All These Paths, Leading To The Same Place

You thinkers, prisoners of what will work:
a dog ran by me in the street one night,
its path met by its feet in quick unthought,
and I stopped in a sudden Christmas, purposeless,
a miracle without a proof, soon lost.

But I still call, ‘Here, Other, Other,’ in the dark.

William Stafford, “An Epiphany”

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[That is one of my favorite poems by William Stafford. He was an unsung word genius.]

I read something a few weeks ago and had an epiphany. One of those moments when everything – years of practice, a fragment of metaphor, and a spark – comes together and you realize something important. I was reading a quote by Pema Chodron, a famous Buddhist nun and meditation teacher. She wrote, “Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already.”

And in the moment I read that, I suddenly understood something about my various spiritual practices over the years: they have all been about me trying to accept myself.

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I grew up Protestant (American Baptist, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ) and in that tradition, humans are sinful. They are full of sin because of the choice Adam and Eve made to eat from fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. What that looks like in modern terms is being regularly told that I was bad everywhere but in my soul. That I was inherently ‘not good’ and ‘less than’ and ‘blackened by sin’ (and a whole bunch of other Bible verses I’ve forgotten twenty years later…). With only one exception*, I don’t believe much good comes from the Judeo-Christian spiritual path; we certainly have plenty of evidence that it causes war and hatred and I believe it stems from this basic understanding of our selves as inherently bad.

After years of being a good ‘Bible-thumper’ I left the church because the world it spoke of as inherently wrong, bad, and sinful was not the world I experienced. The world I knew was full of amazing things and people and choices. I had girlfriends who had successfully weathered abortions, read re-interpretations of Bible stories, and enjoyed a drink with a couple of gay people and those things made it awfully hard to believe what was in the Bible, and what was being preached about it, anymore. Like a lot of people, I left and headed East.

For many years I studied the Tao te Ching, having been introduced to it in a college class about Eastern literature. I found it delightfully simple and also satisfyingly deep as I spent time with the verses and ideas. There was precious little dogma, interpretation, and certainly no mention of ‘sin.’ It felt like a good place to settle. And for a few years, it was.

I travelled other paths: Paganism, Unitarianism, Shambhala Buddhism, Tantra, Witchcraft. I’ve changed paths often. I became an ordained ‘interfaith’ minister (which I’m not sure is even a thing, but I’ll talk about that at another time). I have travelled around to various paths, texts, and rituals because they served my spiritual needs at various places along my path. And also because I love to fall in love and this was a way to connect with different ‘partners’ at the table of religion and spiritual development. (Today I see that there are appropriation problems with that kind of spiritual path, but that’s for the another post, as well.)

All of these spiritual paths were most definitely about me finding pieces of myself inside those traditions, texts, ideas, theologies, and metaphors. But my epiphany is that my most important paths have been about self-acceptance.

 

Photo by Jens Lelie on Unsplash

 

I’ve meditated for close to 20 years. I’ve used various forms, but mostly breath meditation (although I have used more sensual sub-genres of breath meditation at different times). For many years, I used the RAIN method, where you Recognize, Accept, Investigate, Non-Identify with whatever thoughts or feelings you have during meditation. But it was in reading Pema Chodron’s words about befriending ourselves in meditation that I really came to understand its purpose was far more soft than I had been experiencing it. It was about accepting myself, the totality of myself. To be who we are, in compassionate acceptance of ourself- whatever that self may be experiencing. Meditation was about completely accepting myself internally.

I’ve mentioned before that I am a practicing witch (the intensity depends on the day and the person, though- heh). And magic has been something I have been playing with for a long time, as well. My magic mostly involves words: rituals, prayers, handmade soliloquies spoken into the void. Only recently have I taken instruction in the more modern facets of witchery. And the one thing I learned there is that good magic involves self-acceptance. Magic that does what you want it to do involves acknowledging the totality of all that you are in the world: sinner and saint, angel and demon, mother and whore. I can be good, very, very good. And I can also be wicked. If I pretend to only be light and love, my magic sputters and doesn’t get very far. But if I acknowledge and accept all that I am, my magic is far more powerful. Magic, of course, is about how we are in the world and how the world reacts to us and our desires, to our energy and our vibe. And so magic has been about accepting myself as a human in the world, moving from internal to external.

