My Return to Costa Rica

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It began with an invitation to co-facilitate a week-long grief retreat. In Costa Rica. In the community where I had done so much of my own grieving and healing. It had been nearly 4 years since I'd left. It had been 5 years since my husband, Mitch's death.

 

The retreat was inspired by the death of Lupe, who was the daughter of Rose, my beloved Yoga Teacher and the orginal founder of the Yoga Retreat Center, Vida Asana. The entire retreat experience was being made possible by generous donations and fundraising events.

 

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Just two days before receiving the invitation, I had made a vision map- a collage of images from magazines that called to me for 2018- to my surprise I had included two images of Costa Rica in that vision. And here I was, living in my new home in the San Juan Islands, off the coast of Washington State, staring at this emailed invitation, asking me to help lead a retreat- a retreat for parents who had lost a child.

 

I felt excited, I felt moved, I felt energized by the opportunity. But what about my daughters, ages 7 and 4- I had never left them for a week… And my jobs? I was the social and emotional learning teacher for k-6th grade, and the domestic violence and sexual assault prevention coordinator for the middle and high school… I decided I would think about it through the weekend.

 

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That afternoon I mentioned the grief retreat to two friends, both of those friends offered to watch my girls. I couldn’t believe it. I mentioned the opportunity to my supervisors at work- they both told me I should go. I mentioned the retreat to my girls, they were excited at the idea of sleepovers with their friends! It seemed like the stars were aligning for me to make the journey. After taking the weekend to sit with it, I took a deep breath, and I replied to the invitation with a YES!

 

Over the course of the next 6 weeks, I worked to prepare the girls for my departure, gathered my ideas together for workshops I could teach at the retreat, and worked through all of the logistics to make the experience as seamless as possible.

 

March 3rd came, I kissed my girls good-bye, and began the emotional 24 hour journey to Costa Rica that began with a ferry to the mainland, a drive to Seattle, an overnight flight that included two layovers, and finally a shuttle from the city to the coast of Costa Rica.

 

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And suddenly I had returned, to another place in the world that I called home. To the country where I had lived with my husband early in our marriage and in our dating. To the country where I had returned to grieve his death, while raising our two year old daughter and birthing our second daughter. Costa Rica. I had arrived- to help faciliate the healing of others who had experienced loss. It felt like I had come full circle.

 

 

The schedule for the week was filled with beautiful hikes, surfing excursions, zip lining, vegan deliciousness, and live music. The other retreat facilitators offered meditation, massage, yoga, sound healing, and a variety of healing modalities that included Access Consciousness, and Rapid Resolution Therapy. I offered emotional healing workshops that included meditation, journaling, and vision mapping. The Yoga Retreat Center was a jungle paradise. The week was full with tears, gratefulness, joy, laughter, wonderment, healing, and community. It was FULL with healing for both the attendees and the facilitators.

 

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After a week of holding space for the healing of others, being moved by the courage and resilience of the participants, and moving through my own process of healing, I returned home to my daughters. We rejoiced in our togetherness! I felt more whole than I had felt before I left. I had returned with a newfound sense of purpose for my work in the world, confidence in myself, and with a greater peace and understanding for the healing journey through grief and loss that we all must take in our lives.

 

The retreat, Waves of Hope, is now going to be held as an annual event! Click here to check out the website to view photos, and to find out about how to get involved- either through fundraising or donations, or through participation if you have experienced the loss of a child.

 

I am grateful to my experience, and to ALL who made it possible! Thank you to Sean, owner of Vida Asana Yoga Retreat Center- for both holding space for the retreat, and for creating the idea for the retreat! And thank you to all of the fundraising efforts that helped make it possible, to my Yoga Teacher, Rose, to all of the healers that attended and shared their gifts, to all who attended the retreat and shared their hearts, and to my dear friends who cared for my daughters in my absence. THANK YOU!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

Fall in Love with Yourself!

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It’s been far too long- three months since I’ve shared my words. I think I’ve had too many words, and have needed time to process and integrate all of them. Over the course of these last three months I’ve moved to the San Juan Islands (off the Washington coast) with my girls, and in addition to working my own business, which includes online courses, workshops, and holistic guidance sessions- I’ve been teaching mindfulness at a private school, and will start teaching emotional and social development classes at the public school this week! And I’ve been re-learning how to get on without my mom’s help (me and the girls were living with her for three years leading up to this move). But, I love it here on the island- I love the community and the friendships we’ve been cultivating. However with the busyness of life these days, certain self-care practices have fallen to the wayside... And so it’s that time of year again, just before the holidays, to step up the self-love! I’m offering my online course, Falling in Love with Yourself paired with 6 holistic guidance sessions, or a la carte. Here's what the course is all about~

 

Fall in Love with Yourself, and deepen into the relationship with ALL of you- in body, mind, heart, and spirit. Reignite your inner-flame of love through daily meditation, reflective and contemplative writing, and an exploration of holistic practices that nurture your whole self. This course was born out of my desire to feel beautiful and radiant and whole again, after having spent three years grieving the death of my husband, birthing our child, and mothering our toddler. This course is a compilation of all of the ways that I came back to me, and began feeling radiant, beautiful, happy, and ready to love again. I'm so happy to be sharing them with you!

 

The course modules will reconnect you with the sacredness of your life. You will be guided through practices to nurture your inner-light, as well as extract the loving lessons from the challenges you are presented with. You will re-affirm and be re-affirmed of how loved you are. You will retrain your mind to lift you up rather than bring you down, and develop the utmost compassion for yourself and your experiences. You will create greater awareness of your feelings, thoughts, body, and spirit so you can thoughtfully listen to and respond to life, rather than react to it. You will explore your strengths, and your vision. You will receive a total of 15 course modules to your email that include a custom-created meditation or exercise, and writing prompts, spread out over 6-weeks. The course also includes a total of 6 holistic guidance sessions with me, that will help you deepen into and integrate the weekly course material. Through our sessions, you will be gently guided toward the development of a holistic way of life that nurtures your heart, your spirit, your body, and your mind- through daily practice, reflection, and contemplation. The process of Falling in Love with Yourself, is one that extends to all that you hold dear in your life- your family, your friendships, your partner, your community, your work, and your Earth. 

