Altared Perceptions

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Altared Perceptions: Solstice 2013

Published December 23, 2013 by Susan Woodward

church

Solstice 2013: Saturday, December 21.  What a gorgeous and uplifting experience!  In the past five years since I began attending First Unitarian Church of Rochester, I have felt that this has been a wonderful place to call my spiritual home; however, I have never felt more at home until our Solstice Celebration.  Stars

The lights draped along the main wall amid shining stars was complimented with the laser show of stars on the ceiling.

We entered the sanctuary in darkness except for these twinkling lights and the center brazier.  The chairs were placed in a circle, sectioned to represent the four directions.  As one with strong ties to earth-based spirituality, the calling of the quarters and casting of the circle brought me an incredible feeling of belonging and peace.

singing bowl1After calling the quarters, the musical director led the opening meditation with a singing bowl.  The tone rang out through the church and drummers beat a pulsating rhythm that mirrored our beating hearts.

When Rev. Kaaren began telling the tale of Jonah in the Belly of the Whale, we all contemplated on those times in our lives when we, too, feel like we have been in the dark.  She asked us to think of those things that hold us back and prevent us from moving forward to the light, and then write those things down on a piece of flash paper (the flash paper was a stroke of genius for this exercise!)

spiralKarren then called to the congregation to come, by quarters, forward to place those things we wished to move toward the light into a waiting urn.  As each quarter finished, she lit a match and dropped it into the urn, and in a flash of light, those things that had once been in darkness were transformed into light itself…and a bright light it was!

Kaaren  flash

The flash was brilliant, and made me feel as if something was rekindled inside me.  For the past couple of months, I have to admit that I have allowed the darkness of depression to creep back into my heart.  Going thorough “the change” into my Crone years has wreaked havoc with my hormones and emotions.  The Solstice Service did much for re-igniting my heart in time for truly enjoying the blessings of the Holiday Season.

Three more times this was repeated until all members from the four sections of the church had an opportunity to let go of something that has been holding them in the dark.  The beating of the drums was accompanied by clapping and snapping from the congregation and built to a frenzy each time just before Kaaren dropped the flame into the urn.  Four brilliant flashes really energized the whole place.

candles

We all also had candles, which were lit from the central fire.  The flame was passed from person to person until the whole church was lit.

lightsEveryone, young and old, held a lit candle…

lights 2The overall effect was not only gorgeous, but it left me with this strong feeling of energy within.

In the five years since I began attending First UU, I have not experienced anything quite like it.  This Solstice Service was the culmination of a tranformative year in my life.    I have loved this church ever since I started coming here, but for the first time, I truly feel at home.   I love the fact that UU’s welcome those from all spiritual paths, including those whose heart follows the Pagan path.  I began coming to First UU because I was seeking a community where I would feel accepted, and with this celebration, I not only felt accepted, but included.

What a blessing!

 

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Altared Perceptions: September Homecoming 2013

Published September 15, 2013 by Susan Woodward

Homecoming once again after a meaningful Summer challenge: Going Off the Map and Facing Our Dragon!

Map 2 Looking at old-fashioned maps, one would often find a dragon icon that would represent uncharted, unexplored waters.  That big, ol’ scary dragon symbolized the unknown which, more often than not, we have a tendency to fear.

And that was our summer assignment: to face our dragons by going places we’d feared to go before.  We didn’t physically have to leave to “go” anywhere; it could be doing something we’d always thought “maybe one day” or “someday I’ll do that.”  It could be facing a part of ourselves that we feared to look at in the mirror.   With so many ways to interpret this assignment, it made it so accessible to nearly everyone. 

Anyone who has read this blog from its beginning knows that I have been working through major life changes over the past couple of years.  I first described myself as being on a twisting, winding path through the labyrinth of life.  I talked about the break-up of a long-term relationship and how my children grew up and moved on to their adult lives left me feeling a bit like I was in the desert, alone.  I even worked on discerning the difference between loneliness and solitude.  But all of that work toward being happy on my own was focused on the walls surrounding me at home.  How did I go home to an empty place every day and not feel lonely?  And I finally came to feel that home was my refuge, my safe harbor.  I’d faced that dragon and won.

However, finding comfort in my home surroundings came with a double-edged sword.  I got too comfortable being home alone, and I took to shying away from people altogether.  I had stopped socializing and preferred to curl up on the couch with either a book or the television…and of course, smoking and overeating.  I was self-medicating while I was home alone.  That was the “too much of a good thing” syndrome.  While it was great to love being home, it wasn’t so great to avoid people.

