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  • This week has been hard. Following on from last week’s post, the nature of my anxiety, and the role it plays in my life, has been weighing heavily on my mind. I’ve worked so hard over the years to understand why I experience panic and anxiety, and I’ve learnt various strategies that allow me to manage it. Life has been puttering along nicely, for the most part. (Honestly though, the ‘puttering along nicely’ probably has a lot to do with me being very good at avoiding triggers.) But. Last week’s revelation has opened a wound. A very deep wound. I’m having (very vivid) flashbacks to various points in my life during which I experienced anxiety and panic in very painful ways. I’m there again, reliving the experience.* It hurts. I’d like to think that this is an opportunity for me to heal old wounds. Why else would they be presenting themselves now if not to demand attention? To be acknowledged? Wanting me to experience them differently this time, with self compassion instead of shame and harsh judgement, in the hopes that the cellular memory is somehow transformed? I don’t know, but I have to ride out the wave. It also reaffirms my understanding that the only way to overcome anxiety is to go through it. There’s no pill for this. Avoiding the triggers eases the pain, but it’s a lot of work and you’re dead inside anyway.
  • I’ve also been confronted by a horrible sense that I’m crap at sewing and clothing design in general. Or at least, I’m not all that good. I’ve got so much to learn! Design, pattern construction, draping, tailoring, sewing techniques, clothing history, the social and economic dynamics of fashion… all of it. I’m overwhelmed by the idea of even attempting to start the learning journey. Because I’m old. Because there are people out there who are doing damn fine work, and how could I ever measure up to that? How can I possibly catch up with them? They have years and years and years of education and/ or experience. My (very critical!) inner voice is quite indignant: how dare I think of myself as capable of the same level of creativity and skill? It’s just too far a stretch of the imagination. Too far. And how dare I believe that I could be so happy in my work, so fulfilled, so… deserving of the joy that comes from earning a good income and creating a mind-bogglingly beautiful, yet functional, thing? How? <sad face>
  • The universe is kind, and she sends me messages like this: ‘a flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it, it just blooms‘ and ‘great things never come from comfort zones‘. I swear under my breath. I know these things are true! I do. And yet… I can’t get out of my own way. I know I have to change what I’m doing. I dread the thought of another year drifting by, without me engaging in it. The change pivots on a decision, I think. Do I go back to work or do I go back to school? Both options sprawl their own questions. More possibilities, more challenges. I can’t decide which road to take. There’s too much choice. (The indecision breeds a disparaging annoyance. Still. I’m still struggling with this. Maybe I should just flip a coin already! <resigned shrug> (I’ve noticed how I’m applying for jobs rather indiscriminately now because maybe that will create some momentum or a sense of direction. It also creates anxiety. Lots of it. But I grit my teeth and apply anyway.)
  • Part of managing anxiety involves self care. I am not good at self care, mostly because I’m last on my list of priorities. But. I have taken to going on ‘wonder walks’, as I like to call them. I couldn’t wrap my head around going for a walk for the sake of going for a walk, or for the exercise. I realised that when I did go for a walk, I stopped often, taking pictures, having rather story-like thoughts. So I’ve decided to make this A THING. I’m preparing a wonder walk bag – that is: a bag holding a glass jar (for collecting interesting stuff), a notebook and pencil (for jotting down the story-like thoughts and perhaps drawing sketches if the whim takes me), a water bottle (because thirsty), and tissues (because walking sometimes makes my nose run). Nice!  This makes me happy. (And bonus, it encourages me to go for walks by myself. On my own. It creates an opportunity to sit with my anxiety, just sit with it.)
  • My father has been discharged from hospital and is now home, on his way to a full recovery! Whilst I’m relieved and so very happy about this, I’m also deeply sad that I don’t have the means by which to give him a hug in person, to let him know that I’m really (really!) glad he’s going to be with us for some time still. It’s bittersweet, is all. <sad face>

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* This is an extract from a journal entry, describing the experience. It’s not pretty.

“…the rush of heat up my spine, at my throat and prickling at my ears and cheeks – like thousands of tiny, hot needles. Burning. My vision is dull. Fuzzy. I can’t orientate myself. My surroundings spin. (Or… am I spinning?) My heart is thudding against my chest. Fast. Faster. Thud. THUD in my ears. My lungs shrivel.