 

Register now, and re-ignite the flame of LOVE that burns bright within your WHOLE self! And begin this experience just in time for the holidays- so you can love yourself through the season, and both love your people through the season, and know when you need to take a break from your people to rejuvenate, reconnect, and decompress. Tap into your inner-peace and express yourself.  Write and rewrite your stories. And let me be your guide on this part of your journey- it would be my honor.

 

The cost of the course, including the 6 holistic guidance sessions is $750.  I am also offering the course a la carte for $150 (without the 6 holistic guidance sessions).

 

You can pay in one installment  of $750, or two installments of $375.

The course registration deadline is November 12th 10am PST. 

If you choose to pay in two installments, the first payment is due by Sunday, November 12th 10am PST, and the second payment is due by Sunday, November 26th 10am PST.

Registration is now open! 

You will begin receiving course emailed material on November 13th. You will receive 2-3 course lessons per week for 6 weeks (Monday, Wednesday, and on the weeks in which you’ll receive 3, Friday too). You’ll schedule all 6 weekly sessions at the beginning of the course on a day and time of the week that works best for both of us. I can take up to 10 students for this course.

Start date is November 13th, and runs through the week of December 18th.

 

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To read more about the holistic guidance I offer, click here.

To read more about my story, click here.

 

Much Love!

Alexandria Romero

Time to Fly! A New Adventure.

I’ve been dreaming of moving to the Pacific Northwest for years, and I’ve been searching for the right place and the right time to make my move. And that’s what my road trip to the San Juan Islands (off the coast of Seattle was about); checking the dream with reality. Weeks before my trip, my friend living on the islands sent me a job opening at a holistic school for kids. It was the school I’d been dreaming of for my own girls! Within an hour, I had written a cover letter, updated my resume, and emailed the director! I got an interview, and it aligned perfectly with our roadtrip!

Fast forward to the interview… I fell in love with the school, and my girls did too! I got offered the job as a teaching assistant and specials teacher (teaching mindfulness and all things of the heart)! I accepted the job!

We flew home to prepare for the move and to spend time with friends and family. And thankfully, I found a sweet little house for me and the girls on the beach, and we make our move on August 25th!

Over the course of the last 4 1/2 years, my beloved husband, Mitch died, I moved to Costa Rica with my daughter and birthed our second daughter, returned to San Diego with my girls and moved in with my mom, got engaged to an amazing man and then parted ways, and now am ready to fly again with my girls- this time to the islands off the coast of Washington!

I am forever grateful for the time spent in San Diego with my mom, surrounded by supportive friends and family. I did much healing during these past 3 years. Thank you San Diego for all the LOVE!

Catch my last San Diego workshop with Karen Wiggins, with live music from DTO! The workshop is called, Embrace Change and Celebrate New Beginnings! Yoga, meditation, and journaling! I hope you can come!

Click here to read more and register for my last San Diego workshop on August 20th!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Healing the Marriage After ‘Death Do Us Part’

The tough stuff. The parts of Mitch that not very many got to see. The never-being-wrong parts, the won’t-stop-till-I-get-my-way parts, the fiery-temper parts, the emotionally-guarded parts (that I rarely got to see), the free-spirited-let’s-move-all-the-time parts, the fiercely-independent-gotta-retreat-into-the-wilderness parts (that quite frankly, I never really knew, only witnessed from afar). All of his parts crashed into my parts, the-worried-what everyone-thought parts, the always-trying-to-change-him parts, the insecure-never-enough-love parts … Well, it made for a fiery, roller-coaster of a relationship.

 

And then he died, suddenly and unexpectedly. And all of those relationship difficulties seemed to die with him. Except I was left with the guilt of it all. Because when he died, I felt like for the first time, I knew the essence of Mitch, I came to grow intimately connected to his spirit. I saw the love and the light in him. But I still saw all of the human flaws in me.

 

And then 4 years later, I got engaged to an amazing man named Kevin- and our relationship was all harmony (for the most part)- until I broke off our engagement. I didn’t quite know why at the time, but could only articulate that my heart was moving in another direction. He was heartbroken, but used it as an opportunity to do his own growth-work and healing. He let me go.

 

And suddenly I was faced with all the challenges of my marriage- all of my angry outbursts and guilt that would follow, with all of my self-doubt in the face of all of his never-being wrongness. I was flooded with the realness of my experience in the marriage, not his, or how it appeared to anyone else from the outside. I stepped into my actual, lived experience at that time, that I had shared with very few. I had kept it hidden, believed the angry things he’d say to me in our fights. And so I wondered, why did I stay? Why didn’t I spare us the crashing into one another, and set us both free? And why oh why did I silence my voice, and my experience like that? Why wasn’t I strong enough to say no when I needed to say no. Why didn’t I believe me? Why did I always believe him instead?

 

And then on a Friday night, I found myself with my husband’s best friend, talking about the Mitch that only his closest people saw- the developing parts of Mitch, the shadowy parts. And suddenly, validation! I wasn’t alone in my experience! We both knew the same Mitch that we never talked about, that I didn’t post blogs about, the parts of him that were hard to live with, that struggled, and that were far from perfect.

 

And then his best friend invited me to his friend’s house- a mutual friend of my husband’s too. I talked with a few of the friends there about how I was liberating my voice- and then, another friend by the name of Mitch, asked me if I wanted to sing in the home recording studio.

And I think, this is my moment. I am flooded with all of the times that I choked on my words, that I couldn’t connect my heart with the sounds of my own voice, memories that were made long before my relationship with Mitch. And it just so happens, I am passionate about singing, but have lacked the courage to express my voice. I say yes. The lyrics of Eminem come singing into my mind, “You better lose yourself in the music, the moment, you own it, you better never let it go, you only get one chance, do not miss your chance to blow, this opportunity comes once in a lifetime, yo.” I am scared shitless, but I know this is the only way.

 

I make my way into the sound booth, slip on the headphones and begin to move my body with the beats that are there waiting for me. And all of a sudden, the words of Mitch’s favorite song come pouring out of my heart and through my lips, “Walking on a dream, how can I explain, talking to myself, will I see again? We are always running for the thrill of it, thrill of it, always pushing up the hill, searching for the thrill of it, on and on and on we are calling out and out again, never looking down, I’m just in awe of what’s in front of me.”