Tantra has been something I’ve only picked up in the last five years or so, and it was most definitely about accepting myself and my sexual needs and desires. In some ways, this website has been partially about spiritually bypassing my sexual desires and needs – and Tantra is one way to both accept and bypass sexual darkness. I can’t say this blog has been entirely about bypassing, because I have certainly shared my pain and frustration and growth here, as well. But Tantra has been about self-acceptance inside of relationship, especially intimate relationship. Tantra is about the balance and alchemy of masculine and feminine (not the same as ‘male’ and ‘female,’ please remember). And my path inside of Tantra has been about accepting and balancing not just the masculine and feminine within myself, but also the dark and the light. I can be the most fun, delightful, loving sexual partner, and I can also want to live out dark fantasies (starting with having an affair, which I used to want desperately. Also remember that what is ‘dark’ is different for each person; my personal ‘dark’ might bore the fuck out of someone else). Tantra has been about accepting myself inside of intimate relationship.

Beyond each of these paths – to accept myself internally, to accept myself as part of the world, and to accept myself inside of partnership – there is something else I find incredibly valuable: Western psychology. (I am most familiar with Western psychology, but other modalities of healing the psyche are equally useful and valid. I have used food, prayer, movement, and many other tools to heal myself and others; I am for ‘whatever works’ to heal people.) Most of us wrestle with some piece of ourselves that feels ‘broken.’ And perhaps we do have ‘broken’ pieces inside us. When we do, psychological tools are often useful in helping people heal (again, I am a firm believer in using what works, even if that isn’t in the professional literature). Our brokenness is often not our fault (trauma is rarely something we do to ourselves), but we are responsible for healing our brokenness once we know about it.

Knowing about our brokenness is key to self-acceptance, I believe. But we must also know that sometimes our dark, our ‘bad,’ our ‘shadow’ isn’t brokenness- it is just a part of us that needs awareness and acceptance. The same awareness and acceptance we give to the parts of us we are pleased with or that are accepted in public.

Having this epiphany about self-acceptance and realizing I’ve been on quite the search for it has brought me a lot of excitement and calm in the last couple of weeks. If what I have been looking for is self-acceptance, there is no need for a spiritual path. Learning to accept and love myself is the path. So, all this time, I was just looking for pathways and guidance to leave behind the belief that I was bad and sinful and dirty and begin to trust in the whole of myself. Yes, there are broken bits that need fixing and healing, but there are also parts that are simply waiting for me to accept them, because they aren’t broken, they’re just judged.

And, of course, the great joke from Life is that this is the gift I most easily give other people: acceptance. Whatever darkness you feel or fear, I will listen to it and love it and accept it, without judgement. It’s so easy to give others the medicine we most need. (And so I am also a giant cliche. But, I think we already knew that.)

I will definitely continue with meditation, magic, and Tantra, but now I know what they are in service to, and where to place my energy. I suppose self-acceptance is my path now. I am grateful for the strange and varied path that got me to this place, and I feel a deep sense of grace in knowing I’m not ‘sinful’ anymore. Jung was so right about acknowledging our darkness rather than hiding from it, there is both power and grace in that acknowledgement.

I love you, beautiful people. And I want you to know you’re good, even when you’re bad.
Big love,
Joanna :: xoxo

 

*I believe that spiritual paths are suitable to different levels of psychological and spiritual development. And Christianity, as it is practiced in the West today can be useful to people who need a benevolent (hopefully loving) and also parental-style experience of god. For instance, people who are in recovery. Having a god that both loves you, wants you to do well, and will punish you if you don’t can keep people with addiction issues on the straight-and-narrow. But that’s about the only place I’ve seen it be as useful as it can be; many other places Judeo-Christian concepts and interpretations have caused a lot of fear, shame, and depravity. There are folks who are stripping off the parental piece of Christianity and evolving it into something more accepting and, honestly, Christ-like. People like John Pavolvitz and Nadia Bolz-Weber. But this article on Satanists also gives me hope.

 

 

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Full Moon in Sagittarius

Hello, lovelies! How are you doing? I’m doing fab.

