Grief is a sacred journey

5 Ways to Listen for the Soul’s Call

Self Portrait as Green Woman

It’s 2 p.m. This morning’s meditation was a practice in fidgets and worry. Breakfast and lunch were thrown together and the dishes are in the sink. I haven’t been outside. I feel scattered and unfocused. I didn’t write what I want to write.

What have I done instead?

1. I wrote down last night’s dream about Middle Eastern men singing a mournful lament.

2. I read a few political articles that made me scared and sad.

3. I wrote letters to politicians, because I’m committed to doing my part.

4. I sent email comments to more politicians, signed a few petitions, and considered donating money.

5. I had a long text exchange with my mother-in-law’s health aide about Depends, doctor’s appointments, and the ever-shifting health needs of someone who is 101.

6. I sent a donation to the ACLU.

7. I called my son, because what’s the use if there’s no time for people I love?

8. I worked on this blog and responded to comments about last week’s blog which a friend called a Greek lament. A good name for my mournful reminder that we depend on each other’s kindness and tolerance.

The day slides away. I still haven’t written what I hoped to write.

After running into a few dead ends this year, I turned my focus to a dream series that began when my husband Vic was ill and continued for years after his death. I want to explore these guiding dreams and soul messages, but this work needs time to swoop me up and carry me along.

Before we understood how sick Vic was, dreams hinted of hard times to come. While losing him, our life together, and myself, I dreamed. Prolific night stories provided narration and soundtrack as my old life crumbled and I descended into the unknown. Even at the hardest moments, dreams hinted of a new life to come.

I wrote down every dream and kept them in notebooks. I talked with my dream therapist about some. I painted others. Even when I was overwhelmed and lost, the dreams assured me that my Soul knew the way.

It’s time to work with hundreds of dream stories. It’s time to dig deep.

I no longer wake up feeling life will go on as before. I don’t wake up feeling I’ll be OK. Or my country. Or the Earth. I wake up with the ground quivering beneath me. I wake up with the weight of collective grief and the buzz of anxiety.

Still, I know how to respond to the soul’s inner call.

1. Give thanks, practice kindness, and meditate every day.

2. Take more walks with my joyful dog. While walking, breathe and be inspired by birds, swelling buds, and sunsets.

3. Act politically every day with a focus on issues that matter most to me like social justice and the environment.

4. Make life more spacious by writing two blogs a month rather than writing weekly as I have for five years. This decision hurts, but following my heart depends on it. So, for now, I’ll blog on the first and third Tuesday of the month.

5. Explore inner worlds by digging into a dream project I’ve been afraid to tackle. I hope my work will become helpful to others but, however it turns out, it’s time for me to revisit and rethink the dreams that showed me the way.

Like everyone else, life pulls me in many directions. There are endless ways to contribute, use my time, and avoid an alluring project with vague goals and an obscure path.

Still, in the midst of uncertainty, I hear my Soul’s call. I need to listen carefully.

***

Have recent events in the world or your personal life helped you re-examine goals and consider projects that you’d avoided? Have you made any moves to change things? For other articles about finding my way, see She’s Seven Now: When Dreams Lead the Way or When Dreams Tell Our Future.

 

42 Comments
  1. Dear Elaine, I love your Green Woman with her spiralling tongue! Words are precious, and here we behold the great value you place on them. I agree, by endlessly working on others words, we often place our own words, and voice to one side. I sense that the green woman within, knows that space is needed right now, and a time for fewer words may soon begin.

    Last year I encountered nine months without words, me a poet, one who lives and breathes language! And yet today, as I reflect on that passage, I realise that it was entirely necessary for me to pack up the alphabet, and push my poems aside, as I returned to the land, and enduring friendships in authentic ways, from whence I’d been absent for many a month.

    Balance is key, especially for us wordsmiths. Time out, most necessary and happily, your soul knows how! Your dreams intrigue me so when you initiate your new project please know I am more than happy to help explore their symbolism. Blessings always, Deborah. An old poem wants to say hello, http://theliberatedsheep.com/lord-of-the-greenwood/

    • Thank you, Deborah. I love her, too. In the full image, her arms extend about her head and become bark with leaves sprouting from her fingers. Yes, I love words. I love reading them and writing them. And I’m fatigued with taking so much in and feeling the pressure to do more, act more, read more, create more. I had to give myself permission to step back. It feels pressing to return to my own words–the ones that came in dreams–and see what messages I may have missed. I felt guided during that time.

      I remember your nine months (how significant!) of silence. I didn’t know what you were going through, but I had grown attached to your presence and then you were disappeared for a time. I’m glad that retreat fed your creativity and allowed you to create the new poems. I love Lord of the Greenwood. In my first Green Man dream, it was clear I would stay in his realm for a year. If nothing else, grief curbed my need to produce and achieve. My only task was to allow my heart to feel and stay connected to the green world. Thank you for your offer of assistance. I’ll remember. With gratitude.