 

And then another song, and then another, and another. Fiona Apple’s, Criminal. Annie Lennox’s, No More I Love You’s. City and Colour’s, The Girl. Maddona’s, Frozen. And a poem I wrote in 7th grade. Moving all the feelings through my voice, through the lyrics, directly to Mitch, for Mitch and for me. Finally, I could feel and say all that I never could, and this time, he listened. He was proud of me. I stood in my own truth, and I sang it to him, and I could feel him there- in awe- proud- and loving me. I sang through the anger, I sang through the guilt, I sang through the sadness, and I sang through the love. And then suddenly, that was all that was left after those 2 hours in the booth- the love. I had finally found my voice, I hadn’t choked on my words, I didn’t lose the moment- I owned it, and I felt pure joy expressing myself through song. Singing was a long-forgotten passion that was only expressed in fleeting moments. I was forever changed.

 

And suddenly, it became clear that the path my heart was taking would lead me straight back to Kevin. But a much more cleansed heart- a beating, feeling, connected-to-my-body heart. A truly-ready- to-love kind of heart.

 

And it was only through seeing and feeling my true experience in my marriage, healing those difficulties, honoring my experience- remembering not only the beauty of Mitch, but also the in-progress Earthly Mitch- that I was set free. I forgave us both. And It freed me to love wholly again- it freed me from the chains of anger and guilt and denial that were holding my heart hostage. And I remembered too the love, because as tumultuous as our marriage was, we loved each other. So much. And the love lives on through our two daughters.

 

And it was only through that excavation, walking through the fire- that I was able to let that chapter of my life rest in peace, and let it live in my heart as love. Only love.

 

It’s never too late to heal your relationships- even after death, those wounds can be felt, and healed. Start with telling your stories- write them, speak them- listen to them. Believe them. Those stories are your real life experiences. And then forgive. Yourself and the other person. For your own peace. Do it for your own peace, and then by doing that, you gift them with peace as well- because pain is pain, and the less pain in this world- the better. And love, keep on loving. Please, for the love of all of us, keep on loving.

 

So, why meditate?

Meditation, so what’s it really about anyway?! Ok, when it comes down to it, it’s about learning how to bring your WHOLE self into all you do. It’s about learning how to be present- through deep breathing, through awareness of how it is you’re feeling, what it is you’re thinking, and how it is you’re feeling in your body, but also connecting to that part of yourself that is a witness to your experience- that part of you that is peaceful, that part of you that is wise, and that part of you that is loving.

 

And so meditation is about cultivating that part of yourself that is loving, wise, and peaceful, and also about staying connected to your earthly experience.

 

And so why are so many of us feeling so disconnected from ourselves and from our inner-calm? Because we live in a time when there’s a million and one things to distract us- our attention is all over the place. We can be in car line at school picking up our kid, and simultaneously have a text conversation with a friend in Europe, receive a snippety email from our mother-in-law, have a quick chat with our hubby, and wonder why our FB post didn’t receive as many likes as we’d anticipated… That’s a lot. We’re constantly processing SO much information, and we’re running around from place to place, dropping one kid off, picking another kid up, racing from one activity to the next...

 

Meditation is about learning how to focus our attention on one thing at a time- our breathing, being with our kid, cooking dinner- one thing at a time. Being present. And in that presence, we can practice cultivating the qualities of the heart, such as love, peace, and joy, that make for a truly fulfilling and ever-evolving existence.

 

And so, meditation is all about bringing your WHOLE self into all that you do. Being present.

 

If you’re local, Join me on Sundays at 6:15 at Yoga+Bergamot to practice the art of mindfulness, reflect and creatively express yourself through journaling, and cultivate the beautiful qualities of the heart. And if you’re not local, check out what kinds of meditation groups are happening in your community.

 

And just a reminder if you’re local, I’ve got mothers & daughters workshop series that starts May 27th, a yoga & meditation workshop on May 28th, and a half day yoga, meditation, sound bath healing, & Thai Massage retreat on June 24th!

 

And if you’re not local, I’ve got a 7-day online course coming up that I’ll be offering soon!

 

Much love and patience with yourself on the path!

Alexandria

 

 

 

 

 

Awareness In Times Like These

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I have heard from friends this week, that they can no longer tolerate the sadness, fear, and heaviness of the news, and so they have removed the Facebook app, and even the news app from their phones. And I have heard friends say that reading the “negativity” of the news doesn’t align with maintaining their "high vibration," and so they just don’t.

And to my dear friends I say, understand what a privilege it is to turn away from the suffering of others. Understand what a privilege it is that you are not one of the many that feels the heaviness of oppression and injustice. Because there are many that are not so privileged. So... 

  • Awareness. There is power in being aware of what is happening in this world. We owe it to one another to stay vigilant. 
  • Spiritual Practice. There is peace when we come back to a daily spiritual practice to renew our energy and our faith in times like these.
  • Creative Expression. Use your words, your pen, your paint brush, your instrument to transform the heaviness of fear, despair, sadness, and rage into Art.
  • Action. Take it, small and large.
  • Gather inspiration from the greats like MLK, Gandhi, Bernie Sanders, Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai, and Mother Theresa who worked tirelessly toward the greater good.

Thank God for individuals like these who worked toward the greater good and not just their own private goals, and thank God for individuals like these for giving us the courage and inspiration to stand up and stand together.

 

Because it’s a roller coaster. I am outraged as I watch videos of police seizing control over standing rock and the Native peoples there protecting it. I am horrified as I watch videos of Black lives beaten and killed by law enforcement and the majority who justify it. I am shocked as I hear about Muslim and refugee banning. And I am deeply saddened by the disregard and disrespect of the Earth by our leaders.

 

What’s happening all at once in these past 12 days is overwhelming. We must support ALL those working toward peace, equality, and justice. Sign petitions, call or write Senators and Congressman, protest, donate $, create Art, pray, and use your VOICE. We must stand together. And come back to the practices that restore our peace daily.

 

As the Sufi poet, Rumi, so eloquently says, “The mirror of the heart must be polished constantly before you can clearly see in it Good and Evil.” Look inward and don’t be afraid to confront your own discomfort in all of this chaos. Oftentimes this is where to true work lies. Let us stand up and stand together, and use our privilege to stand for the greater good.

 

Take Action.

I am trying to find the balance between living life in my mostly privileged bubble of family, work, community etc., with what’s happening in our country- to the rights of Muslims, to the environment, to women’s rights, to education, to Native Americans, to the freedom of speech of journalists, to the safety of refugees, to our health care, and to our relationship with Mexico.

