// week forty // weekend #1 of becoming a certified spiritual life coach

well, here we go. full speed ahead. at least that’s how it feels to me.

but, i mean, really, what’s life but one big risk after another? and, what kind life would it be if there were no risks + challenges? so, i’m thinking that  it’s good to just go ahead and accept and embrace all of it. and to keep jumping and trying and moving. there’s tons of fear that comes along with all of the risks (that’s why they are called risks), but there is so much crazy amazingness that appears after that big jump into the unknown.


you may know that this weekend, i faced another big leap in my life. it was something that i was excited about, which makes things easier, but it was still completely unknown and freaking scary, if i’m honest.

on friday, i hopped on a bus on my own and headed to a camp out in the woods about 2 and a half hours from home. i left my love at home, a challenge in and of itself, and set my sights on my future. on taking a first, big step in making my dream of becoming a spiritual life coach a reality.

on the bus, i popped in my headphones and gazed at the swedish countryside, just beginning to show its autumn colors, as it whizzed by. at one point, i even saw a moose running across the field right beside the bus! i was so shocked and surprised that i only snagged a pic as we were almost past it. it was so freaking cool to see. my first swedish moose!

autumn-woods-surahammar-life-coach moose-surahammar-life-coach

after the excitement of the moose, i realized that my bus was running late, and i wondered if i’d make it to my second bus in time. luckily, as i ran off of one bus, in a city that i’d never been in before and had NO IDEA where anything was,  i noticed that my next bus was directly across the street. with literally 30 seconds to spare, i fumbled with my bag, my coat (i was now sweating from stress), and my yoga mat onto the bus and found a seat. whew.

about 30 minutes later i got off the bus at the only bus stop that exists in this tiny little town. and stood there for a minute getting my bearings. i noticed a man climbing out of a van and realized that this was probably my ride. so, i walked over, introduced myself, and discovered that this was my new life coaching teacher! suddenly, 3 other women were standing by the van too, all having gotten off of the same bus i was on. they were also soon-to-be coaches!

we piled our stuff into the van and i stepped into the front seat, and we were off. deeper into the beautiful swedish woods. away from everything and anything. except mother nature.

ravnas-surahammar-life-coach-camp camp-surahammar-life-coach autumn-camp-surahammar-life-coach

we arrived at a typical red-painted swedish camp, which was surrounded by fields, forests, and water. pretty much everything i love. there was so much sky. and so many trees. so much green. and so many bright, yellow leaves. and sparkling water. and even cows!

i found a room, a roommate, and threw my stuff down. yep. it was gonna be a cozy weekend.


of course, this was no sit back and meditate retreat. it wasn’t that kind of cozy. this was many hours of intense thought. deep questions and reflections about who i really am. what i want. why i am here. what i believe about myself and my life. what i want to change. why i don’t change the things that i want to change. and so on…

and, the thing is, none of these reflections were done alone. we were constantly either paired up or in a group. and i mean… constantly. so, there was no holding back. it was just to embrace the fact that it was time to be completely open with complete strangers. of course, that feels a bit weird. but, i am also a very open person, so i have no problem sharing. in fact, i’m a major talker once you get me going. i’m not afraid to share my story. hehe. plus, it was so inspiring to meet such amazing people, with amazing stories of their own.

translation of paper heading: my life story and what it says about me


lifestyles: the bubble that we live in/stay in because we are afraid of changelivsmonster-bubble-surahammar-life-coach

life just goes on and on in it’s little circle and it goes faster and faster… those unclear moments become more and more, until everything is unclear. (and then we are stuck).kjell-surahammar-life-coach

answer the following spontaneously: life is… (my answers: exciting, a journey, fine, up and down, a gift, important, meaningful, to live exactly as you are, something to share with another.)life-is-questions-surahammar-life-coach

in addition to the subject matter – of looking honestly at ourselves inside and out – of course the whole weekend was in swedish. and i am fluent in swedish, but still. it’s tough to express such deep things in your second language. and my brain was also super tired from working so hard. however, it went just fine! and it makes me an even better swedish speaker, which is awesome.

so, the weekend was literally discussions + reflections. in pairs + groups. meal times together. and meditations. with an hour of african and naive american dancing late saturday night together. that was pretty wicked awesome.