I. Can’t. Breathe. I can’t breathe! I tilt my head back, hoping to lengthen my trachea. I’m gulping at the air now, like a fish out of water. Willing it to flow into my lungs. One breathe, one deep breathe. That’s all I need.

My skull is burning. Brain seizing. Hot tears. Vision watery. Blinking. Burning. My whole body is buzzing. Prickly and sharp. Ground. I need the ground. Sit down. Gulp at the air. Swallow. Swallow again. Nose. Breathe. Gulp. Lungs. Work! Blood. Pump! Ground levels out. Breathe. BREATHE! Staring, blinking.  Eyes widen. Rocking. Less spinning. Clutch at the ground. Steady now. Steady. Breathe.

I feel so small. Spent. Hollow. Hide.

 

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I am an immigrant. With immigration comes a period of adjustment, of reorientating one’s self in the world. It’s bittersweet – because there’s so much to explore and experience, but I’m doing it on my own. (One wants to share the excitement, I suppose.)

Thoughts and emotions present themselves, and it’s in my nature to have a conversation with these thoughts and emotions. Me talking to myself. My Roman Catholic upbringing, and the gift of a vivid imagination, taught me that things (gadgets, contraptions, stuff) can ‘hold’ a feeling, a thought, or a concept. An invisible thing can become manifest. So it’s with this in mind that I made a list of things that would, perhaps, make settling easier; things that would make navigating my new world a little less terrifying, less complex.

 

To remedy the thought I feel vacant and a little stupid a lot of the time, a pin badge that I’d wear wherever I go. It would read: “Hello. I’m new here. I don’t know what I’m doing. Please be patient.” Such a pin badge would facilitate interesting conversation (perhaps?), and it would help people to understand that the vacant expression on my face doesn’t mean “I’m ignoring you”, it means “Please be patient with me. I’m creating a new synapses in my brain that remembers how to do this new thing; whilst simultaneously retiring a synapses that is no longer relevant to my life. This may take a while. Sorry. (and wince)”

To remedy my sense of awkwardness, a read-o-matic. I never really know if I’ve inadvertently offended someone by saying or doing a thing. This contraption would read those around me, and glow purple whenever I made a faux pas. We could then laugh about it. “Oh look, it’s glowing purple. Did I offend someone? Terribly sorry. Please read my pin badge,” I’d say.

To remedy my feeling of invisibility, a teeny-tiny, real-live bable fish. Often, although we’re both speaking English, I have no idea if people understand my meaning, if they see me. I appreciate that I have an odd way of putting things sometimes, but the dim light I see in peoples’ eyes is perplexing. My read-o-matic would probably be glowing a stunning purple at that point. I’d laugh, point at my pin badge, hold my finger up as if to gesture “please wait a moment”, insert the little bable fish into my ear and repeat what I’d just said. Instant clarity. I’d suddenly be visible.

To remedy the mental fatigue that comes from doing mental gymnastics all the (bloody) time, a ‘how-to-adult-in-a-big-messy-complex-world’ guide. Meh. If I’m honest with myself, this is a thing all adults could use. Not because adults are stupid, but because navigating the world is hard (regardless of whether or not you’re an immigrant. Being an immigrant just adds another layer of complexity to daily life because there’s so much more mental gymnastics involved. And there’s more mental gymnastics involved because there’s so much that’s unfamiliar, too new. Until it’s not.)

People tell me to give it time. And they’re right. Time.

But what do you do with all the thoughts and emotions that crop up in the meanwhile?

Bleh.

 

The committee living inside my brain has gone back and forth, considering the killing of this blog, or its resurrection. It’s been a good four years since I’ve posted. A lot has changed.  Perhaps the most significant change is our immigration to New Zealand. That happened in April 2016. Somewhat rather by accident. Or not. The Universe is weird that way.

Obviously the committee decided to resurrect the blog. Why? Simple answer really: I still like the idea of ‘The Life of a Forest Wife’. I thought to delete the older posts, but a) I can’t be bothered to figure out how, and b) maybe keeping one’s history is a good thing. (The idea of a clean slate is seductive. But… I don’t know that there is such a thing as a clean slate. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you, right?)

Being true to my nature, I’ll probably want to organise posts. But I get the sense as I’m writing this that things are going to get messy. Maybe really messy.