So I got involved with the Aerial Arts Challenge.  I had a contract that kept me on a schedule, which kept me getting out of the house.  I quit smoking, I changed my eating habits, and I got a whole lot healthier.  I also got more social, even if it was on a schedule.  I began to expand my comfort zone beyond my four walls.  Several dragons slain there!

Okay…so I was getting off the couch if I had somewhere to go with someone.  There was still one more dragon in that scenario that needed to be faced and conquered. 

I had to face the fear of going out and doing things by myself.  It was back to solitude (but not loneliness this time…) and being comfortable with spending time with ME.   I wanted to face the stigma of eating alone in a restaurant without having that nagging feeling that people were looking at me and pitying me.   I wanted to get in my car and just drive without even using a map to get somewhere new… to follow my own intuition and trusting that somehow I would get where I wanted to be.  And instead of calling it “Facing My Dragon,” I called my posts “Following My Bliss.”  I went to Maine, the Renaissance Faire, hiking, climbing, walking, 5k-ing, the Irish Festival, and all kinds of activities all by myself.  I learned to be my own company and to actually enjoy being with ME.  

So now I am comfortable in my sanctuary/home, I am comfortable going out with people, and if I cannot find someone to do something with, I am even comfortable going and doing whatever it was all by myself. 

So how did the Creative Soul Matters/Decor Team represent this on homecoming Sunday at church?Dragon 1

There’s the Dragon!  And there’s the compass rose that took us Off the Map.

I am pleased that the dragon is facing forward, and not off to the side.  It allows each of us to look him in the face and Dragon 2confront him. 

From this angle, his eyes look a bit scary, as if daring us to continue to stare him down.   The challenge was to keep moving toward our uncharted territory while keeping him in our sight. 

I am glad that this Chinese New Year’s Dragon was purchased for this decor.  For one thing, Homecoming Weekend is like a New Year for many UUs.  After a long summer of a limited schedule, it’s back in full swing with three services a week, complete with new monthly themes.  It’s a new year with new goals for the congregation.  For teachers like me, it’s also a new school year with new challenges and new opportunities.  So the New Year’s Dragon was a good choice to face the new year.

The rainbow colors is also significant as it represents the strides made in facing the injustice of prejudice against the Gay community that has been present in America and the world.  Standing up to this dragon is beginning to bring about the necessary change needed in this country and in society as a whole. 

This particular Dragon costume is designed for only one wearer (unlike the traditional Dragon suits that require a team to work together in wearing it!)  This reminds me of my dragon that I needed to face inside myself…it was a solo action to overcome my fears.

Map The compass rose simply shows the four cardinal directions…no specifics.   

For me, this was significant as I tried to go “Off the Map.”   The first time I actually went ahead and trusted myself to get where I wanted to go, I chose to rely on cardinal directions.

When I wanted to go to Maine, I told myself that I would get on the NYS Thruway and head east until I ran into an ocean.  Then I was going to turn left and head north until I found lighthouses and cheap lobster.  Those were my only driving directions.

Well, you can go back to visit my reflections on this trip because I made it!  I left my door at 7:00 AM and I was taking pictures of a lighthouse by 4!

I tried applying that philosophy to my summer traveling in general.  I know that if I drive west out of the Rochester area, I will eventually run into water.  It may be Lake Erie, the Niagara River, or even Niagara Falls, but I will hit water!   I know that if I drive due north, I will also run into more water…Lake Ontario!  Or if I am a bit further east in the state, going north will still lead to water as I come to the St. Lawrence Seaway.   And if I drive far enough south, I will hit the Gulf of Mexico!  So when I want to do road trips that have no specific address as a destination, just a general area, this is my way of going about it.  And I am no longer afraid to get in the car and go alone.

MumsNow look at the flowers.  To me, these mums remind me of fireworks.  The dragon is flying overhead, and the flowers are an explosion of color (they are even more open now).  However, some buds are more open than others…just like fireworks exploding. 

Fireworks are set off during the New Year as a celebration of light, but their noise also scares away any residual negativity from the previous year.  

I faced my fear of going out and exploring my world all alone.  I ate that inexpensive lobster dinner!  I found eight lighthouses!  I climbed that mountain!  I jumped in BOTH the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans!   I joined in at the Renaissance Faire as a participant, even though I was by myself! 