dance-african-surahammar-life-coach indian-dancing-surahammar-life-coach

there was one short hour in the middle of the day on saturday that we had some time to do what we wanted. and i spent that time alone in the woods. perfection.

trees-surahammar-life-coach sunshine-woods-surahammar-life-coach birch-trees-surahammar-life-coach-autumn red-mushroom-surahammar-life-coach woods-surahammar-life-coach mushroom-family-surahammar-life-coach path-woods-surahammar-life-coach mushroom-surahammar-life-coach path-surahammar-life-coach

our last activity on sunday, before eating lunch and heading our separate ways, was to begin coaching with another person. so, we gathered into pairs and spent an hour and a half coaching each other… 45 minutes per person. it was a bit nerve-wracking at first. i wondered if i’d  be “good”. i mean, i know i have done this type of thing for years in my professional life, but i am learning even more about it all now. and it was just intimidating because everything was becoming so real. know what i mean?

but, it went great! and i had a great, inspiring time with my partner.

so, I have A LOT to soak in between now and our next weekend in november. i haven’t even come close to processing all that happened and all that I thought about. but, i have come to a few conclusions already:

i am pretty damn secure in who I am. bam.

i have done some intense internal work for the past 8 years, which means that i am comfortable with myself. i am actually quite freaking self-aware. i know what i want right now. and i am not afraid of going after it (as evidenced by simply being there this weekend). so, now it’s time for action. time to actually build a business and share all that i have learned from my own life. it’s time for me to get to work, in the words.

i know i said all of this in my last blog post, but it was deeply confirmed this weekend. i am exactly where i am supposed to be, doing exactly what i am supposed to do. i am living a very aligned life right now. and i cannot describe exactly how freeing and wonderful that feels.

in no way am i saying that i am “there”. i am absolutely not. and i never will be in this lifetime. at least i hope not. i want to always be learning and growing and transforming. i want to always be getting closer + closer to “there”, and right now, i know that i am. so, i am completely satisfied about where i am and excited about where i am headed.

and i couldn’t ask for more than that in life. what a freaking precious amazing gift.

i know this was supposed to be a post about last week, but other than cheering my love on with her fight to freedom, working my first shift by myself at the photo boutique, and this first weekend in my life coach training, everything else has fallen by the wayside. these things are the most important.

so, for now, i’ll leave you with some of the photos i snapped during the weekend. in those rare moments that i was alone with my thoughts and soaking up the healing, inspiring energy all around me.
countryside-surahammar-life-coach water-surahammar-life-coach dock-surahammar-life-coach river-surahammar-life-coach autumn-water-surahammar-life-coach autumn-woods-surahammar-life-coach

frosty morning walksfoogy-morning-surahammar-life-coach sunrise-tree-surahammar-life-coach
morning-fog-surahammar-life-coach sunrise-house-surahammar-life-coach sunrise-fog-surahammar-life-coach sunrise-surahammar-life-coach fog-trees-morning-surahammar-life-coach

sun rays sunrise life coach

magical sunsets

trees-sunset-surahammar-life-coach tie-dye-sky-surahammar-life-coach

well, lovelies, i am exhausted after writing this post. my brain took a little break after i got home and spent some quality time with my main girl last night. (i looooove being with her more than anything).

now, however, i can feel my mind spinning again, trying to work on processing everything. feeling inspired and excited and ready to get to work – speaking of work, as part of my training i will be actually coaching some people. i have to have logged 60 hours of coaching in order to be certified. so, if you are interested… let me know! i can even do it over Skype of course!

ok. back to work. planning and writing and processing. wishing you a fantastic week, dear friends! and, if you come across some leap that you need to take, i highly recommend it. you can do so much more than you think that you can. so… jump! risk it! chase that dream!

onwards + upwards! xoxo

i’ve got a feeling you’re gonna want to stay up late for this

there are some things that make me who i am that i get from my dad.

my love of photography + documenting life. my love of driving, especially long distances. go ahead: challenge us. 8 hours? 10 hours? we are totally up for it. my weather obsession. there’s a tornado warning? oh, yeah. we will go and stand at the door to look out. a hurricane coming? we will be glued to the tv for the insane entire 24 hour coverage. a thunderstorm? let’s stand on the porch and take photos! my love for airplanes + boats. my love for historical places (my mom loves this too!).

and my love for space. or the night sky. or the sky in general (see weather, photography, airplanes, etc. above).