My dear friend Ilonka said “Right now your new life is a blank canvas and you can paint it exactly to your desires.” She’s right, of course. I hate that she’s right – because it implies that I have to show up. Me. The woman who likes hiding and playing small. I’m brilliant at that. I suck at showing up. Showing up is hard. Being present is hard. Being the ‘creator of one’s magnificent life’ is friggin’ hard a lot of the time; largely because it’s up to me – it’s all up to me. The shitty stuff and the magnificent stuff is all of my making in some way, shape or form.

The committee does not like this. They feel very uncomfortable with this idea because it implies ‘taking responsibility’ and ‘having courage’ and ‘overcoming one’s demons’ (or sitting apprehensively with them) and ‘stepping into the arena’* and… stuff.

Of course, it probably doesn’t help that there’s so much about my personality that makes leaning into change and the ‘creating of one’s magnificent life’ complex. It really isn’t as easy as stepping out into the unknown, exploring and ‘having cheerful adventures’. Adventures freak me out. Completely. Mostly because I can’t control the outcome, and I don’t have faith in my ability to figure out things as I go along. And (cough) I’m an awkward perfectionist.

Believe me, I’m very aware of the paradox in that. No one can know what will happen, what they will experience, from moment to moment. No. One.

But Fear is real. I feel it choking me a little as I step outside the perceived safety of my little cocoon. Every. Day.  Fear is cruel.

 

(and deep breath in. and exhale.)

The committee is currently trying to figure out how it’s going to invite my demons over for tea. Invitations will go out to Fear, Anxiety and Slow Painful Death, no doubt. I’m considering an invitation to Self Compassion too. I’m told she’s kind.

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* If you have no clue what I’m talking about, have a look see here, or  watch this TED talk, from about 12:12.

As I explored Pinterest for activity ideas for Sophia, ignoring the dishes and the laundry and the fact that I have a writing assignment due, I came across two talks on TED given by Brené Brown, one about vulnerability and another about shame.

You’re probably wondering what vulnerability and shame have to do with activity ideas for Sophia.  Truth is, not much… but what Ms. Brown said struck me… and I had to record it…

“Shame feels the same for men and women, but it’s organized by gender.

For women, the best example I can give you is Enjoli, the commercial: “I can put the wash on the line, pack the lunches, hand out the kisses and be at work at five to nine. I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan and never let you forget you’re a man.” For women, shame is do it all, do it perfectly and never let them see you sweat. I don’t know how much perfume that commercial sold, but I guarantee you, it moved a lot of antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds. (Laughter) Shame, for women, is this web of unobtainable, conflicting, competing expectations about who we’re supposed to be. And it’s a straight-jacket.”

There’s something in her words that are poignant and it strikes me as odd that I’m so moved by these words.  Please bear with me whilst I wrestle with my psyche and attempt to understand exactly what this is about…

 Alright, so enough of the feeling miserable.  Instead, let’s take a tour of the sites and sounds that inspire me, shall we?

Queen of Tarts in Observatory, Cape Town. I love what Tina Bester has created here.  I’ve not had the pleasure of visiting this coffee shop come haven of yummilicious food, but I hear good things.  Besides, who wouldn’t want to live in an apartment just above one’s coffee shop?

Celtis Lodge. Stone labyrinth.  Need I say more?

Zenobias Coffee & Art, on the main road through Rustenburg, as you drive towards the Magaliesburg.  This is a quaint little coffee shop that we pop into for breakfast or lunch on our way to Celtis Lodge.  I love that they have little wooden puzzles on each table… them puzzles can keep you occupied for quite some time… before you know it, the homely food has arrived.

Just Ginns. A lifestyle store, they say. A naughty place to go when I want to spend some time just soaking up the quirkiness of beautiful and unusual things, I say.

 i want that – I discovered this website purely by accident, but my goodness… do they have some beautiful stuff there… 

There’s also Pinterest… naughy, naughty, bad website…

Maya Prass . OMG! Can this woman design beautiful clothing! I adore the way she combines colour and print.  It’s such a pity her store is in Constantia, Cape Town.  Oh well, between Queen of Tarts and Maya Prass, I may just have enough reason to move to Cape Town.  (And let me not forget the Moreton Bay Fig tree in Arderne Gardens, Claremont.)