I am very pleased to have faced this dragon and to have completed my Summer Challenge.

Altared Perceptions: June 2013- “Delight”

Published June 9, 2013 by Susan Woodward

I am delighted with this theme!!  This is REALLY a good time of year to be thinking about all the delightful things that bring me joy…like the end of another school year.  (Ok, that’s a bit tongue in cheek..I will miss many of my students as they move on).

But the wonderful thing about summer is that it gives me the opportunity to recharge my batteries and dig into my creativity.  Even when I am planning my next school year, I can allow myself to delight in what makes me happy about being a teacher and what kinds of activities I would be delighted to try.   And Rev. Kaaren gave us a prescription today to relax!  Thank you, Kaaren!  I shall take that medicine!  (Sorry mine got a little wrinkled when I was hugging Rev. Scott goodbye…more on that to come…)

script

And our summer installation is delightful as well!

June 2013 DelightPainted by Laura Wilder, inspired by a walk in Durand Eastman Park.

This lovely painting inspires me to take Kaaren’s prescription which calls for no substitutions and three refills!

So what shall I delight in doing this summer?  One thing that I am delighting in is rebuilding myself…physically, emotionally, creatively, and spiritually.   At this very moment I am delighting in the most scrumptious juice I have ever made: carrot, apple, celery, lemon, and ginger.  I am not sure I could ever replicate it exactly, so I am The_500_hats_of_bartholomew_cubbinstaking special delight in savoring it.

What I have really been trying to do for the past year or so is to remove all the “hats” that I have been wearing throughout my adult life and try to figure out who is underneath them all.    I had come to realize that I not only felt but behaved differently depending upon the situation I found myself.  I had my “Mom” hat, my “Teacher” hat, my huge collection of “Performer” hats… I had so many hats, I felt like Bartholomew Cubbins from that Dr. Seuss book!  So, like Bartholomew Cubbins, I have been removing my hats one by one over the past year or so, waiting to get to the point where it’s just Susan, and the breeze blows through my own hair.

I have found that it’s very uncomfortable being hatless when one is not at all used to it.   As just Susan, I find that I am very, very different than when I am wearing one of my many hats.  I have no trouble standing up in front of people when I wear the Teacher hat or the Performer hat and have a lot of extroverted energy… but put me in with a group of people to socialize with as myself, and I suddenly become an introvert.   I sit there quietly listening because I awkwardly do not know what to say.  And frequently, I say very little…but that’s something to work on.   I am not yet comfortable without having some kind of hat to wear that somehow directs how I speak and act in certain situations.  I purposefully took off so many hats to try to find out what’s underneath, and it shall be my delight to work on that discovery.

Speaking of taking off hats, it is with mixed emotions that Rev. Scott will be leaving as our Co-Pastor and moving on to work for the Unitarian Universalist movement at large.  While this is a wonderful opportunity for him and a BOON to the larger UU community, it is an incredibly sad thing to know that he won’t be serving at our church in the ministerial capacity any longer.  Not that he’s totally leaving us… he leaves us in Kaaren’s most capable hands!   But I have to tell you, when this year’s pledge drive focused on the whole superhero thing, I have always thought of Kaaren and Scott as the dynamic duo of First UU!

I am delighted that you are not leaving us entirely, and I wish you well, Scott, in your new endeavor!   And we all look forward to having you join us on THIS side of the podium!  🙂

And Kaaren, we’ve got your back!  🙂

Altared Perceptions: May 2013- “Imagination”

Published May 12, 2013 by Susan Woodward

“Imagination is an almost divine faculty which, without recourse to any philosophical method, immediately perceives everything: the secret and intimate connections between things, correspondences and analogies.”  — CHARLES BAUDELAIRE

imagine 1I have to tell you, of all the designs for Church decor, this one is my favorite so far.  One thing that isn’t visible in this photograph is the disco ball revolving behind the head, giving off a swirling rainbow of colors as if the brain is in “active-mode” up there.   Every man-made thing that exists in this world started off as an image in the brain first.  Wow.

As I think about the theme for the month, I reflect upon where my imagination has taken me, and I anticipate where I am going in the future.   For me, if I am able to clearly visualize something in my mind, then I know that somehow I can achieve it.   I have also found that if a vision does not clearly come to me, no matter how hard I try, then I know that whatever it is isn’t right for me.