photo by john rauda

photo by john rauda

as a kid, whenever something crazy was gonna happen in the night sky, my dad knew about it. now, we weren’t those people who packed it all up and went way out into the middle of nowhere to sky watch. but, we did stay up and go outside and enjoy it from our little suburban american backyard.

my family and i never talked about how these celestial events affected us here on earth, more than their affect on the tides in the ocean. but, somehow, through my experience of growing up + learning to love nature and the universe, i have come to realize that what my parents taught me, without even saying a word, was the beauty of the interconnectedness of everything. of all people, all places, all plants + animals, and all of the stars out there in the vast, endless night sky.

without saying a word, i hold my parents responsible for creating a life for me where exploration was natural. and where the natural was sacred. and because it was sacred, everything in us, everything in the universe, everything was connected to each other. creating a beautiful coexistence.

and so, today, when something happens way out there… i know that it happens in here (points to her soul) as well.

so, in honor of my dad always keeping me abreast of the night sky goings on, i am here to pass on some info to you: tonight, my friends, something crazy is gonna happen. and i’m pretty sure that you’re gonna wanna stay up and experience it.

tonight, as the moon rises in the sky. new opportunities, new beginnings arise in us as well.

moon rising

here’s what’s (scientifically) happening tonight:

it’s a powerful night to watch the sky.

tonight’s moon is the harvest moon, the full moon closest to the fall/autumn equinox. remember, in the northern hemisphere we changed seasons just a few days ago, passing from the light + warmth of summer in to the cozy, internally-focused darkness of autumn. this signifies the cycle of life, that changes are inevitable, death cannot be escaped. and yet, everything must die, in order to live again, to be born anew. could it be the same for us too?

tonight we will also experience a total lunar eclipse of the moon. this hasn’t happened since 1982 and won’t happen again until 2033. it is a very rare event. making it very special. isn’t that how it always is, with us, though? when something doesn’t occur often, we regard it with more honor and see it as something special and unique. we give those things that are rare more value + worth. so, it is with the lunar eclipse tonight. it is a valuable, worthy, special, moment for us to experience. perhaps we want to slow down just a little bit to soak it all in.

because of this type of rare eclipse, the moon is also known as a blood moon. tonight, the earth orbits between the sun and the moon, blocking out the light from the sun, which makes the moon “shine” during regular nights. tonight, as the earth passes through, the sun, earth, and moon will be in perfect, complete alignment. how freaking crazy is that?! there’s gotta be some symbolism in that, right? perfect alignment.

and, on top of the earth being in the middle, blocking the light that lights up the moon, as the earth passes by, the moon will appear red. hence the name “blood moon”. the little bit of light that seeps through before and after everything is perfectly lined up, will make the moon will appear red.

as if all of this were not enough, tonight’s moon is also known as a super moon. this means that the moon is closer to the earth than it usually is. it’s only about 8% closer, but it is enough to make it appear that the moon is huge in the night sky.

for me, all of this makes me just giddy with excitement.

and, while we can simply observe and look at the night sky’s happenings tonight and be inspired by the pure scientific and natural phenomena of it all, i am who i am. and i need to go deeper. it goes back to all of that i was talking about above in the beginning of this post. this interconnectedness that i feel. i need to ponder what we can learn from the heavens above.

photo by robert ondrovic

photo by robert ondrovic

so, what can all of this crazy moon stuff mean for us? 

well, it’s obvious that the cycle of nature is the same as the cycle of life, teaching us about life, death, and rebirth. there is much to learn from nature. so, i dare say that all of these cosmic happenings can hold symbolic meanings for us too.

it’s easy to see that what’s happening tonight is rare and beautiful and filled with energy. and that’s scientifically true. the tides get all crazy when there is a full moon, and when it’s a super moon, it’s even more crazy. so, first of all, all of this equals intense energy moving around us. up in space, down on earth, in our souls.

1 // surrender to change

and, anyone knows, when there is energy, something is happening. change is occurring. so, tonight, i believe that all of this magical, scientific moon stuff is reminding that life is about changes, especially considering that all of this is happening just a few days after the autumn equinox.

perhaps now is the time to let go. to surrender. to release the old ways of living + step into a new way of living + being. changes are inevitable, but right now, these changes can give us a doorway into a whole new way of living.