It is tempting to try and avoid reading the news, to avoid scrolling through my news feed. It is tempting to fall into feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. How can I still stay aware of all that is happening in the government now, even though I deeply feel the pain of all those affected? Because like all of you, I still have a life to live and cannot walk around feeling helpless and hopeless, or angry and frustrated. I mean, I can, but it is very taxing on my body, and takes me away from being present for my kids.

So, what to do? That’s the key word: DO. What to do? How to take action, because it’s easy to fall prey to hopelessness and helplessness, or to confuse anger and frustration with action… Or to use the privileges I have received in this life to avoid the pain that doesn’t seem to be mine. And yet it is. It really is. It’s all of ours. 

The truth is, many of us will be affected by the changes we are seeing, and will soon see. Those of us that are not affected, ask yourself- should your socio-economic status, your opinion, or the religion or race you were born into, exonerate you for caring about the welfare of others? 

So, again, how do we strike the balance of caring deeply and continuing to care in the face of blatant disregard, lies, conflict of interest, and the truly steep uphill climb it feels like we are facing?

Do. Take action. I work from home, and create daily to-do lists for myself, so in addition to the normal things on my list, there’s going to be new added to-do’s on that list. They’ll be congressman and senators I need to call, they’ll be letters I need to stick in the mail, and thankfully there’s a list of 10 things to-do in this first 100 days that’s been circulating around the internet. So, I’ll add those things. I’ll speak up when the opportunity arises for me to do so. And I will pray, but I will also realize that earthly action is most certainly needed as well.

I will channel my worry, my anger, and my sadness into action, and I will love my kids. I will love the hell out of my kids, and I will practice presence and patience. And I will be so damn thankful and aware of my privileges in this life. And I will take action to support the equality of all others who deserve those same privileges. 

Thank you to the voices that remind me to use my own.

One Year and Smoke-Free!

It’s been one year of being tobacco-free. One year of being tobacco-free that was unrelated to a pregnancy or to breast-feeding. This one year of being tobacco-free, it was for me. It was an act of self-love.

 

I was tired of being in conflict with myself over smoking.

 

Cause damn, I had quit many times before, but had always found myself back in relationship to those cigarettes. We’d had a long, long relationship to one another. And so letting go of that relationship required me to cultivate a new relationship- with myself.

 

I chose to honor my highest good. I chose to show myself an act of love everyday. But before I was able to simply let go,  embrace myself, and embrace a newfound loving relationship with myself, I had to do the work of letting go. The work involved getting quiet and breathing through the want, the hunger that drove me to reach out for those cigarettes, again and again, even after I had said enough is enough. The work involved writing the stories of what had brought us together in the first place and what it would mean to really say good-bye. I had to grieve the ending of that relationship. I had to create new rituals where there had been the ritual of smoking.

 

The 2-week online course, “Let It Go! 2 weeks of self-exploration, meditation, and journaling to free yourself from a bad habit!” was born out of my process of letting go of my 20-year relationship to cigarettes. This course is 2 weeks of guided meditation, story-writing, and creating anew. It is filled with the practices that helped me to let go of my relationship to cigarettes, and embrace a more loving relationship with myself.

 

This course is for you if you’ve struggled with letting go of a bad habit. This course is for you if you’re ready to do the deep inner-work of letting go. And finally, this course is for you if you’re really ready to honor your highest good.

 

For 2 weeks, starting on January 30th, straight to your inbox, you’ll receive meditations and writing prompts that will guide you through the process of doing this meaningful work of letting go. You’ll be in communication with me via email when you get stuck and need a little extra support, or when you you’ve had an aha! moment and want to share. You’ll be a part of an amazing private fb group of participants, who you can share those challenges and triumphs with as well.

 

If this course resonates for you, click here to read more and get registered.

 

Sometimes you just have to say YES to life! Look forward to visiting your inbox! Please feel free to email me with any specific questions about the course at alexandria@alexandriaromero.com

 

Much Love!

 

Alexandria Romero

"I feel funny..." Helping Kids Process Grief.

“I feel funny.” This has been the catchall phrase that my oldest daughter uses to describe the way she feels, when she can’t pinpoint exactly how it is that she feels. She only knows that emotionally, she’s doesn’t really feel well. She feels “funny.” At one point, she drew out what feeling funny meant. She drew a picture of three faces, one sad, one mad, and one scared. I asked her what each of the three faces needed. She said one needed a glass of water, one needed a hug, and the other needed a kiss (translation-love). She has fears about me dying, about her dying, and sadness over her dad’s death… She just turned 5 years old, and although it’s been nearly 3 years since her father’s death, at each stage in her life, I have watched her process and integrate what the loss means to her.

 

I’ve learned that the most important and effective thing I can do is be a loving presence, there to listen without imposing my worry or guilt about her feelings (and therein lies the work for me)… I can reassure her that what she is experiencing is natural given the nature of what she has experienced. I let her know that she is not all alone in her fears and sadness, that these are universal experiences, and a part of grieving. And that all kids who have lost a parent in their life, will no doubt have lots of questions and fears about death, and sadness over the loss.  I’ve also found that creating time and space just to explore and understand her feelings has been really helpful. I answer questions about death as honestly and simply as I can (at an age appropriate level). I have a wonderful grief workbook called, Grief Encounter, by Shelley Gilbert, for children to do with their parents that has been an incredible resource. And for the past several weeks, we have been working on it on her days off from preschool, when her little sister is napping. Also, I encourage her to creatively express herself (what does "feeling funny" look like?), through the medium that she prefers most, ie drawing, painting, dancing, writing, so that she has a healthy outlet for her feelings and experiences.  I also encourage her to call on her daddy in heaven for guidance and support during the times when she misses him and feels sad. I also encourage her to pray for extra spiritual support, and as a part of her bedtime routine, I've gotten in to the practice of saying my own heartfelt prayers aloud to model what cultivating that spiritual relationship could look like. And I find it really helpful to process whatever grief arises within me in response to her feelings, this keeps me in a centered and healthy inner-space so I can best help her. And when I told her that there are groups of kids who meet to play and share their experiences (bereavement support groups), that have all lost a parent, she was so excited. She wanted to go right then and there! So, I'll be checking into that for her next. And my youngest daughter who is nearly 2 ½ is just now beginning to ask questions about her daddy, so I'll just take it as it comes with each little one.