Jane Griffiths… maybe it has something to do with my parents having been raised growing their own food, but the idea of having a vegetable garden is very appealing. I bought a copy of Jane’s book Jane’s Delicious Garden some time ago, and I have been dreaming ever since.  (Mind you, my little herb garden in coming along quite famously.)

At yet, the most awesome, amazing, fabulous, joyful and inspiring thing in my life is watching, and being apart of Sophia’s journey.  My little baba is growing so beautifully!  I still get a little dizzy when I try to get my head around the fact that my beloved and I created such a beautifully little munchkin… I have love… I mean, how can you not love this:

I think I’m having a midlife crisis… actually, I’ve probably been having a midlife crisis for a good ten years now…

You see, I’m bored. Life is boring… and dull… and jaded… and uneventful (well, yes – there is stuff happening in my life, but very little of it is bright and happy and cheerful… a lot of it is about my brother and sister in law being hijacked (okay, granted, their withdrawing all their pennies in cash before emigrating to France instead of getting traveller’s cheques was probably not the most inspired idea and it probably did prompt said hijacker dudes to rob them blind and bring their whole world crashing down…) or my father’s business not doing too well (he’s in his sixties, for heaven’s sake… he should not have to work like he does… he looks so tired…) or my sister’s ongoing angst since her divorce or my husband’s stress at work… or… well… family stuff… you understand…).

The perplexing thing is that none of this has anything to do with me… in the sense that I can’t change it… and yet I feel caught up in it all… trapped somehow… caught up in other people’s stuff…

I feel like I’m at a crossroads…

You see, I feel like something needs to change, and that change will be prompted by a choice that I need to make…

Do I stay at my current job (it pays the bills, helpful that), or do I start to look for a job that feeds my soul significantly more… or do I start my own thing (I have no clue what the would be, but it would probably involve the making of pretty things)… or do I start studying again… and if I start studying again, should I study something in design (I wanted to be a costume designer when I was a little person…) or do I go into healing (family constellation therapy still fascinates me)… or…

Reading about other people who have made, what seems like, a beautiful life is not working for me anymore… Collecting the Home and Ideas magazines in the hopes of one day creating all of these wonderful things isn’t working for me anymore…

So, I’m stuck… now what?

Perhaps the biggest challenge is coming to a place of peace around what one actually wants out of life… What do I actually want to create? (Notice the blank expression on my face… does this tell you something?)

This blog was meant to be about ‘my wanting to live life fully,  about romance… about feeling nostalgic… about nurturing my child, my family, myself… about expressing creativity… fulfilling long-held dreams… and occasionally getting a little silly too…’

But somehow I don’t feel like that’s happened.  Of course, a blog can only be a reflection of a life, so clearly that means my life isn’t what I’d like it to be.  Now, please understand – it’s not that I’m unhappy as such… I’m just disappointed at how mundane life is…

But there is hope… As I wondered why it is that my life isn’t the exciting, exuberant, spontaneous, creative, joyful and adventurous life that I imagined, the universe sent some messages…

Message one: I came across a blog post by Ben Casnocha about how to draw an owl.  It appealed to my sense of humour.  And yet, there was the message.  He explains “One interpretation of the image and caption is that it reinforces how some folks perceive the progression from novice to expert:

Stage 1: You suck.
Stage 2: You’re an expert.

In fact, mastering a skill involves hundreds of stages of incremental improvement over a very long period of time. I believe a key reason so many people on the road to mastery call it quits is not because drawing a beautiful owl in pencil is superhumanly hard. It’s because they thought it would be easy.”

I’m actually one of the folks who thinks drawing an owl (or doing anything that I’ve never done before) is going to be superhumanly hard… I quite literally terrify myself into not trying at all… for fear I’ll be terrible at it.  My thinking goes something like this: “Seriously, I can’t just be amazingly brilliant at everything… just like that… I really do have to make a start (any start… just start somewhere… anywhere!)… hmmm… I really do have to practise, put some time and effort into it…?  Well… that’s inconvenient!  Here I was hoping I’d get away with being amazing by sheer willpower.”

