know what your life is like right now because it’s your true story.  When you share how you are right now there’s an aliveness we can experience any other way.  Let’s shift our perspective and begin asking this very important question and see how our experiences with others change and deepen.

Posted in coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, creativity and health, Empowerment, living with chronic illness

Who Are the Legends In Your Life?

Legends, those people in our lives that blazed a trail before us.   These are the people whose work, ideas, and personhood, inspire us. They are the people whose shoulders we stand on. How do you know who the legends are in your life? The legends in your life are the people you make reference to on a continual basis. They are the people who let you now the path may be hard, but it’s worth it.

I’ve had the pleasure, honor, and joy of having legends in my life. Fortunately, some are still living, but recently two legends have left this earth. Angeles Arrien, a noted cultural anthropologist was the professor of the first class I took when I started my doctoral program.

Arrien was teaching The Nine Muses. The course explored the mythological and current implications of creativity. We looked at the many ways we can all use our stories and realize that our stories are told in an individual way. I followed Arrien’s work for years. Fortunately I had the opportunity to have a full circle experience with my legend; she was the external examiner for my oral defense. Having Arrien read my work, dive deep with me about the material, and offer ways to utilize the information moving forward was the greatest gift anyone could ever receive.

Unfortunately Angeles Arrien died on April 24. She asked that instead of memorials that anyone who wanted to commemorate her life to light a candle, every month for the next year, on the date of her death. It gives me the opportunity to connect with her and her work on a regular basis. It also gives me the opportunity to honor the impact she had on my life and work.

The same can be said for another American treasure, Dr. Maya Angelou. A poet, singer, actor, producer, teacher, etc. broke barriers, inspired many, and provided us with a life story that, although difficult, shined brightly as she overcame adversity. If you watch anything that Oprah has done you know that Angelou was a legend to her. Her favorite lesson from Angelou is, “When you know better, you do better”.

This weekend to honor Angelou’s life, OWN (the Oprah Winfrey Network) has been showing programming about the legend. One of the rebroadcasts was of Oprah’s Legends Ball. The Legends Ball brought legends in the African American community such as Maya Angelou, Patti LaBelle, Dionne Warwick, Valerie Simpson, etc. In addition, she had the Youngins’ who included Janet Jackson, Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey, etc. Celebrating the continuum of talent, experience, and possibility is critical for all of us. Having those moments of honoring those who come before us punctuates the decisions we make in our lives to follow a particular path.

Where am I going with all of this? I believe we need to honor the legends in our lives. Identifying why specific people past and present are important to you gives you the opportunity to continue on your own journey and do so with the blessing of those who walked the path before you.

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Posted in art and healing, creativity and health

What’s Your Sign?

Welcome to Art and Healing Wednesday!!

When I first went back to school a few years ago, the first class I took was “The Nine Muses” with Angeles Arrien.  If you don’t know Angeles Arrien, she is one of the most inspirational cultural anthropologists and teachers in the country if not the world.  She’s insightful, inspiring, and one of the best storytellers I’ve ever been privileged to hear.  It was interesting to me that prior to taking her class on the Nine Muses, I had read her book “Signs of Life: the five universal shapes and how to use them.”

Early in the book Arrien quotes Isamu Noguchi, designer of the Unesco Gardens in Paris.  I want to share his words with you:

     I don’t think that art comes from art.  A lot of artists apparently think so.  I think it comes from the awakening person.  Awakening is what you might call     the spiritual.  It is a linkage to something flowing rapidly through the air, and I can put my finger on it and plug-in, so to speak.  Do artists need a spiritual way or do they need art?  You can say that one is the same as the other.  Everything tends toward awakening, and I would rather use the word awakening rather than use the word awakening than a word that derived from some system- because there are so many systems. (p. 18)

The book goes on to identify the five universal symbols and explains that we all have a primary symbol that is in our consciousness.  After ranking the symbols, Arrien goes on to share her thoughts on how the order of the preference/prominence of the symbols impact our conscious and unconscious processes.  The five symbols are: the circle, the triangle, the square, the spiral, and the cross.

Think about which of these symbols you’re drawn to the most.  Consider where and how this symbol shows up in your life?  Learn how these symbols influence your experience of this life.  This isn’t about creating a masterpiece.  Recognizing shapes and symbols is an easy and fun creative process.  It’ s something you’re probably doing without even realizing it.  Look at things in your home.  Look at the patterns on the fabric of our clothing.  Look at your jewelry and see what shapes/symbols are present.  These are small clues that can give you unprecedented information.

I encourage you to read Angeles Arrien’s books, but going one step further, if you have the chance to take a class, attend a lecture, go on one of her retreats, I highly recommend the in-person experience.  She is truly a treasure.





Posted in art and healing, creativity and health

Who Are Your Muses?

Welcome to Art and Healing Wednesday!!

Inspiration is an incredible thing to experience because it opens us up to ever-expanding possibility.  The Ancient Greeks depended on the Nine Muses as their source of inspiration.  I had the enormous pleasure and honor to study with Angeles Arrien the author of, The Nine Muses.  The book is a great reference book for understanding the power of the muses, and how they can be brought into your life at any time and for any purpose.

I could go on and on about the use of art as a healing practice, but I really want to focus on you and what inspires you.  It’s great for me to share my passions, but that doesn’t mean it will be yours and for the muses to aid you in health and healing, the passions need to be yours, something personal.  The muses in Ancient Greek had specific art forms they were responsible for such as dance, writing, song, music, etc.  Each muse could be invoked when needed and this provided comfort and a foundation for the creation of all things beautiful.

When diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness many believe all creativity and inspiration are thrown out the window.  They experience life as a chore and lose the beauty in everything around them.  This is a time to pick up your creativity and utilize it not only for strategies to promote wellness, but to use your voice (figuratively and literally) to promote health and encourage the body to remember times of wellness.

I encourage you to keep a book of inspiration.  I like to start with quotes because they capture the essence of a thought in something memorable.  Once I have the ideas I begin to think about shapes and colors that I find appealing or catch my attention in the moment.  I also focus on shapes because they themselves have meaning.  I like to use circles because they represent wholeness and they make me thing of bubbles and bubbles are fun.  My art is meaningful and playful.  It allows me to tell my story about my life experience.

My muses are music and the great outdoors, at least during the warm weather.  I find myself spending a lot of time at the Botanic Garden because it represent beauty, complexity and simplicity, and of course possibility.  I feel educated and inspired.  Last but not least, I find the garden to be a place of refuge because there are plenty of places  to sit and reflect.  I always bring my camera so I can capture the moments I want to use as a reference, the muse.

What inspires you?  Which of the muses might you invoke to help you capitalize on your inner potential of wellness?  I’d love to see your creations and so would the rest of the world.