 

And whenever I feel stuck in how to respond to my daughter when she shares her grief, I ask myself how I would like someone to respond to me if I were experiencing fears, sadness, or anger over a death. I would appreciate emotional validation, hugs, love, reassurance, and a chance to talk about and understand my feelings so that I don’t feel lonely or stuck in them. And I trust that this is my path, this is her path, and that we will both grow through it together.

I wrote this blog almost one year ago, and am happy to share that Ava has successfully integrated the grief that she experienced so heavily last year. The methods that I describe in this blog really worked for our family!

Scattered Ashes

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We scattered the rest of my husband, Mitch’s, ashes... Well, all but what remained in a small hand-carved wooden urn, those I’ll save for Ava and Amelie for when they’re older (at Ava’s request). I hadn’t been able to keep the large brass urn in my room anymore, the sight of it made me feel sad, and gave me a heavy feeling in my body. So, they were in my mom’s closest, hidden away, and out of my sight. But I knew they were there, waiting to be released.

 

I thought that perhaps I’d scatter them in the ocean from Mitch’s friend’s boat, and then all of a sudden Mitch’s Birthday came. My ritual of celebration for Mitch’s Birthday over the last years was to gather flowers, go down to the beach, write letters to him in the sand, let the kids play, pray, and offer the flowers to the sea in memory of Mitch. And then this year, dear Ava suggested we include scattering the rest of her dad's ashes in the ocean, as a part of the Birthday celebration.

I had to think about it for a little while before I was able to respond.  I knew that I had been wanting to, but I felt a little apprehensive. I hadn’t opened that urn since the night before Mitch’s memorial service, and my goodness, that process had been so painful that I had to call on my uncle and brother to help me. But, my intuition told me that it was a yes. The time was now.

I packed the urn in Mitch’s old backpack, and me and my girls walked down to the beach and gathered flowers along the way.

Opening the urn wasn’t as scary or painful as it had been nearly 3 ½ years ago when we first opened it. I poured the ashes into the forest green velvet satchel that the urn had come in, we prayed, and then me and the girls began grabbing fistfuls of ash, and tossing them in the ocean. It was a windy day, and so by the time we finished, we were all dusted with Mitch’s white ash. The girls were joyous as we let go of what we had been holding onto.  

His backpack that I carried home was a lot lighter, and so was the feeling in my heart.

 

Journal Prompting

How can you honor both a loved one who has passed and your own grief through a sacred ritual that you create?

What needs to be released in your life that creates a feeling of heaviness and sadness?

How can you include your children in the process of grieving and healing the loss of a significant loved one in your life?

 

Dating a Double Amputee

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He will always have prosthetic legs.

That will never change.

 

He’s chosen to embrace it, he’s chosen to embrace the thing that’s made him different. He uses the story of his injury, and his positive outlook on life to inspire and motivate others. He wears shorts without giving it a second thought. It’s been seven years so he’s had time to work through any self-consciousness he’s felt. He’s made peace with himself just exactly as he is. And if you ask him, he’ll say that he wouldn’t change a thing about the accident or his injury, because it’s made him into the person he is today. And he really is amazing.

 

But I’ve had my own process to work through in dating this man, this double amputee that I’ve fallen in love with...

~Seeing him without his legs on- Everyday he takes his legs off before he goes to sleep at night, and puts them on again when he wakes up in the morning.

~Worrying about whether or not he'd fall in yoga class, and worrying about him feeling embarrassed if he did.

~Getting comfortable with the attention he receives, because everywhere he goes, people look and people ask.

~And wondering, would the kids feel embarrassed at the attention he receives, at the playground or at school?

 

The worries and the self-consciousness made me feel guilty. I felt like I was being shallow.

 

And then I wrote about it. I finally moved through the writer's block I'd been having and wrote about what had been just underneath the surface. I took my feelings out of hiding. Surely he had had his own process of embracing his legs, embracing the attention, embracing the falls, and I would have mine too. Instead of feeling ashamed of my feelings, I met them with compassion and understanding. And I was honest with him about my feelings. I spoke from the heart and I was met with love.

 

And now instead of feeling self-conscious, I feel proud, thanks to a friend’s loving advice. His legs are a symbol of all he has been through, of all he has overcome.

 

Ultimately it’s about accepting him for ALL of who he is, and isn’t that the magic ingredient for unconditional love, and isn’t that the challenge in so many relationships? Accepting the ones we love just exactly as they are? And isn’t that what we’re all here to do- support, love, and lift each other up?

 

Yes, I believe it is. And a part of the process of accepting ALL of him has come from accepting ALL of me, and meeting my real feelings with compassion and understanding, instead of judgment. 

 

Inspired, challenged, and filled with gratitude for this path that I’m on, and in love. I am in love with a man that is teaching me how to love better.

 

The Miracle of Birth

When my sister-in-law and my brother asked me to be present for the labor and delivery of their son, I was over-joyed, and my answer was an immediate YES! I had months to prepare for my 7 hour journey to San Francisco when the time came, and I received the call that my sister-in-law was in labor. The preparation included weaning my daughter, who by the time of the birth would be 2 years and 7 months. I felt that she would be ready for that in the ensuing months. The other part of preparation included what leaving my kids overnight for the first time EVER would entail. In all of Ava’s 5 ½ years of life, I had not yet left her overnight! And honestly, the birth seemed like the perfect first time to do it, attending a birth was like a dream! And so in the months leading up to baby Isa’s birth, I weaned Amelie, I talked to Ava about what 3 nights without me would look like, and coordinated the babysitting schedule with both my mother-in-law and my mom. My sister-in-law ended up having to schedule an induction because she had gone the allotted number of days passed her due date that the hospital allowed. So when that day arrived, I left in the wee hours of the morning, kissed my kids good-bye and was on my way!

 

I knew that my kids were in good hands, so I fully relaxed and eased into my drive up north. I played all the music I loved, I chatted on the phone with friends I hadn’t spoken to in a while, I cried thinking about my own births and Mitch's absence, and I breathed in each hour of that beautiful drive. I felt free and empowered in a way I hadn’t experienced in a very long time.

 

I arrived at the hospital in plenty of time. I breathed with my sister-in-law, I massaged her feet with lavender oil, and I danced with her and my brother to Drake and their other favorites. I filled the Jacuzzi tub in their private hospital room as the labor became more intense, and encouraged my brother to get in the tub with my sister-in-law to offer support and grounding through the pain. After many hours, pain, and pressure from the Dr, my sister-in-law chose to move the labor along with modern medicinal help; an epidural and Pitocin. She worried she was letting me down by deviating away from her birthing plan, but I reassured her how strong I thought she was, and that in the end, only she knew what was best for her and her baby. It was her journey, it was her story, and I was just happy to be witness to the miracle of it all. I crashed out at my sister-in-law’s parents house in the wee hours of the night while the epidural and Pitocin sped up labor and allowed her to sleep.