That may sound a bit strange, but I have to admit that when I was younger and tried to visualize myself as an old person with a certain other person, the pictures in my mind would never come to me.   At first it frightened me because I thought maybe one of us would die early or something, and the other would be left alone.  Then it made me sad because it made me realize that if I couldn’t see it, it probably wasn’t meant to be…for whatever reason.   And that has happened for me in myriad situations…so now I come to trust my instincts by trusting my imagination.

I love how the tulle flows upward and outward from the mind, and I sit to think about all the ideas “tulling” about in my imagination.   I also love how all the colors flow outward, reminding me of what I was yearning for in last month’s theme: color in my life.   As I look at all the symbols on the tulle, I am reminded of all the ways I can bring that color into my world.pencil

For me, the most obvious symbol that jumps out at me is the giant pencil.  I do love to write, even though I do not do it as often as I would like.  And it’s also a reminder of the novels still “tulling” about in my imagination, waiting to come to life.

paint tubeThe next thing that stands out for me is the giant paint tube, reminding me of the color I wish to add.  For the longest time, I lived a grey existence…. and I am ready to ditch the dull and bring on vibrant life experiences!  Sadly, I have to put off silks for a bit longer.  My arm is not healing as quickly as I need it to in order to continue at this time.  However, I am NOT going to say that I will never be able to fulfill my dream of being able to do a performance… I just have to be more patient.  But I am not going to allow a setback to lead me back into the former doldrums.  There are other ways to color my world, and I am definitely feeling the desire to experience as much of that vibrancy as I possibly can!  I can also imagine doing that silks routine, so I know that it must be a possibility for me in the future!!  If I can see it, I can be it!

butterfliesAnd that brings me to the butterflies.  For me, these symbolize the flights of fancy that dance around and tickle the insides of my head.  They also lead me to go out and finally do things that I had before only thought about.  The butterflies are going up and out of the mind… expanding outward.  That’s what I want for my life.  I want to expand my existence by getting up and moving outward from the sedentary life I once lived.   Butterflies also symbolize change.  I was also once a caterpillar shut up inside a cocoon– still, “housebound”– but that chrysalis has opened, and I am moving outward.  Slowly, yes, but surely outward!

cogsSo what do I hope to build now that I am determined to add that color to my life?

One thing I want is a new body– one that is healthier and stronger than it has been in many years.  That will take work to continue building it.

I have already begun through the Aerial Arts Challenge.  I am still a non-smoker after four months!  I am still working hard to eat healthier!  I am still juicing at least four times a week!  And I am still working out!  So I am still re-building this body.

I also want to build relationships.  As an introvert, this is much more difficult than re-building my physique.  I don’t connect well with others, and I find it difficult to maintain relationships.  It’s my own self-conscious feelings of inadequacy that I still deal with… so I need to work on figuring out which “gears” are not working properly in that realm and put some grease on them!  🙂

reasonTo do that, I will have to tap into the reasoning section of the ol’ brain so that I can discover where my introversion stems from, and how to overcome it in order to have lasting friendships.  It’s very easy to keep to myself.  What’s hard is getting past my social awkwardness (and I really AM socially awkward…) so that I maintain getting out of the house and keeping that colorful life I am working so hard to build.

As I continue to tap into my imagination, I know that the colors will continue to flow forward.  color

 

Altared Perceptions: April 2013- “Yearning”

Published April 21, 2013 by Susan Woodward

What do I yearn for?  Wow… I would think that would be an easy one: love, financial security, career satisfaction; however, when I think about the diction, I wonder if “yearning” is the correct term for those things on my list.  I know that they are things I really want to have, but wouldn’t those fall on everyone’s list?  So then would that mean we all yearn for the same things?

I don’t think that’s what the spiritual assignment is.  So I have to ask myself again: “Susan, what do you yearn for?”

Yearning 1

As I studied this month’s church decor that reflects the monthly theme, I actually didn’t see what other people said they saw.   When I met with the Creative Team Soul Matters group and we talked about the decor, everyone else talked about the flowers they’d made.  Now I have been away from the Creative Team for three months because of the Cirque du Rochester Challenge, so I didn’t have a part in making these; however, I didn’t see flowers when I looked at the wall.

I saw explosions of color, like fireworks.