2 // align with your true self

as the earth and moon and sun all align for a short moment tonight, maybe we can use that magic to begin to learn how to align our own lives. to live the life on the outside that we feel called to on the inside. perhaps it’s a time of action. a time of learning to balance our ego, who we are, and what is best for our soul with our call to be in community, in partnership, and global beings. i don’t think of this as  something that is a struggle or a fight. it just is. it’s a time of high awareness of both. and the importance of both. we need to live our own authentic lives, while at the same time live as global, loving citizens.

3 // the power is within

so, as we stand on the brink of something new, a whole new way of living perhaps, we can realize with this big moon hanging above us tonight, that we have the power within. it’s up to us to choose. no one can do it for us. no one will do it for us. it is up to us to take control of our own lives, to choose to live the best lives that we can. it’s up to us to decide to take that first step in letting on + moving on.

4 // see your shadow side

nights like these, with their mysterious + mystical full moons and lunar eclipses, are the perfect time to take a few moments to discover that nudge that is within us. it’s the perfect time to stare out the window at the moon and wonder a bit about that quiet whisper within that tells us who we are and who we are supposed to be. and with the eclipse tonight as well, as the moon seems to be hidden for a moment, we can symbolically go within to our dark side as well. we can explore and look at those things that we are keeping in the shadows of our soul.

don’t push it away right now. let’s embrace our shadows. embrace our darkness. look and feel and see all that is within us – the good and the bad. see where we are stuck.

an aligned life embraces the balance of the light + the dark. just as the earth, aligned with the sun + the moon stand directly and perfectly balanced in between the two.

moon path

whether you are spiritual or not, tonight’s moon happenings are something to experience. i invite you to spend a few moments gazing at the sky. and, if you really feel like it, pull out a journal or your blog and write down your thoughts + feelings. explore the ways that you see your life changing. think about who you really want to be. discover the dark within, face it, and then decide what choices you want to make in your life. change is happening. it is occurring. and it always will. such is life. and we are called to simply surrender to that.

but, how we respond to it, what we do with our lives, well, that’s all up to us. 

use the cosmic love + beauty of the night to inspire you to move forward. and remember, that you are loved + accepted just as you are. hold on, surrender, reach inward + move forward. you are called to greatness. moon blessings to you all.

onwards + upwards! xoxo

and just for fun:

since we all live in different places, tonight’s events are happening at different times. you can use this eclipse calculator to figure out the best time to view the eclipse from your location.

the times in uppsala, sweden (where i live):

begins: mon, 28 sep 2015, 02:11

maximum: mon, 28 sep 2015, 04:47

ends: mon, 28 sep 2015, 07:22

duration: 5 hours, 11 minutes

mantras that blow my mind

about a week ago i shared with you some awesome mantras that i came across. and, i challenged us to discover + create some mantras of our own.

it was really fun to dig into my soul and pull out some of the words that always touch me. words that i now realize are not that deep inside me. for, as i began to list my mantras, i realize how they are connected to my core beliefs + priorities in life. i draw on them constantly at different times the day or week or year, for they all have their own purpose.

and, it turns out that i have a ton of matras/sayings/phrases/quotes that i return to again + again in my life. and i most definitely cannot narrow it down to one. so, you’re gonna get blasted with those that mean the absolute most to me.

yes, it can be annoying with words and quotes. it can feel cliche and fake. some of my mantras may be sayings that “everyone” uses. but, f*ck that (see how i used that mantra from the other week, now bringing into my fold of go-to mantras?!). these words + phrases speak to me deeply. personally. so i’m totally fine with sharing them with the rest of the world. i don’t even care what the rest of the world thinks about them, or me. all i know is that when i need them, these mantras are here to remind me + inspire me.  i suppose you could say that they define me.

1. i am the vine. you are the branches. 

when things feel crazy, or get hectic, or i forget who i am, or feel stressed out about what to do, then i go straight to this mantra to remind me that, in reality, i have only one job. the only thing that i am supposed to do is be.
me vine tattoo

if you think about what a branch on a vine does, it ain’t much. it is not actively doing anything except remaining attached. the work flows through it. flowers + leaves bloom only because the branch remains attached. we are the same. all that we can give and be for this world, all that we need to do in order to make a difference is to simply be. to be exactly who we are, attached to our soul, letting the life and magic of the universe, and of spirit, flow through us. when we are true to ourselves, then we will make more of a difference than we could ever imagine.

