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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

One Giraffe, One Lion, Two Parrots, Four Monkeys, One Tortoise and a Zebra

My daughter Valerie is an awesome fourth grade teacher.  Her work days are spent in a  classroom teeming with excitement, delight and fourth grade emotions.  Her students are often bursting with energy which needs to be acknowledged, managed and navigated into a creative learning experience.

And Valerie is always ALL IN for whatever presents itself in the moment.   Her spontaneous responses  never fail to seize the unexpected opportunities knocking at her door.

And speaking of that “knocking”, I have a  confession to make.  While watching her from the “sidelines”, I have always loved the idea of being a part of the fun and I sometimes get these bursts of inspiration on how to make that happen.

Take this year, for example.  At the beginning of this current school year, I arranged to have a super plush, 4 foot  stuffed giraffe delivered to her classroom crammed into an Amazon delivery box.  No one knew the delivery was coming… not even Valerie. 

At this unexpected event, the  students watched while she loosened the top flap of the box and the giraffe’s head popped out, followed by an unfolding of the rest of his body and limbs.

Oooos and ahhhhs pirouetted in the air and Valerie read out loud the message the giraffe was delivering for me:  “So much to discover!”

It was a delightful moment for the kids.  Everybody is always curious when a new student joins the class.

It wasn’t very long before Valerie had positioned Spot (named by a  vote of the class) standing up at the blackboard.  Next to him were chalk notes from Spot written to the students.  Overnight, Spot had become a  teaching assistant, communicating to the students important thoughts for them to remember.

As I learned about Spot’s new assignment, I knew the giraffe would provide lots of fun for the students, but I didn’t know how soon I would be eager to introduce a new companion for him.

A few weeks later another delivery arrived to the classroom containing a  large box with another jungle animal.  This time it was a plush stuffed lion.  I hasten to explain here that it was a lion with a gentle face.  (All the jungle animals that found their way into Valerie‘s fourth grade classroom had gentle demeanors.  This was a very important rule of mine.  I wanted the students to enjoy the animals’ personalities.)

This particular lion was designed  in a reclining manner which made it easy for students to approach it before class  each day.  And it wasn’t long before Valerie found students petting  the lion and his brother giraffe.  She quickly saw that their presence was filling a need the students had to use the sense of touch to express their affection.  

As time went on, I asked myself what could be added to this awesome  duo and the answer presented itself to me In an imaginary jungle scene… Two colorful parrots!  Talking parrots.  And the two plush parrots who joined the scenario next were able to record what they heard and repeat it back to the students in their own unique parrot voices.

As animals  arrived to the classroom they typically received a name that had been voted on by the class. If any student was absent on this important day, the class waited for a full return before the vote was taken. Every vote was important.

By now the school year had reached Halloween and the students eagerly  dressed the animals for the occasion.

I was delighted to see the jungle scene was creating itself and I felt a call for some rascal energy and, soon after, four monkeys arrived each with a mischevious grin decorating his face.  Each monkey had Velcro attached to his hands and feet and so there were many interesting ways the monkeys could be displayed in the classroom.

Over time, I began to wonder what else might belong in the jungle scenario.  I wanted to surprise everyone and think of a creature no one would have anticipated.  I decided on a tortoise and no one had more fun with the new visitor than the classroom maintenance person who commented it would be fun to suspend it from the ceiling so it would look like it was swimming.

As the school year passed quickly by, I realized we were only a few weeks away from its ending.  Something in me was calling for a dramatic, final surprise.  I was ecstatic to find Stripes, an adorable, genteel, plush 30 inch zebra who was introduced to the class by Spot, his fellow sojourner.

Reflecting on the delightful events of the school year, I begin to wonder who had had more fun this year…the students or me.  Or maybe it was the maintenance man who wanted to suspend the tortoise from the ceiling as if he were swimming by.  Perhaps it was my daughter who got to use her ingenuity incorporating the new additions to her exciting classroom.

As I told a friend about this adventure of mine, she commented that the students would never forget their fourth grade experience.  I loved that thought.  I felt they would fondly remember their generous, fun-loving teacher and the jungle animals who had  helped her capture so many important lessons in the classroom.