I received the call from my brother in early hours of the morning that mama was 8 cm dialated and that it was getting close to delivery. I rushed back to the hospital and in the next few hours, baby was born. In the hour my sister-in-law pushed, my brother bent one of her legs and pushed and I held the other as she breathed into each push and bore down deep. I watched my nephew make his way out of the birthing canal. It was the most miraculous sight I had ever seen. My sister-in-law had never looked so beautiful to me. I cried with her as we all gazed upon him for the first time.

 

I stayed another two nights to help with the baby, to offer support to my brother and my sister-in-law, and knew my kids were in good hands. I think in was great for my kids to realize how cared and supported they are by others, and to realize that when I go away, I come back. All three of us got to experience a new kind of freedom, and appreciation for one another.

 

I will be forever grateful that I was present for the birth of my nephew! I was invited into one of the most intimate and precious moments of life, and I was able to be there as support and encouragement for my sister-in-law and my brother. I was able to witness their birth story, and see their sweet baby take his first breaths. Life is truly a miracle.

 

Journal Prompting:

Is there any part of your birthing story that needs forgiving or compassion?

Does your story need to be told in order to honor your experience and your baby’s entrance into the world?

 

Falling in Love Again.

It’s been 3 ½ years since my husband’s death. Over the years there have been men who have stirred little flutters in my heart here and there, and they helped remind me that love would grace my life again. But with all the grieving, the mothering, and the finding my own way again, it just wasn’t the right time, and there just wasn’t the right person yet. I stayed positive and hopeful that the great love I was seeking would arrive at a time when I was most ready, healed, and whole. After marking the three year anniversary of my husband’s death, I felt a shift. I had undergone a great deal of healing, my kids were getting more independent, I began gathering a foothold in my business, and I was ready to look and feel radiant again. I began the journey of falling in love with myself.

I made it a daily priority to offer myself an act or offering of self-love, and I journaled about the ways I could love myself through the everyday challenges of life. I quit smoking and I began writing letters to my future soul mate; I knew he was somewhere out there! Three months after I began the journey of falling in love with myself, I fell in love with the man who was everything I had been dreaming up! He was like an answered prayer, and the beautiful part was that he arrived in my life at a time when I felt whole, healed, and radiant all on my own!

 The man! Kevin Johnson.

The man! Kevin Johnson.

We found each other at Whole Foods! I first noticed his handsome face, his cool tattoos, and then his legs- he had two prosthetic legs from the knee down. We noticed each other a few times in the store while we shopped. I ended up behind him in line. We made eye contact and shared a few polite words. I walked out of Whole Foods, and there he was again at his bike. I walked past him, we smiled at one another, and then something told me to go back and talk to him. I turned around and he was already looking in my direction. He would tell me later that he had been struggling to come up with the perfect words to start a conversation with me… I walked up to him, I looked at his prosthetic legs, and asked him what had happened. I was instantly drawn into his openness, to the depth I saw in his eyes, and to the inspiring story of how he had survived and found a way to thrive through an 80 foot ziplining fall he’d had six years ago, while giving a tour. I told him the story of my husband’s death, and of the kids I had to get home to- He was so tender-hearted, and I felt so comfortable with him. I gave him my business card, and I couldn’t wait to talk to him again.

That was nearly four months ago. And here I am on an airplane, on my way back home after a weekend getaway together in Seattle. My heart is so full. My kids love him, I love him, and he honors the love I shared with my husband, and welcomes my memories from the past. I cried when I left Seattle as he stayed behind to finish his business trip, as I was just so overwhelmed with the gratefulness that I felt for the love we were creating together!

My grief still comes in waves, as I’m sure it always will, but I know now that there’s enough space for all of it- for the new love that’s here now, and for the love and pain from my past. My new love embraces my kids with his heart wide open, and sends love out to my husband. I’m so inspired by this man who thrives as a double amputee, who is an incredible athlete, a meditator, a motivational speaker, and who radiates love and resilience. This is a man who inspires me to be the best version of myself!

Never lose faith in the possibility of great love, great love is always possible when you believe!

 

And just like that, she fell.

All of a sudden I look over and she’s hanging from the monkey bars. I over-estimated her capabilities and underestimated the height of those monkey bars, and I was just a few steps too slow to catch the fall that broke her tiny, little arm.

I knew it as soon as I picked her up and looked at her arm.

Oh dear God.

And just like that, it’s the only thing that matters. Getting her taken care of is the only thing that matters.

As we drive to the emergency room, I offer my screaming little one soothing words, and focus on getting us there safely.

We are led behind double doors into the x-ray room to assess my little ones arm. As we await the results of the x-ray, miraculously, she falls asleep.

The tears come silently as I am overwhelmed with sadness for her pain, and guilt for not being there to catch her fall. How could I not have been there for her? I am flooded with guilt.

After a while, the doctor returns with the x-ray results and confirms that her arm is in fact broken, two bones in her forearm. He informs me they’ll put her arm in a stint until her appointment to get a cast at the children’s hospital in two days. My poor baby!

So, how to work through the guilt of not being there to catch her fall? Well, as much as I wanted to go back in time and change the events of the day to erase what had just happened, clearly that was not possible.  So, I let myself stew in that guilt for a few more hours, and then decided that that was not going to elevate the energy of the situation to invite in more healing, and it was leaving me feeling drained and awful, on top of what had already happened.

So, after the girls went to sleep, I got myself into bed, and began some deep breathing with my hands on my heart. After the breathing calmed me and helped me connect to my heart’s center, I began prayers of gratitude for all the parts of the day and people of the day that had helped us through. I then shifted into prayers of gratitude for the prayers that were still in motion; healing for my daughter’s bones, being able to feel compassion and forgiveness for myself… and I started to feel lighter.

The lessons of the day: to be present and tuned into my motherly intuition, to remember the things that are of truest importance in life, and to forgive myself for not being there to catch my daughter’s fall- cause as much as I want to protect her from anything and everything that could potentially cause her harm, life happens and things are not always in my control.