2. all shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

this is a quote from the christian mystic, julian of norwich. julian lived in england in the 13oos, right in the middle of the time of the plagues. she lost most everyone she knew to death and even fell deathly ill herself. and it is recorded that she had visions, or showings, of jesus christ to her. in these mystical experiences she came to understand the boundless love that god has for everyone. that life is much more about relationships and compassion, than of duty and rules.

she spent her life, after recovering, cloistering herself in a little room off of the side of a church, anchoring herself to her faith. she was,in fact, called an anchoress, meeting with people through a hole in the wall, listening to them and talking with them. counseling + supporting them.

hers was an optimistic theology. one that she shared with everyone she talked with, and even in her all of her writings. her message? in the end, god is good and only good. and all will be well.


what more can i say myself except, this i believe deeply. this is the core of who i am and how i see the world. it is not some rose-colored, unicorn optimism. it is not some simplistic, childish belief (or maybe it is). but, it is a deep knowing, a knowing i tell you, that all will be well. i cannot describe it more. and while i have had no showings like julian, i have had moments. and i know, just as much as i know that i am breathing, that this mysterious, inexplicable belief is true.

3. breathe

in life, i remember that, in order to stay focused, motivated, and authentic… in order to stay connected (see #1 above), then i must simply breathe. i must get quiet so that i can hear. i must go within. i must contemplate, meditate, practice yoga, pray, and take care of my soul. for, when i do that, then i feel + hear + know.  i can more easily embrace the mystical, mysterious parts of life, because of the experiences i have when i retreat and spend time alone. it is like nourishment for the soul. a chance to let go + surrender. a safe place of peace, where anxiety and worry and fear gain perspective. when i simply remember to breathe, then i simply remember who i am. and that all is well (see #2 above).

4. there’s no where you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be

thank you, beatles. when i first heard this lyric, and really heard it for what it was, then i knew that it captured a spiritual belief that many mystics/gurus/monks/theologians hold to be true. the present moment is all we have. practicing the art of living in the present moment helps us to create a life of gratitude, compassion, love, joy, and inner peace. and while i am no expert at this at all, i have found that as the years pass, i am able to grasp onto this way of living more + more. and, as i do, my life has become filled with a sense of calm and certainty that exists even as chaotic, messiness swirls around me.


when i am able to accept where i am, even if i don’t like it at that specific moment, then i am much more able to go with the flow of the universe, as the tao says. and this, in turn, immerses us in a way of living in the middle of mystery and energy. we get wrapped up in the crazy, beautiful, mystical spirit that tells us who we are. and, in order to do that, we simply must forget what we think we know is best for us at all times. we must let go of expectations. we must set aside the beliefs that we think that we have to know the fact or have all of the power. we must put down the ideas that money, security, success, and the “normal” way is the way to growth and transformation. no, friends, the way is the way of freedom and lightheartedness and calm in the midst of everything that happens. it the way that focuses only on what is really real: love.

5. it’s not about the destination, it’s all about the journey.

oh lord have i annoyed people with this mantra of mine. if you know me well, then you know that i throw this out there all of the time. but, i am convinced of its truth for our lives.

as a lover of travel, i automatically use the metaphor of a journey when i think about life. many of us do. we all know the references. the mountains, the valleys, the deserts, the oceans to cross, the canyons to jump. the trails to wander. we even talk about which path we choose to take in life when we talk about deciding on a career. we know that we are on a journey. that life is one long process of living.

road trip new mexico

as a kid, just like everyone else, when i took a roadtrip with my parents all i could think about was the destination. when would we get there? i just wanted the trip to be over. but, my parents somewhere along he way taught me that the trip was part of the journey. yes, the destination was important, but just as important were all of the sights we saw along the way. something that took me a long time to learn.

but, now that i get it, i embrace it. and it makes life so much more fun. it’s a very concrete way to live in the present moment (see #4). and i find myself doing my best to teach those around me that adventure is found everywhere. that part of life is living right now, experiencing what is happening right now, and letting all of it become part of the story of our journey in life. besides, if we only focus on the end, then we will miss out on so very much.

believe me, though, i call on this mantra when i’m dealing with a challenge, or when something is not going my way. i literally remind myself that it’s all part of the journey. that the missed train or the unexpected job or even the death that occurs, is all part of my story. all something to teach me and transform me and help me grow. and all i need to do is just take one more step forward.