After all the dreariness of winter with its grey skies, early darkness, sloshy mud (since we had very little snow), it was the plethora of color that leapt off the wall at me.  Ohhh… I cannot WAIT for color to appear!   I actually yearn for it…

WAIT!  That’s what I yearn for!!  I yearn for more color in my life!   Doldrums and dreariness, be gone!   Bring on the colors of spring and lead me into summer (oh, please lead me into summer…)!   I am tired of the drab I have been experiencing with the weather, but I also want to pluck out the 50 shades of grey from my heart (and not THOSE 50 Shades of Grey!).

I have been working toward that end with the whole Challenge… coloring my life by getting outside my own four walls and doing something new.  I have more color in my cheeks from exercise.   I’ll bet I have more color in my lungs now that they are not sooty and black from smoking!  And at times, pushing myself beyond my former limits led to a bit of colorful language.

Anyone who really knows me and sees me on a regular basis can tell you what is the main staple of my wardrobe.   Basic black.  I wear black all the time.  I guess it’s easier to mix and match other pieces with black pants… but more often than not, it’s also a black top as well.   I think I chose black because it is more “slimming”… well with my coloring, I think it also makes me even more washed out, especially in the winter.

I am trying to wear more colors.  A few months ago, I bought some little jackets in bright colors that I do like to wear… with black pants.  I think I am afraid to wear other-than-black pants… that is something I will definitely have to work on.

So back to yearning and how I long for more color in my life.  What KIND of color do I want?  Colorful foods?  Colorful visions?  Colorful friendships?  A colorful relationship?  I guess I’d like a sampling of all of the above, please!  I want to open that Crayola box and start digging around!

Well, it is very true that the idea of doing the Color Run is appealing because of the color-shots one will get along the way (huh..ironically, the Dirty Girl also appeals to me… with the stand-out color being brown mud…).  There was one held in Louisiana just yesterday, and I was looking at the pictures online… what LIFE is in those faces!  And I want to be a part of that!!

Color Run banner

I yearn to be more lively, more energetic, more outgoing… to be more colorful!  Colors make people smile… and I don’t do enough of that.  Sometimes I get so overwhelmingly sad, right out of the blue (pun intended).   I think that happens when I allow the dreariness of the season to creep in on my heart… and in April, it’s a time to yearn for green trees, green grass, blue skies, yellow daffodils, red and pink tulips.  But when it SNOWS on April 20th, there’s acolor problem!!!

I am making those changes in my life… I will ditch some of my black wardrobe.  Heck, the last exercise outfit I bought was bright orange (well, not the pants… they were black…).  But at least the top was neon colored!

I am juicing with brightly colored fruits and vegetables every morning.

I am carrying a lovely purple bag filled with my exercise clothes to the YMCA on a regular basis.

And I just dyed that grey right outta my hair!

So… what do I yearn for?  I yearn for a more colorful existence!   And one thing that will help bring that about will be my participation in the Buffalo Color Run on August 17.

I yearn to color me happy!

Altared Perceptions: March 2013- “Inquiry”

Published March 24, 2013 by Susan Woodward

Yes, I know… I missed February’s decor.   With my involvement in the Aerial Arts 12 Week Challenge, it was tough to move on Sundays for a while, let alone leave the house to get to church.  Sorry!  I did do my Soul Matters work on the theme of “Devotion,” so I did not entirely miss out on the month.  Now that my body is beginning to adjust and even feel more energized, I have returned!  I will even be returning to our Thursday evening Creative Team Soul Matters group!  Yay!

March 2013

As I look at the decor for the theme of “Inquiry,” I like the use of the various windows.  Notice that all the window panes are different as some have two, others have four, six, eight, or even twelve.  Also, I have to ask myself, “Hmmm…even though there are clouds in the paintings that indicate that one is most likely on the inside looking out, maybe some of that cloudiness is me looking from the outside at the fogginess/cloudiness/greyness within.”  An interesting point to ponder.

Let me start with looking outward with inquiry.  UUs do this like it was their job… always inquiring.  It’s one of the things I love about being a Unitarian Universalist!  For the month of March, I have begun to inquire about new ways to be more devoted to honoring myself (tying in to the theme of “Devotion” from February).   This month I have begun to learn more about healthier eating habits more in-depth than in the beginning of the 12 Week Challenge.  By making my body more healthy, that will give me more energy and confidence to do more in this world!  After a depression-filled hiatus for more than six-months, it feels good to actually FEEL GOOD!  I am devoted to caring for me so that this “me” can become part of the living community.   This month, I began inquiring about juicing and better eating habits overall, as well as  exercise habits once the Challenge is over.  So that is me looking outward at this point.