  2. Thank you for writing about this experience of the kind of day many of us are having lately… when it’s not exactly the time for “big things” but every moment must be made meaningful by intentionally entering into it. Your contributions and reflections are indeed meaningful. I appreciate your wisdom.

    • Thank you, Kirsten. I’m not alone in not knowing quite what to do or how to make life work. I’m also trying to figure out the best way to take political action and keep a focus there. I appreciate your encouraging words. I’ll keep writing and dreaming and try to give more time to my inner worlds while doing my part in the outer world.

  3. Always much love for you Elaine❤️

  4. Oh, Elaine, I clicked on the photo to read what was on the screen, Writing and Wellness (I think) and discovered I was in the midst of a slide show. You are getting mighty fancy, Green Woman!

    My life has taken a turn both expected and surprising: digging deep into the contents of my aunt’s house as my sister, brother and I prepare for a house sale soon. Ninety years of stuff, treasures included, await our discovery and dispersal. You may have heard a sigh here!

    Writing has to sit on the back burner these days, which have included a walk in the woods and manifold opportunities to practice kindness. I applaud your decision to give yourself more space by cutting back to two posts per month. Your loyal followers will still be here. You can count on it.

    • Really, Marian? I had no idea what you were talking about, but I just opened my blog in a word processor, clicked on the photo you mentioned (Yes, “Writing and Wellness” which was on the screen intentionally) and saw there was a “next arrow” on the right side of the enlarged image. I hit that and it gave me a slideshow of enlarged images used in this blog. It’s a WordPress trick (may be new or may be years old even though I’ve never noticed it) and has nothing to do with the computer skills of this Green Woman.

      You will find many treasures, and I know you eye will be out for them, but it’s a huge job and must feel like a distraction as well as an opportunity. Vic’s mom’s main health aide cleaned out Virginia’s apartment in November and December. It’s amazing how much she had stuffed in the large closet. Fourteen bags of clothing (most of them used and given to Virginia) were given to Catholic Charities. Lots of other things given away, too. I got a few boxes of old photos and other papers. (I wasn’t happy to get them.) A few treasures in there, but still more stuff to sort through.

      We will keep walking and practicing kindness. For me, those two things matter more than anything. I look forward to hearing about the treasures you’ll find. I imagine people who read my blog will be grateful to have a little less to read every other week. Thanks for sticking with me.

  5. Thank you Elaine for the reminder to listen to the soul’s call. Which is never easy amidst all the hurly-burlyness of everything. So many distractions, obligations, things to do, complete what’s been begun … and wish fervently that I had more time to read what I want to read. I have your book on my Kindle. How I wish I could take two weeks off, go somewhere peaceful and quiet, read and paint … or play with clay. All that wishing –

    I’ve been meditating forever, first thing in the morning, an ingrained habit (sometimes I slip) but it somehow sets the tone for me. And walking … and the dreams of course. I look forward to what you have to offer in this regard. And being kind whenever possible.

    Your posts are always a balm in these times, and always have been,thank you ..

    • Thank you, Susan. We all have to find what works for us. We’re getting a big wake-up call in the United States. I used to feel protected here. That’s no longer true. On a personal note, adding more and more and more to life has been a bad habit for a long time. It’s time to reverse that trend and open the space. I haven’t been good at taking vacations without Vic, although I’ve visit my son and daughter-in-law next month in North Carolina where it will be spring there and still cold here. My home is quiet, beautiful, and a perfect place to read and paint and meditate, so it’s up to me to make the time to do these things. As the situation in the US doesn’t look like it will ease soon, I’ll try to find a new balance including effective action in the political world, time for dream exploration and nurturing my soul, and time to care for body and family. I also need to be nurtured by more reading. Your book awaits me. Thanks so much for writing it.

  6. Hi Elaine,
    Your post offers lyrical pose and the chance to pause and reflect on all the twists of life. I didn’t sleep well last night, perhaps that’s why the poignancy of your dreams struck me so. I love how you write about your joyous dog and time outdoors. I’m also beginning to take steps to educate myself on social justice and opportunities to advocate for others. It’s innervating to know so many of us have taken the opportunity to act, in our own ways, to bring about the change we want to see in the world. (I’m paraphrasing Gandhi, of course.) Thank you for your thoughts! I’m following you now, so I’m looking forward to more.

    • Thank you for your kind and supportive words, Angela. It’s hard to keep up with endless demands and make sure we take care of the inner and outer work. (I have a no news at night ban so I can sleep.) It’s a relief to know that many of us are in this for the long haul, since the job is too big for any individual or group. I want to take meaningful political action, but there are endless possibilities. I’m watching to see what works. Both my Senators are firmly on my side in almost all issues, so I focus on my local congressman. I also continue with hospice work, because that’s where I remember the bottom line. Thank you for finding good advocacy opportunities. And thanks so much for following me and taking time to read and comment.