6. the mountains are calling and i must go

i think that i think about this mantra of mine every single day. even if i don’t go outside, and even if i am nowhere near some deep, beautiful nature, i call up images of trees, water, forests, and mountains in my mind’s eye. i need nature. i need to see the sky. i need to feel the breeze. i need to gaze out over the sea, or feel the sand, or smell a flower, or touch a leaf. nature renews my soul. nature teaches me. some of the most powerful moments i have had in my life have occurred among nature. in the midst of nature, i feel vulnerable + powerful all at the same time. i recognize my place in the world, just another living thing called to be true to who i am.

max patch

oh, i love the city. but, i daily remind myself that the mountains are always calling me. they are softly whispering to me to get out + explore. they are always urging me to take the long way home. and even if i can’t get out into the countryside, the mountains are calling me to observe all of nature that is around me.

7. the world is my parish

so, this one comes from my theology days as well. it’s something that john wesley, the father of the methodist denomination, said in reference to his work. in england in the 1700s, wesley was pretty much pissed off with how the anglican british church was handling things. many blue collar workers, the poor, widows, children, were being left out of the anglican church. it had become a church for the elite, with close to no social work involved. wesley, an anglican (as everybody was then) pastor/minister was not satisfied with people being left out, and not being able to hear a message of love and grace from god.

so, he took to the streets. literally. he preached from fields in the countryside, early in the morning, where people could stop for a moment to and from their shifts at work. he preached in the town squares, traveling on horseback from city to city. eventually, he found himself on a ship to america, where he began preaching to slaves, natives, as well as the colonial whites from europe. of course this was scandalous. and viewed by the church of england as being in contempt.

homeless refugee

but, wesley was living out his mantra: the world is my parish. now, a parish is an ecclesiastical (religious) district having its own church and member of the clergy. it’s the small area where a pastor/minister is assigned to work and serve the people. like a town, or neighborhood, or county. wesley, however, defined the entire world as his parish. and he lived just as he said. preaching and sharing a message not of class, damnation, fear, or judgement to people; but rather a message on endless grace and love offered to every single person in the world. and he didn’t really care what the church of england thought about him.

i grew up a methodist, hearing this message myself in the churches that i attended. i learned about wesley and his methodical, old establishment-pushing ways of sharing that message. and then, i began preaching and sharing that same message myself. i shared it not because it was what i supposed to do. no one ever told me what i should or should not believe. i shared that message because i grew to believe it myself.

map wall asheville

and today, i still believe in the same message that john wesley spread in his unconventional, status quo-crushing, daring ways. the message of love that all people should be able to hear.

today, i often quote this mantra to myself as i walk around. as i see all kinds of people, in all kinds of situations, with all kinds of lives. and as i travel to far off places and countries. this mantra reminds me that we are all equal. that we all deserve love and justice and peace. that is our right as human beings, and there is not one person left out from the grace and love that is available to us, within us.

i may not preach or work in a church anymore, but i don’t need to. the world is my parish. the whole world is where i work to use my life to bring about peace and to share love. at least, that is my hope.

8. follow your bliss

this is that great quote by the mythologist, philosopher, writer joseph campbell. when i stumbled onto it years ago, it was just the permission that i needed at that point in my life to give me that extra push to being to truly live that life that i had been working on creating inside me.

path camp

i repeat this mantra constantly. it is an empowering one. and one that sums up everything. period. it is being attached, and knowing that all will be well. it is breathing, being present in the moment, enjoying the journey, connecting with nature, and sharing love with the world. for me, follow your bliss, is learning to embrace a life of being, loving, and living.

 9. be. love. live.

and this is the mantra that i created for myself, and for this blog, 4 and a half years ago. it has now become a way of living. and here is what i mean when i say be.love.live:


find yourself. find what makes your soul sing. and do it. follow that path. commit to letting your inner voice lead you. follow your instinct, your heart, your soul. be you – exactly who you were created to be. because you are beautiful and you are loved. just as you are. embrace everything that you are. love yourself and others just a little bit more. live your life to the fullest. it makes all the difference in the world – for you, and for everyone around you. 

onwards + upwards! xoxo

thanks so much for reading, and for creating your mantras, if you did. and if you didn’t, well, then get to it! please leave a comment below and a link to your blog post with your mantras. it’s so great to share + get inspiration from each other!


how to plan a retreat filled with all of your favorite things

the arrival of autumn in just a few days has got me thinking about going on a retreat.