Journal Prompting:

How often are we carrying around guilt and shame for not being the most perfect parents we imagine we should be? More present, more patient, more, more, more, more! But what if we offered ourselves the grace we’d offer to our very best friend, and forgave ourselves and had compassion for ourselves for all of the ways that we were not perfect parents? Oh my gosh! Relief! It doesn’t ease the pain of a child’s broken arm, but it allows us to feel better so that we can offer our little ones the most comfort and love that we can. So, my question for you is, what do you need to let go of, that you’ve been carrying around? And how much better would you feel in this moment if you could offer yourself compassion and forgiveness for the ways that you weren’t perfect as a parent? And now try closing your eyes and breathing deep breaths of compassion and forgiveness for yourself, because you are so worthy of receiving the blessings of compassion and forgiveness!

 

Why NOW is the Best Time to Enjoy Your Life!

So, I realized that as much as I loved the final outcome of teaching workshops and online courses, that my process, the route I was taking to get there sucked! I was stressing and worrying throughout the process, so much so that it was deterring me from creating new offerings! And so, I visioned out the entire process for each facet of my business, my workshops, my online courses, my marketing, my writing etc. I asked myself the question, how do I want to feel throughout each of these processes? How do I want to experience each process from start to finish? And honestly, a majority of our time spent is process-oriented, rather than outcome-oriented! I mean the achievements and the outcomes are these tiny little snippets of time, in comparison to how much time it takes to get to each outcome and achievement!

So, how are you spending your time getting from point A to point B? Cause honestly, that makes up a majority of your life. How do you want to spend your time journeying through life? Because that is a choice you make, EVERYDAY. Everyday you have the freedom to choose. And NOW is the best time, so you don't go on wasting any more time. Time is a precious commodity!

And the worries and stresses I was feeling around each offering I created? I decided that until I fully accepted my mission in life, which is to fully be myself and help others, well, then I would be continuously getting in my own way! And my mission in life was so much bigger than me, and expanded so far beyond my own fears and doubts.

And I think it’s that way for each of us too! We all have a mission to fulfill while we are here, and when we’re in alignment with our mission, we’re more joyful, we’re more expansive, we’re more authentic, we’re more giving, and we’re more loving. But so often, our insecurities, our worries, and our addictions distract us from fully embracing what it is we’re here to do!

Here is a bit of inspiration for you from my angel cards, and it has helped me so much when my mission has seemed unclear, “Don’t worry about finding your purpose. Instead, focus upon serving a purpose, and then your purpose will serve you.”

Journal Prompting

Envision your ideal process to get to one of the goals in your life right now, what does that process look like and feel like?

How can you best serve a purpose in your life right now, in your family, your partnership, your work, and in your community?

***If you're interested in going deeper into this type of work, I currently have 3 openings to work with me one on one via skype. Click here to start a conversation with me about working together!

 

 

 

Why You're Already on the Right Path.

Am I on the right path? Am I living on-purpose? Am I fulfilling my earthly mission? I think these questions haunt so many of us, propel so many of us into over-doing and over-worrying, and cause so many of us to miss the heart of what lies at that very question.

Love. Happiness. Service. Gratitude. Peace.

Love is at the very heart of what it is we are here to be and do. And if we are constantly stressing and over-taxing ourselves with these big questions, then perhaps we are missing the point entirely. Perhaps when we are living the spiritual principles proposed by most faiths across cultures, then naturally we will be fulfilling our mission, naturally we will be living on-purpose, and naturally we will be on the right path.

Instead of asking ourselves these questions, and then bombarding ourselves with a series of answers and to-do lists, perhaps we can ask these questions and then listen for the answers that come from within. And trusting that perhaps no matter where we are on our path, the lessons we learn there, the ways we are challenged to grow, and bend, and give, and love there, is the purpose. That perhaps we can settle into trusting that we are on the right path, no matter where we are on that path. And that if we stay connected to our inner-guidance, that we will in fact be guided to take the action necessary at each juncture.

Trust.

A 20 minute home yoga practice this evening, soothing meditation music, and sitting down to write offered me the answers that I most needed tonight. Reconnect to your inner-calm to receive the answers that you are seeking. Tonight it all comes back to trust. Do the daily work, and trust the process.

Love with our whole heart and offer that out into the world whenever we can, and that’s it, we are on-purpose.

 

Journal Prompting

What is calling for you to trust right now?

What areas of your life could benefit most from breathing and trusting, rather than worrying and over-doing?

What are 3 ways you can give and receive love today?

 

 

No Longer My Husband

I pulled one of the cards from my angel deck that read, “Release Your Ex,” and at first I thought, well, I think I already have… I spent the last 3 ½ years processing my grief, healing, and finding my way again, and at this point in my life, I feel pretty darn good.

But that card kept ringing in my head.

And so before bed that night, I consciously asked to release any “married” energy that might stand between me, and falling in love again with someone new. And then it dawned on me, I was still referring to Mitch as my husband in my conversations with others, and in my own thoughts. I decided the only appropriate way to talk about him would be as my late husband, or as simply, my girls’ father. And in my mind, I reassured Mitch that I was ready for his Earthly roles to be fulfilled by someone new and by someone very special. And that felt ok, that felt right. I will always love Mitch, and I’m sure that he knows that.  

The next morning I spoke with my best friend, and she told me that that night she’d had a dream about me and Mitch, and that in the dream, we weren’t together anymore, and that we both seemed at peace with that.

Honor wherever you are in your own process, and no judgement, only love.

 

 

Journal Prompting:

What in your life is seeking release?

What doors need to close in order for new doors to open?

What would you love to say yes to right now?

What in your life is calling out for a deep surrender?

6 Practices to Bring You Back Down to Earth.

This week has been so full of awesome happenings! My sister-in-law and baby nephew have been staying at our house, I’ve got all kinds of exciting work projects in-process, I’m taking an 8-week business course, and I met someone who has my heart beating fast (which I’ll expand on in another blog…)! It’s also been full of happenings that have been leaving me feeling a bit ungrounded… Like my car has been at the dealership while it gets a new engine (luckily I have a warranty and a paid rental car), and I’ve been out of my bedroom since I gave my room to my sister-in-law and nephew (which I was and am happy to do). When it comes to feeling the Earth beneath my feet, I’ve been a bit all over the place this week.