  7. Thank you for this, Elaine. Many of us feel scattered and unable to concentrate on the work we were doing “before.” You’ve helped by reminding us to listen to the soul’s call, rather than responding reflexively to every demand.

    • Nan, thank you for your comment. I’m reminding myself, too, and have to keep reminding myself. My email inbox (like yours) is filled with pleas for action, making phone calls, and donating money. I have to stay with my inner life in order to have the stamina needed to keep responding to the outer life. Both feel pressing and necessary. So many of us are doing a balancing act.

  8. Each day is a new day. It is not a continuation of the past. It is not a preamble to the future. It is its self. Unique. A day to be created and to create. And see what happens.

    • I agree with you, Mark. In principle and philosophically. Practically, it’s been challenging for me to hold that position in recent months. The pulls and pushes of the outer world (including endless care giving and concern for my mother-in-law, the elder of all elders) make me frantic if I’m not careful. Detachment isn’t my strength. I’m still practicing… I add that at times of extreme difficulty and pressure, that practice delivers calmness and surrender to what is.

  9. You are so brave, Elaine. To listen to your soul and follow your heart takes great guts. I find myself immobilized by national and world events these days. Catching a horrific flu-like cold this past weekend gave me an excuse to stay in bed a while, ignoring everything beyond the blankets. I couldn’t even turn on the TV, just wanted to hide. But it’s time to face the music and figure out how to deal with what we have. Gotta gear myself up, like you are doing, and make a plan. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Robin, I’m not so brave. Instead, I feel a little desperate about how much feels demanded of me and how to balance the endless outer needs (political and personal) with my inner needs. When you’re sick as you have been, you can’t do anything except heal the body. The body is the boss. Without physical health, we’re helpless. Because of hearing loss, I don’t watch TV or listen to the radio. My news comes through reading so I can read a few sentences and decide I don’t need the whole story. I know you will gear up. At the Women’s March, I felt that our work to preserve democracy will only become stronger. It helps to join one of many groups gathering to take action or write letters. We’re stronger together.

  10. Thank you, Elaine. Your post reminds so many of us that we are not alone in how we are spending our days and the feelings of angst and mistrust in so many areas of our lives.

    At the beginning of January, I decided to buy a houseplant a week to bring a garden inside and today I gathered big books filled with wonderful flower photos and they now sit on my coffee table where I can pick them up when I’ feeling down. Every little bit helps!

    • Here’s to those plants that keep us sane, Joan. I have “Christmas” cactus blooming, the last flowers on the amaryllis, and deep pink geraniums. They all look beautiful against blowing snow outside the windows. I’m having a snow day which means I’m not going anywhere if I can’t get there on snow shoes. May all be well in our worlds.

  11. Have you been reading my mind? How do you do that? 🙂

    So much of what you’ve written here is personally applicable. I’d been thinking it must be a natural function of aging, and I do think some of it is, but after reading your post and the comments above, I realize the political situation is also a big part of it. I can’t count the number of times in the last few weeks (at least several a day) when I’ve felt a nagging angst, wondered why, and traced it back to the latest political news. I don’t feel safe any more either, and I’m really worried about the world my grandchildren will inherit.

    Fortunately, my dream life has been very rich and working on my dreams has brought many insights and much comfort. Also, I had a really lovely visit with Jenna last week and she mentioned a healing meditative practice called Ho’oponopono. I’d never heard of it but I tried it, and was amazed at its power to take me to my center and make immediate changes in my emotions, attitudes and behavior. I’ll probably write a post about it soon.

    I guess what I’m saying here is that I’m with you, my sister. I hear you. I identify with your struggles. I feel for you, especially regarding your caregiving responsibilities. Just thinking about what you’re going through in that department makes me anxious and sad. I’m so sorry.

    Thank you for this post which also took me quickly to my center. It feels as if you are living ‘close to the bone’ right now and your willingness to share how that feels helped me remember that this, too, is part of a fully lived life.

    I’m going to sign off now and do a Ho’oponopono meditation for you! Love, Jeanie

    • Jeanie, I’m sure the political atmosphere of this country has a strong effect on me and most of us. I’m also concerned about the world we’re leaving to the young ones from environment to the justice system. I’m also concerned about war and loss of civil liberties. Sigh… But worrying doesn’t help, so I’m choosing a few focused actions a day and staying on track with that. Doing my little part. My care giving responsibilities make me stand back and scratch my head. How did I get into this situation with a woman who was a major shadow projection all my life? I suppose I’m getting an opportunity to straighten things out psychologically and karmically.