Turns out being human doesn’t work like that.  Nope… there are no plug-a-play programmes out there… the makers of ‘The Matrix’ lied… One has to learn by doing… It sucks… doesn’t it?  (Yes, yes, I know – learning how to do something is part of the adventure… I know… I get it… I’m just intimidated by making mistakes… and the concepts of endurance and discipline are a little foreign to me…)

There, see… I said it… out loud… (ouch…)

Message two: I read an article in our company newsletter that was based on a blog post by Christine Kane about setting New Year’s resolutions. Ms Kane proposes that the reason most resolutions don’t work is because they address only one level of our lives – the do level.  Most of us follow the dohavebe model (which goes like so: “I will do this thing, (plant herbs) so that I can have this other thing (a tranquil garden) and I can be this thing (nurturing).”  The average resolution doesn’t address the core issue – the be level.  She suggests that life is better lived by following the bedohave model, which goes like so: Be the thing (nurturing) by doing the thing (plant herbs) to have the thing (a tranquil garden).  Starting at the be level creates positive change in one’s life because your inspired thinking guides your action.  When you begin changing on the be level, then the do level and have levels follow.

Okay… I can do that… I think…

Message three: I went to a kinesiology session today.  (No, I’m not going to explain how kinesiology works… let’s just say it’s a therapy that works on an energetic level, and it works for me because my mind doesn’t have the opportunity to talk circles around my psyche. ‘nough said.)  Anyway – we uncovered a little gem during said session.  The gem: I live in a box (no, not a real box – we’re talking figuratively here)… and I’ve only ever peaked out the box… mostly because I was told that it’s a horrible, scary place out there, and I tend to believe people (I mean, why would they lie?).  I was always under the impression that if I left the box, I wouldn’t be able to go back to it… to the sense of safety that it provides.  But, this is not so.  It seems I can choose to leave the box, build ladders, staircases and bridges from it to other places… and it’s okay.  I can always go back to the box, if I want to.  Who knew?

So, if you put that altogether:

– it’s okay to leave our space of safety because we can choose to go back if we want to,

– being creates the energy to sustain the doing and the having,

– the doing happens over time, with consistent effort… it really is okay to make mistakes in order to gain mastery of something… just start, have a little faith in your ability, and the rest takes care of itself…

It’s been a while since I’ve written because, well… I suppose I’ve been processing… There have been several threads of emotion and thought that I’ve experienced over the past two weeks… I’m going to make an effort to string them together here…

Healing the past?
In my previous post, I wrote about how I’d been reminded that I’m a white Portuguese South Africa, the descendant of the perpetrators of slavery, and by simply being a white South Africa, a perpetrator of apartheid; and that I’m tired of the guilt.

I asked myself whether or not the guilt was appropriate – if it is indeed mine to carry. Most people would say that it isn’t mine to carry – how can I be held responsible for the things that my ancestors did? In a way, I agree… and yet…

I believe in a morphogenetic field, or the Knowing Field as practitioners of family constellation therapy have come to call it.* This energetic field connects all of us, and has an inherent memory wherein past wounds are alive and awake… Colleen-Joy Page puts it beautifully: “Any unhealed aspect of the family attempts to reintegrate with the family. And if that unhealed aspect is four generations back it still attempts to come back to ask for healing and reintegration. This concept is very important – it means that you and your descendants may carry the unhealed aspects of prior generations unconsciously. It means that you could be imprinting and literally holding things that do not belong to you but to prior generations of your family.”

She goes on to say: “The good news is that as we heal ourselves, our relationships, our family units, at a micro level – the same healing is offered to the bigger family of humanity at the macro level. Just as the pain and wounds are shared like ripples through the ocean of our collective consciousness, so too is healing. For indeed, every time you heal an aspect of your own heart, your own psyche, your own consciousness – that healing is offered to the ocean.” **

Guilt offers an opportunity for healing. I honestly don’t know what my family history is around slavery or apartheid… but perhaps it’s more about healing family bloodlines than it is about healing an individual…?

A Different Perspective
Caroline Myss said: “The task before each of us is to learn from our past, to appreciate our past, but to live now.” So, where to from here?

I really am tired of the reasoning that South Africa is in the position she’s in (i.e. many corrupt government officials, poverty, slow service delivery, deteriorating education system etc.) because of the ‘previous government’ (i.e. the National Party-lead government who put apartheid in place)… Can we move on now, please? It really doesn’t matter who created the problem… what’s important is how we fix it… how do we move on from here?