(geek alert now) the word retreat comes from the latin word retrehere, meaning to pull back. exactly what i think of now when i hear the word.

when i worked with teenagers + their spiritual growth, i often used short retreats as times to really dig deep and connect – with each other + with their souls. contrary to what we usually assume about teens, they actually crave ancient practices, quiet reflection, and a chance to just be. and i never would have learned that, had i not pushed them + invited them to spend 24 hours together, creating a sacred, intentional space.

these memories are some of the best ones that i have from working with teenagers in a spiritual setting. i enjoyed planning the retreats as much as i loved hosting them. in fact, i remember wondering if having/hosting retreats was something that i could do full-time. i still wonder that, and i hope to actually incorporate that into my business as i grow it.

you would come + have a retreat with me, wouldn’t you?

retreats are powerful. they are very intentional times set aside for soul work. for connecting with ourselves and whatever divine, sacred, beautiful connection we have with the universe. they give us a chance to slow down, to listen, to learn, to  unplug, and to dive inward.


retreats are like climbing a mountain and standing there, on top, gazing out in awe of everything that lays out before you. they are filled inspiring, soul-filling moments. chances to refuel, realign, reassess. they get us out of our everyday life and our everyday routines.

of course, when we think of a retreat, we think of jaunting off to some cabin in the woods or a monastery in ireland or scotland, or taking a pilgrimage to a little hut somewhere near the holy land, or sitting in a temple in some eastern country, or some cottage by the sea, or even a hotel room in the middle of new york city.

the point is, we often think of going somewhere. somewhere a bit exotic and extremely inspiring.

however, that is not always possible. or even necessary. my retreats with my teenagers that were the most amazing, were ones that we spent in our local church building. we simply gathered in a room and stayed there. we visited the sanctuary some, but other than that, we keep ourselves confined to one room and the kitchen. we didn’t even go outside.

with autumn arriving here in the northern hemisphere, we are all retreating to our homes to nest and snuggle and hunker down before the winter. so, it’s the perfect time for a little retreat i believe. a home retreat.

there is no reason that we cannot celebrate a solitary retreat at home. creating our own schedule, rituals, and routines. it is an opportunity to have a day filled with all of the things that touch our soul, that inspire us, that teach us and keep us in check with who we really are. not to mention, they just give us a time to slow down and really relax. a day of sabbath. of holy rest.


so, how we do a home retreat?

well, first we adhere to some common elements that make up a retreat: aloneness and routine

aloneness: it may be hard to find a way to be alone. for example, in my little apartment, we have a kitchen, a living room, and a hall with a little alcove at one end where we sleep. and there are no doors. the most obvious place for me to be is in our alcove. our bed is large enough that i can study, read, nap, write, meditate and even eat there. it would also be easy to create a little temporary altar beside the bed. of course, i can leave the alcove to prepare tea or use the bathroom. but, the point is that i need to communicate to my wife that i will be spending my day there. in functional silence (meaning that i only speak if there is fire or flood).

i also believe that a retreat day is one that is to be unplugged. no social media. no facebooking or instagramming. for me, writing + photography are ok. but, there is no need to be on the internet. this is a time to be with ourselves.

routine: this retreat is our own to create. therefore, there are no rules at all. it can be a withdrawal from the regular stresses of life, or a day filled with study and reading. it can be a day of mediation or even sleep. it can be a combination of all of these things. or whatever we want. the point is, it is our day to create the space and feeling that our soul most craves. so, it is just to decide what our priority would be. what do we want to focus on?

we decide for ourselves the elements of retreat that are important for us.

for me, there are many things that i could use a retreat for. like reading and learning and taking notes. really soaking up a book. working on editing and choosing photographs for a book i would like to put together. and, while these things sound like working, they are not during the retreat. instead, within the framework of a retreat, they become spiritual practices. everything would be done with a higher level of awareness and mindfulness and intention.

and leaving my little alcove is something that i would also enjoy doing. leaving for a long walk outside, or a bike ride. something done in silence. a chance to photograph + just be in nature.