Had a great weekend and really feeling happy and fulfilled lately. Back in Jan/Feb I made some mistakes and found a couple holes in my life (and just accepted some stuff) and I’m starting to see the fruits of taking care of my needs. I’m having fun, being silly, loving and being loved, and filling myself up. Not that I don’t have my bad days (my mind wanted to remind me of some really terrible – both emotionally and in content – texts I sent from that period and…ugh…yeah, there are parts of me that need more love and I can learn from my embarrassment…yay?).

In any case, I’m doing well and I hope you are, too. It’s gorgeous here in Southern New England today and shout out to Roger Williams, the founder of my state, who believed in the principles of religious freedom and freedom to choose whom to associate with, as not to be dictated to anyone else. I think that’s a direct quote. Anyhow, it’s the one reason I dig this state.

But enough about me (I have more to share in a few days anyhow). Here are your Full Moon in Sagittarius snippets. Hope it’s a good one for you all.

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From Weaver Tarot via The House Of Twigs ::

Sagittarius is the seeker, the hunter, the centaur. Chiron, the wound healer centaur, is often associated with Sagittarius. Much like any Sagittarian, he was driven and philosophical in his approach to life even after he sustained a wound that could not be healed. After he was wounded, he roamed the earth searching for a cure. Although he never found a cure, he became a proficient healer and used his skills to help others.

Just like Chiron, we all have a part of us that is the victim, the hunter, and the healer. Much of our psyche’s energy comes from the tension between these aspects of ourselves pulling and pushing against each other. We constantly strive to heal, to provide, to find love, we strive for safety and security etc. The key is to not let any of the aspects overcome you. If you don’t hunt, you won’t eat. If you don’t tend to your wound, it will fester. If you don’t rest, you will collapse. Staying healthy is about understanding these aspects of the self and balancing them.

Unless you are focused and have clear outlets for this extra energy, this full moon could prove to be uncomfortable and lead to sleeplessness, impulsiveness, and anxiety. Conversely, if you are motivated and prepare for this influx of energy and power, the full moon could be a great time to attain your goals, start new projects, and even start healing old wounds.

While some of your energy may be drawn towards achieving goals, it is completely normal for some of your energy to flow towards activities that simply make you happy or at ease. For example, you may be drawn to artwork or spellcraft this weekend. You may get the sudden itch to get your paperwork in order. Or, you may want to go horse riding. All of these activities express energy and help you build and expand your power

If giving yourself permission to invest your power and express your energy in any way you see fit feels wrong… breathe. We are raised in a society that praises structured achievement. Sagittarian energy can feed this need for achievement. However, any good healer and hunter will tell you that rest and caring for your mental health and soul health is imperative. You are allowed to be happy. Happiness is a perfectly healthy and important goal.

If you are feeling the call of this full moon particularly strongly, you are probably a healer. However, it is important that you take this time to heal yourself first—just like Chiron. Own your wild. Keep the balance. Draw strength and wisdom from your wounds. Hunt down your joy. Feel your power and rejoice in it.

 

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From Saltwater Stars ::

Thinking about how big Sagittarius/Jupiter energy is. This means big feelings with Tuesday’s full moon. This also means you may be high enough to get an aerial view of everything. A full/different perspective may relieve excess feelings. Try not to go it alone or hide from love. 

 

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From The Goddess Circle ::

Have faith in the unseen.
Don’t lose hope.
Believe the good things are coming.
Let go of past disappointment.
Release beliefs that are not serving you.
Expect the unexpected.
Getting information.
Making plans for the future.
Focus on truth, not illusion.
Blunt communication. 

 

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From Big Sky Astrology ::

Sagittarius does start out on each journey so happily, as though birth were a baptism that removed all memory of the pain and terror of Scorpio, its preceding sign. Sagittarius is a bundle of instinctual joy in gleeful defiance of rationality, and the Full Moon in this sign is a big, happy, irrational invitation to join the party; to approach life with good humor, innocence, and a glint of uncivilized rowdiness.

But look just a little bit closer. At this particular full moon, Sagittarius’ ruling planet, Jupiter, is in Scorpio. Scratch the surface of all this smiling buoyancy and you’ll find an ancient, aching bruise. There is, perhaps, some tiny bit of funk in your psyche that the baptism did not quite reach, some vestigial, unforgiving Scorpio wariness.