A couple of days ago I listened to a podcast discussing a book called Homecoming.  The book is about coming home to ourselves.  I thought about coming home to myself and I realized how much I love to use my imagination to create fun, loving, surprising things.  I thought about the wonderful imagination of my daughter and her students as they enjoyed their jungle friends and I sat down to write this blog because sharing these memories made me come home to myself and what I treasure so much in my life.

How delightful it is to think about coming home to ourselves every day.  The fun… the adventure… the joy.  Coming home to whatever makes our hearts sing.  When we are immersed in these beautiful moments, I think we access the very best parts of ourselves.

What are your greatest sources of joy and adventure?  Have you accessed them today?

Spot, Stripes and the rest of the fourth grade jungle crew are wishing you an AWESOME day coming home to yourself.

                                         Marie Helena

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

The Rites of Spring

I am feeling a beautiful surge of creative energy today and am wondering what has prompted this lovely animation of my spirit.  And, as I marvel at this wonderful gift. I realize it is the arrival of MY springThe melting and release of that which has been frosted and icebound in my subconscious but, paradoxically, still pulsing through my emotions as if addicted to a sad refrain.

The body speaks its truth and, if we but listen with curiosity and wondering, we will hear its messages.  The messages of many years ago perhaps or even the echoes of unhealed hurts from lives long past.

 These messages of unease or frustration or pain make themselves known repeatedly in our bodies until they are recognized by us and we name them with the clarity of mindfulness and embrace them with the generosity of self compassion.

They are like lost children, trying to find their way,  Their pleas need to be heard, recognized, understood and honored.

When we realize where our reactions come from and the pain that has birthed them, we can choose to respond instead to what is happening from THIS moment in time, from the place we are now, from the person we are consciously choosing to be.

And THAT is when we find ease and beautiful, life sustaining energy as we honor and release the unmet needs that have been driving our default reactions.

The act of loving ourselves empowers us to honestly own our patterns of behavior
and understand the reasons for their existence.  And the blessing of this mindful process is quite beautiful.

 Just that single step of awareness I took this morning in a moment of unrest and unease has softened and diffused my reaction, clearing the way for the consciousness of THIS momentand the choice of response I truly aspire to make, bringing spring not only to the welcoming trees and waiting birds but also deep into my eager heart.

                                                                   Marie Helena 

image from vector-eps.com

Saturday, May 20, 2023

The Girl Who Moved to Italy


One of my favorite things to do is follow my daughter Rachel around as she makes her way in the world.

Rachel has always been adventurous. She first moved to Lansing, Michigan to attend Michigan State University, then trekked to Lafayette, Indiana for an extended stay while she got her master’s and doctoral degrees. After that she relocated to Lincoln, Nebraska to join the Communication Department at Nebraska Wesleyan University. It wasn’t very long after her move to Lincoln that Rachel bought a home there and became very busy in her off-teaching hours painting and refurbishing the place. After a couple of years Rachel was ready to enjoy another new extended travel experience and so, when an opportunity came up for her to experience a sabbatical year, she opted for Florence, Italy.

As her mother, I was excited and intrigued for her but also concerned. The girl did not speak Italian. Not at all. She aspired to learn some Italian before her move but only had the time to pick up a little of the language so I was very concerned that she would find herself in a country where she had no idea what was going on. I tried persistently to interest her in the idea of living somewhere where there was a housemother who spoke both English and Italian but Rachel was having none of it. She wanted a true Italian experience. She wanted to live in an authentic Italian apartment and encounter Italy on her own. Our gently spirited discussions ended in a compromise when she informed me she would be taking out special insurance so that she could be helicoptered to the states should there be a need for emergency help.

And so Rachel’s Italian sabbatical began. She moved to Florence in August and August in Florence is so hot that MOST of the residents leave the city for cooler places. In addition to the heat, there was an infestation at that time of some unique mosquitoes…..a species which apparently found Rachel especially delicious. And, by the way, there was no air conditioning in Rachel’s Italian apartment. She had to sleep (and did so with good humor) under a special netting and, if her toes stuck out by accident, you can bet the mosquitoes would find them.