But today, Revs. Kaaren and Scott got me looking inward with Robert Bly’s “The Long Bag We Drag Behind Us” (click bag to read the story) and  “What gets under your skin?”   And there are the clouds…ugh.

bag  I really did not wish to inquire about what’s hiding in my mile-long black bag behind me.  I prefer to look OUT the window, not IN!  That’s a heck of a lot easier…There really are too many things that I really don’t want to look at and would rather just sever the ties and leave it somewhere.

However, what really go to me was Scott’s question of “What gets under your skin?” followed with a resounding, “GREAT!!”  He asked us:

“Does that person’s laziness get under your skin?  Great!”

“Do pushy people get under your skin?  Great!”

And I added a few of my own in my head:

“Do education reformers get under your skin?  Great!!”

“Do apathetic students who don’t seem to care about failing get under your skin??  Great!”

I had a few more in that thread as he continued, and it left me feeling…well…yucky.  And uncomfortable.

So what’s under my skin and in that bag that I don’t want to look at?  What is it about education reform that makes my skin crawl?  Why do I allow student choices to affect how I think about myself as a teacher?  What kinds of insecurities lurk inside that might be best dragged out into the light?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Altared Perceptions: January 2013- “Heroism”

Published January 6, 2013 by Susan Woodward

Yes!  Am am now caught up!

When I saw that January’s theme was Heroism, I was excited to volunteer to design this month’s decor.  With my passion for Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey, what could be better for me to get my creative juices flowing and ease myself back into the world once more?

The design is based on an earlier post I’d written (“Lessons from the Yellow Brick Road”).

full display

I wanted very much to keep the design simple and abstract.   The three boxes represent the three characters that Dorothy met on the Yellow Brick Road in Oz: the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Lion.  I also wanted to tie January’s Hero theme in with December’s theme of Blessings.  Each box represents a Blessing that the characters needed to find within themselves, and each box is “wrapped” like a gift because blessings are gifts!  The overall idea is that there are those blessed with compassion for others (represented by the Tin Man) and those who are blessed with brilliant ideas (represented by the Scarecrow); however, those who are blessed with the courage to act upon the other two (represented by the Lion) are true heroes.

scarecrow

The Scarecrow claims that he doesn’t have a brain, but the Wizard points out that he had one all along.  Even though he exhibits cleverness in outwitting the apple trees, the Scarecrow just didn’t recognize his own intelligence without some outward symbol to “prove” its existence- a diploma.   When Dorothy took off with Toto to get away from Miss Gulch, she really wasn’t using her brain.  She was simply reacting without thinking.  She didn’t think about the impact her running away would have on those who loved and cared for her, particularly Aunt Em.

Tin Man

The Tin Woodsman claims that he can’t feel anything because he doesn’t have a heart.   The tin smith who built him forgot to put one in, but he is the most sentimental of the three companions.  Like the Scarecrow, he needs some outward symbol to prove that he has just as much love and caring as anyone who has the physical, blood-pumping organ that he desires- something tangible that he can look at as a reminder.  And so he is given a heart-shaped testimonial with a built in clock that ticks.   Dorothy’s running away from home and hurting those who love her can be seen as almost heartless.  She is more concerned with and seems to care more for herself and her dog than her family.

CourageAnd then we come to the Cowardly Lion.  He claims to not have any courage, but throughout their journey, he exhibits great amounts of bravery when the need arises.  All he needs is a medal from the Wizard as an outward sign of his courage.  As this relates to Dorothy, it takes more courage to face our problems than it does to run away from them.

Brains, heart, courage— thought, feeling, bravery– that’s what I need to integrate on my own path.

When the Wizard leaves Oz, he puts the three in charge of the land in his absence.  Their combined talents — the wisdom to know the right thing to do for the people, the compassion to think about the needs of the people, and the courage to actually do what is best for the people– might create a land of peace and harmony.  Of the three, though, I see courage as the one of the three that would keep things in proper balance.  It’s one thing to KNOW what’s right, another thing to FEEL what’s right, and an entirely different thing to actually DO what is right.   Of the three, I think that the Lion is the key to that balance.  For harmony, all are required.  To be brave but not know what to do or not care about others would be futile.  To know what to do but not care about others or not have the courage to carry out what’s right is also futile, as is wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve but not knowing the best course of action or having the guts to do anything about those one cares about.  And so with the “healing” of her friends, Dorothy is also “healed”.  She learns about looking for her heart’s content beyond her own back yard, but only after she saw from her friends what it meant to use one’s brain, heart and courage.  Only then could she return home.