When you look in the mirror in the bright light of this Sagittarius Full Moon and smile your shiniest smile, don’t be surprised to see something a little darker behind your eyes. You’ve traveled your road, and you’ve earned those lines, that wariness. But remember, too, Sagittarius’ gift for determined optimism to see things a little brighter, a little grander. As a glorious, turn-of-the-20th-century bank instead of a Walgreen’s. As a world where your grandfather is still alive and drinking from his favorite brandy snifter. As an internal meridian of longitude where you were once whole, and happy, and ready to smile at anything – and with a little bit of determination, you can be again. 

 

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I hope this full moon gives you exactly what you hope for, fellow travelers.

Big love from Weirdsville,
Joanna :: xoxo

 

 

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The Best Thing You Can Do With Your Life is Rebel

We are born into boxes.

When they pull you up and out of the womb, the first thing they say is the first box you’ll be stuck with: “It’s a boy!” “It’s a girl!”

You are born into a family with rules and norms already established, which you will be expected to follow.

Religion.
Sexuality.
Politics.
Behavioral norms.
Expectations for how your brain should work.
Et cetera.

Now, only recently have we come to understand that maybe this isn’t the best idea. That there ought to be room for people to define their own life, to describe their own gender, sexuality, politics, religion. But this is a very recent development.

As a parent, I certainly had no idea of this when my children were born. I knew I didn’t want to put as many requirements on them as my family had on me, but I was definitely not thinking about letting them define their own gender at the time they were born. (Although this seems like a reasonable thing, 13 years later.) I did expect that having children would bring people into our family and that they would be expected to function within this family until they were able to care for themselves. I see now that this was also slightly misguided. Already my kids are defining their lives away from our family rules (cool but also hard). I have to remember that rebelling, and becoming who they are, is the best thing they can do. And the best thing for our family.

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I’ve been thinking about rebellion a bit lately. That we are given, or accept, these boxes at various points in life and, quite often, they do not end up fitting who we are as we grow into our own truth. The boxes we are given may be as foundational as gender (M or F, pick one?) and breaking out of that can be a long, hard path. More often, I think we have to break out of the boxes of sub-culture: religion, politics, job expectations, etc.

I had to break out of the sub-culture of Christianity, a sub-culture that served me well for many years.

I had to break out of the sub-culture of ‘normal’ heterosexual marriage. [Have I told this story before? The day after we were married and headed out to our honeymoon, I sat my husband down, crying, and said, “I don’t want to be married to you anymore! I don’t want to be a ‘wife!’ ” He was a bit taken aback, but understood what I was getting at. I did not want traditional marriage roles. He gracefully said we would not be ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ then, but ‘partners’ – and so we have been.]

I had to leave the sub-culture of conservative politics.

I have been gradually transforming what sub-culture I relate to in my sexual identity.

I refused to enter the sub-culture of ‘busy kids’ where everyone has multiple activities. [Dare to be bored, my children!]

As an entrepreneur, I have left the sub-culture of ‘9-to-5 job.’ [They punish you big for this one.]

And more.

But it is in leaving these sub-cultures, in making my small rebellions, that I have become myself.

It has been in the moments of saying, “This does not work for me. This culturally-decided rule does not fit who I am or how I wish to live,” that I have created my own life, and been true to my deepest and best self.

This is messy work.

It is hard to leave behind boxes that supposedly guarantee the successes our culture offers. Certainly, as a white woman, even when I ‘rebel’ I still get the goodies- the money, the safety, the support our society calls ‘success.’ The stakes are higher and the punishment worse for people of color, indigenous people, disabled people, and others who dare to rebel.

There is a woman I follow on Facebook- Isabel Faith Abbott- who writes and speaks about rebelling in the medical realm. She refuses to accept the story of the ‘good warrior’ who deals with health issues and puts a smile on at every appointment or dismisses her pain and suffering (or tried to ‘make love and light’ out of it). She is a rebel whose quality and authenticity I hope to achieve. (She also just does not put up with the bullshit of our society and I learn a lot simply from reading her work.)