Perhaps the important thing to focus on, to begin with, is how we treat one another. Phyllis Curott, in her book Witch Crafting – a Spiritual Guide to Making Magic ***, has a lengthy discussion on the Threefold Law (which says that, whatever you send out magically will come back to you threefold), and why it doesn’t work. She writes: “The primary problem is that the Threefold Law is basically a theory of punishment: I won’t misbehave because if I do, something (three times) worse will happen to me; therefore, I behave myself because I don’t want anything bad to happen to me. / I have always had a problem with punishment as a basis for ethics because it is not an ethical precept – avoiding punishment is simply expediency and self-interest. It’s the weak cousin of morality because it’s conduct based purely on deterrence. … It also creates a peculiar mind-set: Hey, if I can get away with breaking a rule, why not?”

She goes on to say: “The way in which we make magic, how we cast spells, how we work with the power that is available to each of us, is very simple once you’ve experienced communion with the Sacred. You will simply never harm, or manipulate someone else because you recognize that they are an embodiment of the Divine. This is also part of the mystical experience of Oneness – for everything is a part of, and expression of, deity. All is holy, and all that is holy is to be treated as sacred.”

I’m not saying that we all need to get religion, but we certainly could do with a different perspective of the world. If we treat the world, and all in it, as sacred – respect, awe, appreciation, generosity and compassion are bound to follow naturally.

Laying Down Roots
I have always lived in two countries… physically I live in South Africa, but my heart and soul lived in Madeira – the country of my parent’s birth. My father came to South Africa with a dream – he would work hard, make a small fortune, and then return to Madeira to live a life of ease. The message we received as children, if only subliminally, was “Don’t put down roots, don’t get too comfortable here… because one day we’ll be going back to Madeira, and that is where we belong. We don’t belong here, our life here is only temporary.” We never did emigrate to Madeira…

I’m now 35 years of age, I’m married to a wonderful Englishman (who understands some words in Portuguese, but certainly doesn’t speak the language), I have a baby girl, and two huskies – Whyte and Mischka.  I have a good job, I live in a comfortable house.  I live in South Africa.  I don’t know how to live in Madeira… and I don’t know that I want to… it’s an alien world to me. All I know is South Africa… with a sprinkle of Portuguese and English culture…

But maybe we can make this country great… and maybe it’s time I became part of that process… maybe it’s time for me to decide where I actually want to be, then make it work.

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* I can only tell you that I believe in it because I have experienced it… trying to explain it scientifically is, well… difficult…
** From One Family – Powerful Family Healing Tools, available from Colleen-Joy Page’s website
*** Probably the best book I have read on Witchcraft as a modern spirituality.

Today I wept…

I wept for my dear sister whose husband decided he didn’t love her anymore after many, many years of marriage… for their little girl… for my parents, they’ve lost a son…

I wept for my in-laws as I realised the pain they carry with them everyday when they remember their dead son…

I wept for a colleague whose husband was shot in the face… and a friend who lost a loved one to a botched up car hi-jacking…

I wept for my child because I can’t be sure that she has a future in South Africa, that she will find her place here…

I wept because I miss all my friends who have left South Africa, either for work, to follow a dream, to be with their beloved, or because they just couldn’t take living in South Africa anymore…

I wept because a deacon at the church where my child will be baptised reminded me that I’m a white Portuguese South Africa, the descendant of the perpetrators of slavery, and by simply being a white South Africa, a perpetrator of Apartheid. I’m tired of the guilt.

I wept for a friend who lives a life of quiet desperation, wanting to do so much more… but doesn’t… I wept when I realised I’m like that too…

I wept for the Earth, because not many people seem to give a damn about the fact that she’s suffering at our hands… I wept at the realisation that I’m not doing enough to change that…

I wept at my own sense of failure – as a mother, a career woman, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend, a home maker, a cook, a gardener, a labyrinth maker, a knitter, an artist…

I wept as I accepted that I’m capable of hurting people, very deeply… and sometimes I don’t even realise I’ve done it…

I wept for I am no longer the maiden, I am now the mother.

I wept because I don’t know where my soul is… or how to connect to it anymore…

I wept…

It was a good day… a day of release…