At this point Rachel decided it was time to really work at learning the language. She enrolled in an intensive course to take on this challenge …however, it turned out the course was taught in Italian. Nearly all of the students in the class were from Europe and already spoke a couple of languages and had decided to take the beginning course for fun. Rachel reported that she felt like a bottom feeder. Good for her soul, she said. By the time the four weeks were up Rachel was able to speak enough Italian to make her way through Italy and she also had made some new acquaintances.

And so there Rachel was…in a foreign country…speaking passable Italian, not really knowing for sure what was always being reported on the news, walking everywhere (Italian style)…on her own, bringing home her food each day from the market.. And she loved it. She loved the solitude and breathing space.

After a while, Rachel felt the need for more human interaction and began to investigate opportunities to make connections. Interestingly enough, she found her best connection to be an Anglican Church where new visitors received the royal treatment. She met wonderful people (from England!) and also some Italians there and became fast friends with the minister and his wife and their children (eventually, becoming a trusted babysitter for the little one). Through these connections, she met even more people, had more conversations, more lunches and coffees, more Italian dinners with engaging discussions that lasted for hours. Her social calendar was very full and with these personal contacts and her forays into the culture and landscape of the city and country and her attendance at cultural events... and the book she was writing, Rachel had a full and rich Italian life.

I was so pleased to learn of her adventures.  

One of the things I have always told Rachel is that I do not worry about her because wherever she goes, she makes a beautiful life for herself.

And that very point, I believe, is one of Rachel’s gifts to the world. Her openness to new experiences, her thirst for new knowledge, her appreciation of diversity, her wonderful communication skills, her confidence in herself and her ability to deal with life and appreciate all that it has to offer, her compassion for others and her joy in experiencing their company.

And when I ask myself, what is the MESSAGE of Rachel’s experience for all of us, I think it is this:

the opportunity to make beautiful life for ourselves wherever we choose to go, wherever we are planted...for we are the gardeners who determine whether the flower of our lives smiles into the sun, gently accepts the soft breezes and gusty winds alike, sends out vibrations of love to those who encounter us and rests when the metaphorical sun goes down.

Perhaps one of life’s greatest challenges is to recognize the glorious opportunities surrounding us, to see the potential we have to bring into our consciousness all that we want to experience and MAKE THIS BEAUTIFUL LIFE FOR OURSELVES WHEREVER WE ARE!

Saturday, May 13, 2023


Now that the beautiful blush of spring is finding its way onto the universal earth campus, there will be a myriad of opportunities to indulge our awakening senses.  

Gazing at the beautiful blossoms gently emerging on the branches of welcoming trees.  Spying the sprightly, chattering birds returning to their home bases.  And lazily watching the cottony clouds roll by. Rolling in a soft, billowy fashion… Drifting… gently drifting...quietly finding their way.

Just contemplating the drifting clouds feels like a meditation to me. And I wonder if it has to do with the very concept of drifting.  That word feels like ease to me.  Sprezzatura... the Italians might call it...effortless elegance.

Does the effortless elegance I perceive here manifest itself to me because the clouds have aligned with their nature and are simply...and profoundly... being who they are?  

What if we, like the clouds, were to align with OUR nature:  Divine beings playing on our verdant, lush planet of infinite possibility?

If we could recognize our magical playground, perhaps we would find it easier to embrace our self-designed challenges and gently direct ourselves into a reframing of what feels like difficult circumstances from our earth school view.  

Perhaps then we could move on to envision and embrace the gentle changes, the shifts in behavior, which could incrementally bring us into alignment with our Higher Selves.  In the most loving, harmonious way. DRIFTING  back into the beautiful beings we truly are. 

                                                                                   Marie Helena

image from pinterest

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Primal Emotions

There is a great divide in our country, the blatant truth of which has not always been completely transparent.  But there is no question now regarding the fierce, consuming passion of the opposing positions.

