Artist’s Way Affirmations

I am a storycatcher.

I must start with my own stories and dreams before I can understand others’ stories.  My safety mechanisms have brought me to this point.  It is time for me to celebrate the person, creator, and healer within. There is inherent value in my story.  Even if it is finding and walking my own lost path. Sometimes the journey is the goal.  Create.  Breathe. Expand outward.  Connect.

Exploring all parts of who I am and who I was will allow me to best create who I want to be.    I am learning to love the woman I am becoming.  I am surrounded by people who love me for who I am – not what I do.  These are people I respect and love for who they are, not what they do.  Let that connection fill me and inform me.

I’ve been hurt and overcome extraordinary things.  Talking about them may hurt some temporarily, but will be freeing to me.  My life story is one worth sharing.  Personally and through words and images.  My work and art are a reflection of who I am, not who I am.  Liking my work does not make you a friend, and liking me does not mean you have to love my art. Through my story, movement, imagery and words, I am capable of connecting, inspiring, and helping create hope.

I am a resilient, strong woman.

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This afternoon I’m headed off to a celebration for a friend who earned his 4th Dan yesterday, and is now Master Duval.

Yesterday, there was a promotion ceremony where 6 people achieved master’s level. 4 were recognized for 6th or 7th Dan. 1attained their 8th Dan. Master Yordan and his father were bother there. Master Dunlavey promoted his wife to 4th, and for a brief time, there were two Master D’s. briefly. That is until Grand Master Dion announced that it was now to be Grand Master Dunlavey, and that he was being awarded his 8th Dan.

I look at the people there I connect with most (whether testing or supporter), and I find the one thing that most inspires me is their graciousness and genuineness. Sure, they have pride in what they have done. Pride. Not ego and persona.

Hearing the people there talk about their martial arts journey and family, I thought about my own start. Master Stephen Barrett and Master Twing – Both teaching me about the history, the philosophy, the art, not just the sport.

One day, this time, I know I will make it to black belt. I’m on a different journey than I was then.

I will never be the best technician. The best in sparring. The best in jump spinning reverse 540 reflex kicks. But what I can be, what I can work on every single day, is being the best, most passionate, most genuine me that I can be.

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(Just Like) Starting Over

It’s like we both are falling in love again
It’ll be just like starting over, starting over…
John Lennon

This spring I returned to taekwon-do after a long time away from the dojang. Years older, pounds heavier, spirit broken, and in some ways wiser, I started my martial arts journey again.

More than a decade earlier, I trained at another school. Training had changed my life – I worked out, wrote essays, took photos, worked on what was to become the black belt manual for the school. It was a space that brought me face to face with a body that I fought with constantly, and, simultaneously,a space that offered me sanctuary from my daily world of fear, pain, and depression. The clearly stated and understood expectations, as well as the rituals offered me a place to leave the world I knew for just a short time to challenge myself and feel strong. It allowed me to challenge myself in a way I’d never known before. I left having just earned my red stripe.

In the years between, my father had died. My mother died two weeks later. My remaining grandparents died with in the next 8 months. I had to find the strength to move on, to figure out who i was now that they were no longer alive. I fell in love. I got married. I’d found a new passion – Zumba®. I started teaching a specialized Zumba class for people living with chronic pain and seniors. But all of that had started to fade, and I found myself in a place where I was giving up on things that nourished me and giving up on myself.

I stopped teaching my classes. I stopped going to Zumba. I threw myself at work and found joy in some parts of the job, but not as many as I had previously. I no longer danced, and I no longer felt a spring in my step. I started pulling inward. By January, I was in the middle of some really rocky spots with Geoff. In February, I was diagnosed with diabetes. Something had to change.

I emailed the instructor at a school where I had watched classes where two daughters of a friend were training, and I found that piece of me slowly calling again. I returned to training this spring, hoping to recover what I had once experienced in the dojang. But, I’d forgotten my patterns. And more than that, I had forgotten who I was along the way. He and the other instructors met me where I was. We talked about my return to taekwon-do.

In a tear-filled moment, I decided to cut my previously earned taekwon-do belts prior to training again. The rank was no longer mine; the belts were no longer ‘alive.’ I honored all that I had done to earn those, was grateful to the instructor who I had trained with, and let them go. That world was foreign, forgotten and no longer mine. I entered the new dojang a white belt, having retained some technical knowledge, but needing to rebuild my stamina, my knowledge, my muscles, my spirit. I returned, white belt wrapped firmly around the waist, ready to start again.

I could no longer do jumping jacks without killing my knees. Patterns were a thing of the past. Training required faith – believing in myself when I didn’t feel like I deserved anything, let alone the effort to bring me back into the training spirit. I was nervous, broken and determined.

It’s been a little over 7 months now – and I am glad I took that jump. It’s hard. I still struggle with my weight and my stamina on a daily basis. I probably will for years to come. But I am rediscovering my voice and my worth. Finding pride (not ego) and safety enough to challenge myself. Some days advanced techniques are easy and fluid, and some days the simplest wrist lock baffles me. But there is joy in my heart as I train, as I take photographs for fellow students.

Taekwon-do, as one of the many tools, has helped pull me through an otherwise terribly dark time in my life for a second time.

My training is personal, and not at all about the color of the belt holding my uniform together.

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This is the story so far……

Without dreams of hope and pride a man will die
Though his flesh still moves his heart sleeps in the grave
Without land man never dreams cause he’s not free
All men need a place to live with dignity.
Give me love and understanding, I will thrive.

I start with this lyric from Chuck Mangione’s the Children of Sanchez as it is a song I first heard when I was about 8 or 9 years old.  Thirty five years later, it is one of the 400 or so songs on my iPhone that is there because of how it affects me.