On the flip side, I know a hundred people who have not felt able to rebel around their work, and so are stuck with the ‘golden handcuffs.’ Income that provides for their needs and wants and safety, but a job that actually sucks the life out of them. (Some call it ‘slow suicide’ and I don’t think that’s far off from the truth.) Their choosing to not rebel leaves them empty, if safe. [I have begun to wonder about how this plays out with white women who politely protect racism…another post, perhaps.]

 

Photo by Aashish R Gautam on Unsplash

 

Rebellion is often hard, painful work. It can be hard due to emotional pain, leaving family, leaving work, leaving ideas of our self and who we are (or who we thought we were). In some cases there is deep punishment for rebelling. This may be with money or access to healthcare or simply access to our own bodies (I think of women in this and other cultures who have no say over who and what is done to their bodies; their rebellion may mean death) or many other things.

But the rebellion is often worth it.

Because to be able to be true to one’s own self is what the soul calls for. 

And to shake off or refuse the boxes that we are given throughout our life is a call to soul development, soul loving, and soul truth. It is being real.

To accept yourself, and thereby carve your own path, is much of what we are here to do. And I believe it makes the world a better place. When we show the fullness of who we are, we make a bigger, brighter, better version of the world to live in. We make more faces for God to love and laugh through.

Be who you are, fellow rebels. The world needs your colors and light and truth.

And I will be here, cheering you on.

Big love,
Joanna :: xoxo

 

 

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Making Old Dreams Today

This past Saturday, my husband and I attended our senior prom. Not a joke! For the last four years we’ve been going to something called the “Grown Ass Prom” in our town. It’s a night for adults to dress up, have a good time, drink (!), and do what they actually wanted to do back when they were 18.

One of the reasons I love going is because there is an element of ‘pretend’ about it all: adults are re-creating a past event to make the memories they wish they had made years ago. For instance: going as your true trans self, taking your gay or lesbian partner and getting those terrible prom photos together, taking your partner who you didn’t know in high school. And dressing how you want and just having a really great time doing whatever you want because you’re a fucking adult now who knows what they like. Not to mention the guarantee that you’re going to get laid afterwards. It’s glorious.

So, this was our fourth year attending. Our ‘senior’ year. And it was definitely the most fun we’ve had because we knew what we were doing and we knew how to make the best of it.

Our first year was about creating the memory of having prom together because we couldn’t have done that when we were 18. At that time, we lived in completely different parts of Washington state. My beloved is also three years older than I am, so it was highly unlikely he would have looked at me twice in high school. (He says he would have, but I disagree.) We tried to fit the ‘prom’ mold from days of yore.

 

This is the best of the photos, so I’m going with it. 

 

My own Lloyd Dobler.

 

We wore matching outfits. I wore something that looked like a ‘prom’ dress from the 1990s. It was my first few months into treatment for hypothyroidism so I didn’t feel great and it sort of shows. But we had a great time dancing (one of our favorite things to do together) and it felt like we had gone to prom together. We made a new memory we wished we had from our past.

Our second year was even better. I was feeling very normal, thyroid-wise, and knew exactly how I wanted to look and feel. I bought a leather dress, black pumps, and got my hair done in a mohawk (fauxhawk). I looked and felt exactly the way I wanted to. My husband looked fucking fabulous as his ‘Adam Ant’ self. We both felt like our own best version of ourselves.

 

I also wore a pair of black Chuck Taylor’s, cuz who dances in heels?

 

I had a vision of love / and it was all that you’ve given me…

 

This second year wasn’t about completing some old/new memory as much as it was about being who we were to the Nth degree and just having a good time. We danced our assess off; the husband took home a dancing award.

Last year was our third year (junior year!) and we had a group of friends to go with. This year we were energized by going with our friends for their first time with Grown Ass Prom. My thyroid was on the fritz again last year and so I also wasn’t feeling 100% myself, but I had a good time picking out some leather-look leggings and pouring myself into them. The husband went ‘balls to the wall’ with his outfit- threw on one of everything and owned it. He is a fashion badass and a risk-taker and I love him for it. He also won Prom King for his dancing skills.

 

Red-lipped and ready to dance.

 

Wearing all black does not make you look taller.