So, last night after a bedtime of kids crying, fighting with each other and screaming, and an overly exhausted mom yelling at her kids out of desperation to get things calm (which soooo does not work), I realized, whoa, I need to get grounded! So, how do you get grounded when you’re being swept off your feet, or when sh*t happens, or when life just seems to be moving at a break-neck speed?

Here are 6 practices that have the power to bring me back down to Earth:

1. The evening ritual. Oh, yes, the way you end the day, the loving practices that you usually do, that you neglect to do when you’ve got family in town, or when you’re going out a little more than you usually do, or when you’re so slammed with work… Those are the practices you need to bring back when you’re feeling all over the place. For me, some of my evening rituals include drinking tea, meditating, writing, and working on my business. And so last night, after the crazy bedtime full of overly tired kids crying, screaming, and teasing each other, and an overly exhausted mom, I brought back some of my grounding evening rituals. And I started to feel more grounded and calm almost immediately, even amidst all of the happening in my life.

2. The morning ritual. Oh, yes, which for me includes a healthy breakfast, a few breaths of gratitude and an intention for the day, and drinking lots of water.

3. Coming back to deep breaths. Yes, deep breaths, and the mindset that I practice cultivating during meditation. The power of deeply inhaling, and exhaling is an amazing tool to bring you right back to your calm inner-center.

4. Prioritizing. When there’s so much going on, the power of getting really clear on what’s most important to curb the feeling of overwhelm is so important, and can be so incredibly helpful.

5. Nature. Getting myself out and into nature with my kids or solo gives me the perspective I need and the grounding too. There’s just something about being with trees, an open sky, or a body of water.

6. Exercise. Ahh yes, I went for a walk the other evening after the kiddos had gone to sleep now that the weather is warming up, and wow, it was so rejuvenating. Feeling the cool air on my skin, looking up at the stars and the moon, and getting a little cardio in definitely helps me to feel more connected to myself.

 

Journal Prompting:

What are some practices that you do for yourself, that have the power to reconnect you to yourself?

What are some practices that help you feel grounded and calm, when there is a lot happening in your life?

Please feel free to share your special practices that you do, that are most helpful for you in getting yourself centered and grounded in the comments section. :)

Lots of love to you as you get Earth bound!

 

Why Journal?

I got my first journal as a Secret Santa gift in the fourth grade, and I’ve kept a journal ever since. It’s how I process my feelings and my thoughts, and it’s how I stay connected to my voice and to my heart. I wrote everyday through my grieving process, and it was definitely my #1 tool for coping and moving the heaviness through me and onto the pages of my journal.

Here are a few reasons why I recommend a journaling practice for you, and some tips on getting started. Enjoy!

A daily journaling practice is a way to discover and stay connected to your heart. Journaling is a means to process whatever it is that’s taking up space in your mind and heart.

With your journaling practice, stay focused on yourself, meaning don’t spend a whole lot of time, if any, ranting and raving about someone else, analyzing someone else, blaming someone else, etc… Stick with your own process, stick with “I” statements.

Let your journaling be a way to work things out for yourself, a way to move your issues or mood through you, so that you’re not stuck, and so that you walk away from your writing session feeling much more clear, calm, and focused, having gained the perspective you had been lacking when you started.

And you can come back to any of these or similar questions: how can I love myself through this? What are the potential solutions here? What can I do to feel better that honors my highest good? What would I love to see happen in this situation right now? What action step can I take to move closer to that vision? And how can I get into more of a flow right now, and what am I forcing? And finally, simply asking the question, what’s present?

Your journal can be beautiful, it can be a simple notebook, it can be a word document on your computer, or it can be an art pad.

Pick a time of day that works for you, and remember that it’s easier to be consistent with something if you practice it around the same time each day.

Let yourself be as open and honest as you can, and enjoy this practice of staying heart-centered!

 

Dream BIG!

 Photo by coventryautomatik.com

Photo by coventryautomatik.com

I have dreams of moving to Northern California. In fact, Northern California has been calling my name for some time now. And for some time now, that is what I’ve been focused on, Northern California, Northern California, Northern California…  And wrapped up in Northern California, were so many hopes and dreams. Freedom, small community school for Ava’s kindergarten, and lots of nature to name a few… I decided to get very pro-active about creating the stable means to be able to do it, instead of just being so wrapped up in the dream. 

And I finally had the energy to really focus on my business. I decided to seriously invest in growing my business and learning more about marketing my online courses, workshops, and life coaching. I enrolled in an 8-week online business course, called B-School. And whoa! Only three weeks in, and there’s been some serious shifting happening!

Interestingly, once I enrolled in B-school, and was committed to seriously growing my business, I became less Northern California preoccupied. It was still my big dream, but my focus had shifted from the future to the present. I began doing all of the things in the present that were necessary to making my big dreams happen in the future. And I lost the sense of urgency about how soon I would make my move, and began to trust that it would all happen at the right time. I had been able to say those words before, “I trust Northern California will happen at the right time,” but I most certainly didn’t feel it in my heart. But I felt the trust now, and I was enjoying my life as it was in the present.

I was having fun and super focused on building my business, and suddenly realizing all of the freedom I was able to enjoy because I had my mom and mother-in-law to help with watching my girls. And since I lived three minutes walking distance to the beach, I had lots of nature just nearly outside my door. And the small community school I was seeking for Ava? A public Montessori charter school opened up behind our house a few months ago, and Ava’s name had been drawn in the lottery! And guess what, it was a six minute walk to her school, and attached to that was a Montessori pre-school for my little one, Amelie…

 So, the lesson in all of this? Northern California is like my lighthouse, but all of the work I need to do in order to make it happen is beautiful and amazing, and well worth all of my energy and attention. My gosh, by being so focused on my dream, I was failing to see what I needed to do right here and right now in order to move closer to that dream! And honestly, the freedom, the small community school, and lots of nature were all right here. All right in front of my nose. And when I finally let go of the anxious attachment I had to making my dream of Northern California happen, and simply settled into doing all of the work it would take to get there comfortably, all of things I was seeking began to happen right here, and right now. So go on and dream BIG, and then start taking steps to move closer to that dream, and enjoy your beautiful life just as it is right now!

 

Journal Prompting:

What is your BIG dream?

What action can you take to move closer to your dream?

And what does your dream symbolize (Examples: Freedom, community, love?) And how can you cultivate these qualities with exactly where you are in your life right now?

What support do you need to take it to the next level? Do you need a life coach, a therapist, a business coach, a special course, or further education?