Whatever is fueling the contradictory views is sourced in a primal emotion that informs and directs all of our actions and reactions.  That primal emotion is the result of our experiences.  What we have lived and seen and benefitted OR suffered from plays a major role in the way we view the world.  Whether that experience was life affirming or full of hurt and pain, we are shaped and formed by how it made us feel.

The  critical questions in this moment are whether or not we replay what we have seen and lived through AND whether or not we decide if that path feels peaceful and satisfying to us and honors our soul.

Two primal emotions source the trajectory of all we do.  Will it be Love or Fear that lies at the heart of how we move through the world?

This is a question each of us must answer for ourselves.

                                                    Marie Helena

image from pinterest

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

STUCK in Your Own Traffic Jam!

It's 5:03 p.m. and you have just left work with high hopes of scooting into traffic before the usual dinnertime craziness strikes...but, unfortunately, it's forming ahead of you. 

 One block up and there you are...stuck in a  traffic jam
We ALL know what this is like.  

The frustration of being frozen in place when every cell in our body wants to move.  But we are constrained by the circumstances of the moment.  We are wedged in on every side.  Our annoyance and irritation are growing  because we are stuck.  There is no motion or movement and it's making everything worse.  : (

You have just read my metaphor describing what happens in our body when a pain occurs and we choose to contract.

Here are some examples of what "contract"ion looks like:

You think, 
                      "Oh no, what's happening to me now?"
                     "What's wrong?"
                      "I hate when this happens.  I thought I was over this."
                      "What next?"
                       "I have to fix this...where is the aspirin?"
                      " This is __________'s fault for talking to me like that."

and your body records the frustration with increased stress and tension.

All of these thoughts tend to make us contract...from anxiety or distress.  They either express our exasperation, our attempt to "fix" something or our tendency to find someone else to take the blame...in effect, causing the "traffic jam" in our body to Intensify and the pain to worsen.

And by choosing the route of contraction we miss thetraffic "signal" of our body (the pain) which is there to help us navigate our way through the impasse.  We fail to recognize...to hear the body's message and honor it...and that message is..."Something is STUCK and we need to help it move."


We accomplish this by sitting quietly and observingthe pain...experiencing  how it is expressing itself.  

We watch it softly...non- judgmentally...for however long it is present and we patiently track its movement,  paying close attention to what it feels like.   

Over time, with our acceptance and patience, in my experience the pain WILL move and change its expression several times and...eventually... it will release its hold on the body.

This journey of release is the path energy takes when it is allowed to move.
  When it is kept hostage by contraction (just like when we are caught in the unyielding traffic jam),  it grows more intense and more upsetting and, yes, more painful.

The ancient Hopi tribe was very aware of the powerful effect of moving energy and used this principle in its healing rituals.  Unfortunately, in contemporary life, we often choose outside sources to help us when the body itself is its OWN healing agent if we but listen to its message and get out of our own way.

By allowing our energy to disengage from the point of pain and move of its own volition we can honor the exquisite wisdom of our body when it is stuck in its own traffic jam and begin the beautiful journey of release.

                             Marie Helena 

image from science roll.com.   

Friday, May 5, 2023

The Lotus


“If you can see yourself as an artist, and you can see your life as your own creation, then why not create the most beautiful story for yourself?”

don Miguel Ruiz

Take a quiet journey back in time and ponder the artist palette of your childhood.  In those moments you painted the picture of your life with bold, splashy colors and magical dreams.  Everything seemed possible, just awaiting your attention.  Even though the constraints of time have moved you into more grown up circumstances, the vibrancy and joy of your innocence still see so clearly the beautiful spirit you are.

Perhaps your image has been dusted with weariness or tarnished with unresolved pain.  But the child/spirit/artist in you knows your beauty and worth. 

So bring that sense of adventure and vibrancy into your story.  Make something beautiful in your imagination.  Visualize the exquisite LOTUS, a symbol of rebirth and transformation which blooms perfectly pristine even from the murkiest of waters.

YOU are the radiant lotus emerging so brilliantly from the complications and adversity of the world.  

                                     Marie Helena

“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.”

                           Henry Ward Beecher

Lotus image from pinterest