I want to be “home”– balanced.   full displayThat’s the reason for the inverted pyramid with courage at the base.  Without the courage to act upon our compassion or our ideas, what good are those blessings?

The yellow ribbon represents the Yellow Brick Road, or the road we all journey on throughout life.  It is not smooth, but filled with hills and valleys and twists and turns.  However, having the courage to continue on our path is heroic in itself.  Heroism isn’t just for Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman…it’s those people who face challenges day in and day out with the courage to keep going.

So… it’s that balance that I need to work on within myself as I move along my path.  Hmmm… interesting that Oz was also surrounded by a great desert, and I seem to be emerging from one.  Perhaps, like the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman, and the Lion, I need reminders of my blessings and gifts.  I shouldn’t NEED reminders, but I guess they serve as affirmations in times of feeling lost or alone.   Like the Scarecrow’s diploma, my degrees in my office remind me of how I am able to use my brain.  Like the Tin Woodsman’s testimonial, pictures of my children are a daily testimony of my love for them, and gifts they have given me are reminders that they love me in return.  However, what I do not seem to have on display are any signs of my courage.   I do know that I HAVE courage– I’ve made several trips through Hell and have managed to survive– but what I don’t see on a daily basis is any outward symbol on display.   The Lion continued to wear his medal so that he wouldn’t forget– where’s my “medal”?

Maybe that’s why I still struggle with inner fears.  Maybe, like the Lion before he “found” his courage, I have a tendency to forget those times when I have been brave.   Its purpose would not be to sit and gaze at it all day.  I don’t stare at my degrees, and I don’t constantly sit and stare at the pictures of my children– but I do like having them there to notice from time to time.

It’s usually when I am feeling pretty stupid about something that I happen to go into my office and I’ll notice the diplomas.  Then I usually remind myself that I can use my brain, and pretty soon I’m feeling a bit more confident about thinking things out.   When I get out of the “God, I feel so stupid” mind-frame, an answer to the problem usually seems to present itself.

It’s when I am feeling sad and lonely– particularly since the final break-up of a long term relationship– that I do pick up the pictures and think about each child in turn, or I see something that one of them made for me or gave me as a gift, and then I remember that I always have them, no matter what.  Their love, and the love of supportive friends, will serve to remind me that I am never alone.  Remembering that I am loved will help to keep me from flitting about trying to find love in all the wrong places.  If I am ever meant to be with a partner, then it will happen– but not because I used loneliness as an excuse to go on the prowl.    I am open to the possibility of a partner appearing in my life one day, and that is enough.

I think that if maybe I came up with some kind of outward symbol of my personal courage, the inner struggle with my fears will be better dissuaded.   If, on days when I am feeling most fearful or riddled with conflict, I had something that my eye could happen to fall upon– like the diplomas and the pictures– it would help me in the same way.  So that is what I am going to concentrate on… creating a visible reminder.

Of the three Oz characters, the only “mortal” one was the Lion.  While the Scarecrow was physically torn apart by the winged monkeys, he didn’t die.  The Tin Woodsman stood for many years rusting away holding his ax mid-air, but he was still alive.  Only the Lion can grow old, get sick, and eventually die.  And if courage dies, the other two won’t be as strong because the balance will be broken.  However, the Lion is also the only one who has the power to reproduce and pass his legacy on to the next generation.  In that way, courage might never die, and balance might be able to be maintained.

I do find it also interesting that, of the three characters in the film, only the Lion has a song of his own.  While all three sing a version of “If I Only Had a _________”, the Lion is the only one to have a solo number when he sings “If I Were King”.

That’s what I need to do for myself.  Not only will it be helpful to have some kind of symbol as a reminder on days when I feel weak, but I have to keep courage alive.  I have to pass it on somehow.

And so I re-post this.  I need to remind myself to continue the hard work to reclaim my inner courage, and I write to try to pass the idea of courage onward.   And perhaps re-reading this from time to time will be all the reminder I need to face my fears and make peace with them.

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