 

I think the thing I learned last year was that Grown Ass Prom was better than Halloween for me (which is heresy in New England). It’s better than Halloween because I can choose a new part of myself to explore that doesn’t have to be appropriate for taking children trick-or-treating or keeping me warm. I can play with being vampy or sexy or dominating or punk or whatever. It’s one night where I can be what I dream and see how it fits into my everyday self. And I took that knowledge into this year’s prom.

This year I have basically felt like shit, body wise. My thyroid is overproducing antibodies which blocks one of my medications and so it doesn’t work as well as it should. In the last 4 years I’ve lost half of my hair and gained 10 lbs. I still have a decent amount of hair and I still look cute in clothes, but I don’t feel comfortable in my body in the way that I did the second year of prom. And yet. I feel more sexy, alive, joyful, free, and satisfied than I have in years. Prom this year was about expressing those feelings, even if my body didn’t feel like I wanted it to.

 

Dreaming and doing.

 

Luckily, the shirt comes off.

 

Senior year: the photographer remembered us.

 

It turned out exactly like that. I loved my outfit- gradually lost the white shirt as the evening wore on because corsets are fucking warm when you dance (didn’t know that before!). I loved my hair and makeup and felt like a million bucks with my prom crew (now nine of us!). It was a wonderful night. [Except, swear to g-o-d, the DJ has sucked every year and this was no exception. Four years of terrible DJ-ing. How is that possible? I don’t know, but it’s true.]

While, technically, this was our ‘senior’ year of prom, we will definitely go again. We might try another venue- I think there is one in Massachusetts and one in a different location in Rhode Island, but we will definitely go to one. It’s too much fun to let it pass us by.

I think the thing I most want to say is that it’s important to keep growing and changing and having places to try out who you are. Because I’m not who I was at 20 or 30 or even 40. There is a throughline of consistency, but I am different, and better, than before. Prom gives me a place to play out different roles and experiences with myself, my husband, and my friends, and I think we all need safe places to do that. As well, making memories and meaning of our life is foundational to feeling we have lived well. We need to feel that we have done things we enjoy, feel proud of, lived in alignment with what we most value in order to be proud of our life. Prom is one of the things that helps me make meaning of my life and feel that I have lived joyfully and well.

 

 

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Just here, with love.

 

Photo by Erik Holm on Unsplash

 

Hey gang, how are you?

I just realized today that when I’m happy or busy, I don’t post as much. Ha! So, there you go. Life is being really good to me right now and I’m enjoying it. I have a theory that once you’re doing what Life wants you to be doing, life gets easier and better. I could be wrong, but that’s the way it’s worked for me, even in the rough times.

So, I shall have a proper post tomorrow, but it’s been on my mind and heart to just post a few simple things for the last few days now. Here they are.

Please, know that you are not alone. Whatever Life is throwing at you, you have people (me, if you need it!), you have places, you have love, and you have support in unknown places if you are feeling alone or adrift right now.

Be yourself. You’re the only you we’ve got. It takes all different kinds of stained glass to make those beautiful stained glass windows and works of art. Be what you are. Be who you are. We need you exactly like that.

For the most part, I love you. I don’t love people who are assholes or selfish or put themselves above others, so if you’re in those categories, you can fuck off. But otherwise, I love you (agape, not eros; I’ll let you know personally if it’s eros). And if you need to know that someone out here gives a damn, I do. I genuinely give a damn about you.

Rough times pass. Things change. My favorite meditation teacher says everything changes in the span of 30 breaths. So, give yourself 30 breaths. And maybe a glass of water. Or a nap. The only constant is change, and things will change.

If you are feeling confused, that is O-K. It took me 15 years to learn what to do with confusion: don’t beat yourself up about it. If you’re feeling confused, just let it be. The more settled you get, the more you just listen to your own life, the more you find ease and joy in the simple things and get calmed down, the more likely the confusion is to find its answer. Berating yourself for being confused does not make it better.

I am hoping for your best. I always end my prayers with the phrase “with the highest good for all”- and that’s for me and everybody else. Sometimes the ‘highest good’ looks more like ‘dealing with painful shit’ but that’s okay. You’ll get through it. Keep going, keep holding on, and keep reaching out for help.

Lastly, always, and again: I love you and I care about you.

Blessings to you all, fellow travelers,
Joanna :: xoxo

 

 

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