      I know only a little about Ho’oponopono practice. It’s a beautiful Hawaiian cousin of tonglen or loving-kindness practice. I looked for it on line and found simple directions: http://www.laughteronlineuniversity.com/practice-hooponopono-four-simple-steps/ We can do this! Then I think often of Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ wonderful title “We Were Made for These Times.” The uncertainty is challenging, but if I stay in the present moment, here at my desk with a cup of steaming green tea looking out the window at the snow and chickadees, nuthatches, and cardinals jockeying for places at the bird feeder, I’m OK. Then to remind me of other realities, the blue jays swoop in and scare all the little birds away. Then I slam the back door which scares the blue jays away and the little birds get a chance again.

      • When I went to the link you provided for the practice of Ho’oponopono, I saw it is the same article I read after Jenna left. I recommend it to all our readers. It’s clear and succinct. I really like this practice because it’s simple and it works!

  12. Thanks for this always honest expression, Elaine. Many of us feeling this way lately. Take care of yourself.

  13. Well you sure put your words where your mouth was Sunday! Write on.

  14. Delighted you’ll give yourself permission to blog every other week because you deserve it. Five years! Discipline. I agree with many of these comments regarding your writing. Reading your work always calms my soul. And invites a response and conversation with you. I look forward to reading whatever, whenever you write.

    • Thank you, Jill. Sometimes I need to stare down the part of me yelling, “More, more, more…,” and yell, “Wait, wait, wait…let’s try something new.” Thanks so much for many years of support, feedback, advice, and friendship. I hope I’ll have much more for you to read in the future. This morning, I love having a snow day and watching the cardinal at the bird feeder.

  15. Very powerful Thank you.

  16. Elaine, I can’t tell you how much this speaks to me. My life has taken several turns in the last five years – seemingly awful at first, but truly the best of blessings in disguise. I’m coming back to read this again later (after I finish doing all those things you list that happen before I write what I need to for the day – so funny because it’s so familiar). I also want to read the two links you included at the end. So glad I saw this today!

    • You just told me, Lisa, and I appreciate that you read my post and took time to comment. Thank you. It’s hard to find our soul’s path when the outer world feels scrambled, uncertain, and threatening. As I said in an earlier comment, I keep remembering Clarissa Pinkola Estes’s words: “We Were Made for These Times.” I hope we both find a new balance in an unbalanced world.

  17. Hello, I was pointed in your direction by Vivienne (Tuffnell). That’s an amazing list of things you got through, and I’m in awe of your well-ordered work-station in the photograph. I make to do lists, but never quite manage to get them done … but I do try. 🙂

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Agatha. And thank you, Vivien, for introducing us. The work station isn’t so well-ordered most of the time, but I wanted to focus on the title on the screen “Writers and Wellness.” I don’t get the to-do lists done either. Then I torment myself about what I didn’t accomplish. These times in the United States demand a change in priorities and perspectives so I can do my part for the world and also keep a little inner peace.

  18. Hi Elaine! I have made mental note: “I’ll blog on the first and third Tuesday of the month”. The first and the third… Sacred numbers 😉 The holy trinity and the ego, a perfect symbol of the political situation in the US right now. You know like no one else does that pressure transforms carbon into diamonds. Did you know I once dreamed about a green lady getting married to a brown man in the woods? I considered the fact that i might have been dreaming with the earth because it was around the spring equinox: http://mindfunda.com/spring/. Your green lady reminded me of that dream. It might even be that you are getting closer to hearing the voice of the earth because you take time to connect with her *(the earth that is), in your daily walks outside. I remember that Jung in his life, lived in a very primitive self build tower to be closer to the earth. I am sure you will be inspired to do more beautiful things and write less, but even more inspiring blogs. I will be back the 21st February, take care !

    • Susanne, thanks for your view on numbers and time. That’s an interesting perspective. I look forward to reading your article and dream, but will put it aside until tomorrow. My Green Woman was a self-portrait that I started in front of a mirror. I then let my imagination play and she became Daphne–a woman transforming into a laurel tree. That was inspired by the myth of Daphne and a poem by Rilke in Sonnets to Orpheus. In the whole image, the arms become bark covered branches and her fingers sprout leaves. I well remember Jung’s connection to nature, his lake shore, and his building with stone. I already feel the spaciousness of time to dig into dreams this weekend rather than preparing something to share. Thanks for encouraging my experiments.

  19. I really like that list, Elaine. Thank you for sharing it.

    Sometimes it’s very helpful to remind yourself of what you can do right now to make the world, your community, or your life slightly better than it was before.

    • Thank you, Lydia. The sun shines this morning on the snow. I had an interesting dream to write down when I woke up. I agree it’s helpful to do the small things we can to help right now. Today is Valentine’s Day, a good day to spread out love around.

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