My spiritual path is both complex and strikingly simple.  My religious beliefs fall outside the major religions. But, at my core, I am a deeply spiritual person and find my life guided by a strong belief in a god and goddess far greater than I am. As such, I find my life influenced by Jesus as it is also influenced by Buddha, Rumi and Seth Godin. At the core of my being are six key traits – skill, spark, savvy, story, strength and spirit.

I was raised in a Dutch Reformed Christian Church until I was 11, when we moved to Vermont and joined the First Congregational Church in Essex.  Before we moved to Vermont, my mother worked for a Jewish Community Center in New York, so I attended Jewish day camp every summer.  While I was in high school, I had my father take me from Essex to Barnet every day over the course of three days so that I could attend the funeral services for Rinpoche Chogyam Trungpa.  In college, I was a member of both Campus Crusade for Christ and the Catholic Newman Club.  Wherever I have been active, it has always been the story and the song that drew me there.

My faith and my spirit are not attached to a particular church or religion, but to a deep calling to respect others, respect myself, and to give as I have been given to.  It has not been a journey without struggles.  Depression.  The unexpected death of my father.  The equally unexpected death of my mother two weeks later.  Without faith and hope and belief in greater good, I would not be here today to write these words.

Today, what moves me is inspiration and hope.  Through the eyes of the women I have taught Zumba® Fitness classes to struggling with breast cancer and multiple sclerosis, but still there and smiling.  Seeing something larger than me, larger than each person making larger goals attainable.  Taking part in martial arts classes where there is a physical aspect for sure, but a spiritual, philosophical and ritual underpinning that feed and nourish me.  Sharing the photos that I take as a way to reflect the joy, spirit, hope and love that I see and feel in the world.

I do not attend a church or a synagogue.  I have no single spiritual guru or guide.  What I do have is a deep commitment to living a conscious life, to giving to others to the best of my ability, to sharing in truth and authentic connections.  To reflect the spirit that so inspires me – in movement, in song, in words, and in images.

I know this world has beaten you to the bone.
You wanna strike out at the world for dragging you down.
But listen to what I am saying –
The first thing you should know is that you’re not alone.
Somebody’s holding you.
Somebody’s holding your hand;
Somebody’s holding your heart.
(Suzanne Sterling, The River)

My belief is that the world has a place for each of us and all that we have to give. To work on myself – with all my joys, passions and sorrows – and share all that I have to offer is all that I can do each day, and hope that in that Spirit shines through.

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Ever feel like your train of thought has been derailed?

It’s been a tough spring personally.  A lot of changes all at the same time have made everything feel like it’s not quite stable.  Much of it has been good – but it’s draining me energetically and physically.

Somehow that seems mildly ironic as in February my glucose was averaging around 400-450 and now it is down around 140-160.  I’ve lost and kept off 30 pounds since January.  My blood pressure is great.

But, along the way, self-doubt has crept back in insidious ways.  I can feel its paralyzing effects and am doing the best I can to fight back.  Literally.  I am finally back doing taekwondo.  Almost 4 years ago Steph Stowe dragged my out of shape tush and extremely depressed brain to Zumba®.  I fell in love and said I wanted to do that to get back to TKD.

Along the way I started to TEACH Zumba®. I had two classes a week that I taught using a chair.  People from 4-86 came each week and loved it – and I loved them.  It was a personal challenge to teach.  Almost every class I walked in wondering “Who the heck am I to be teaching a fitness class?  I’m fat, out of shape and far from the fitness ideal.”  I did it for them; I did it for me.

In February, I started back to taekwondo.  More than a decade since I had stopped training.  I’d forgotten the patterns.  But remember the feelings.  How much it challenged me, how much it let me get moving physically and mentally, how much it let the emotions I didn’t want to admit were there move.

I am back at it again.  50 pounds heavier than when I stopped.  I’m in my 40s.  The drills are different, and the students are different and my instructor is different.  The kicks are the same.  The patterns, rusty and dusty from lack of use, are there and will slowly come back.

One thing that has remained the same in deeply personal way for me is the fact that the sparring partner who challenges me most in this is me, my own brain.

I leave class tired, sweaty, proud.  And more often than not experiencing a flood of feelings that truly have nothing to do with class other than that the movement and focus allows them to come out of the tidy cubbies I want to stuff them into.  Some nights its pride.  Some nights it is just an overwhelming sadness.  Some nights it is feeling strong.

Tonight, it is sitting with the question that has haunted me the past few weeks…  “Can I keep up?  Can I do this?  How do I do this?”  It has shown up in so many places and ways – both large and small.  This is where I must exercise my indomitable spirit – keep persevering… lean in and lean on where I can.

There goes a fighter….

Enough said

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Break the Chains?

So many things in my life seem to have come together in a transformational conflagration. All coming together to shine a bright, unyielding, demanding light on my life.

This morning I had what may prove to be an extremely journey changing discussion with my therapist. Hard as hell on a personal and spiritual level. To see the same issue spanning high school, college, work, relationships, my marriage…

I saw things in a new light… And now, hours later, am still feeling them.

I need to learn the following, and more than learn… Believe.

  • It’s okay to say no.
  • That for all the world, in many ways I do feel I am what I do, not who I am. I need to switch that.
  • That I have learned far too well how to turn the pain off… And experience it later, at a time of my choosing.
  • that despite all the things people tell me I do well, or where they say I’ve inspired them – I find I dismiss or turn them off.
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    Who Says A Yellow Streak Means You’re a Chicken?

    Amazing the things that make you feel ten feet tall. Three inches of 1/2″ wide duct tape made my night on Monday. Earning my yellow stripe for a second time meant as much if not more than it did the first time around.

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