other than aloneness + routine, though, the retreat becomes whatever we want and need it to be. thus creating a very intimate retreat experience.

so, here’s a little example of what i am thinking about right now:

6:30a – 7:30a    Meditation
730a – 8a          Breakfast
8a -11a              Reading session
11a – 1:30p      Photography walk + lunch break
1:30p – 2:30p  Nap
2:30p – 3:30p  Photography book planning
3:30p – 4p        Fika break (coffee/tea)
4p – 5p             Meditation
5p -7p               Read, study, write
7p-8p                Dinner
8p – 930p        More study
930p – 10p     Closing practice

while it seems that there is a lot packed in and i am not just being, actually this is me spending time doing exactly what i want. fulfilling those things that fill my soul. it’s not about feeling the need to do something that i should do in order to have a proper retreat in the eyes of anyone else. instead this is all about listening to what i need and crave in my life at this moment in time.

meditate mexican blanket

and, there is always a desire + a place for retreats that we pay for, that take us way out of our regular days and place us in the midst of other pilgrims or in exotic, beautiful places.

 i know that a home retreat, even though it doesn’t require travel or money, is not a completely easy thing to make happen. we have families, jobs, small spaces. but, with some creative planning, i believe that we can find a way to make it happen. just one day from morning to night. if you’re lucky, you may even plan a whole weekend or a week. a weekend is most definitely something that i would like to plan to do within the next 12 months. but, no matter how long or short, planning a retreat is planning a special time for just you and your spirit.

here are a few tips to help you plan your home retreat:

1. limit your communication with your family/partner/children/people you may come in contact with. If you cannot go completely silent because of responsibilities (not because you don’t want to. hehe.), then only talk in the morning and in the evening. try to only let your soul speak to you.

2. unplug. you have got to unplug. do not answer your phone. do not text. turn off your notifications. better yet, just leave your phone somewhere else. if you will be writing on your computer, turn off notifications and limit your use to a document app. no surfing. promise me.

3. make your space yours. clean. neat. separate. gather all of the things that you will need throughout the day: journals, pens, camera, books, candles, headphones, blankets, sweaters…

4. decide on your retreat priorities. what do you want your day to look like? what are the things you need, that speak to your soul? what are you missing in your life? keep it simple. Don’t try to do everything. focus, and know that you can plan another retreat soon.

5. prepare for your meals in advance. be basic. be light. be healthy. but, don’t start something new. just go with things you love. and keep it simple and relaxing. and of course, if you take medications, keep taking them while on retreat.

6. step away if you want. you can leave your retreat space, especially if your retreat is longer than few days. take a walk, go to the grocery store or gym.  if you do leave, try to stay as quiet and as mindful as possible. listen only to the natural sounds around you. keep your responses brief. parties and dates are not meant to be part of this day, of course. this day is all about you.

7. this is the most important part: create a schedule + stick to it. it may sound boring and confining, but it will set your free. and if you want free time, schedule it in. but, make sure you stick to your schedule, other wise you will wander off track, lose focus, and miss the magic of the retreat.

8. lastly, there is no need for guilt. you and i deserve this. this is all about learning how to become better us’es. there is so much within us  – so much power, inspiration, love, peace. and choosing to create a home retreat is simply us taking care of ourselves, our souls. it’s a day that gives us freedom, that reminds us who we really are + what we really want, that inspires us and prepares us to be used out in the world. so, really, you think it’s all about you. but, it’s not. it’s all about loving and living and making a difference.

challenge yourself. do this. i am. my retreat day is scheduled for saturday, the 14th of november. it’ll be good + dark in sweden then. most likely rainy. and a perfect day to be inside – literally + figuratively. care to join me in your own retreat in your own home?

leave me a comment below if you’d like to join in and create your own retreat. and, of course, let me know if you have any questions/need any guidance. (a few ideas + suggestions inspired by this post.)

onwards + upwards xoxo

finding our way in the dark: a solar eclipse + a new moon

it’s dark outside right now.

not literally, of course, because i am typing this on saturday morning and, though it’s cloudy, the sun is up and my apartment is filled with a soft, gray light. but, it is a dark weekend. dark because we have a new moon and a solar eclipse happening throughout these 2 days.

and even though sometimes the dark can be scary, this time it promises big changes. uncertainty + confusion, yes. but, big changes that can help us find our true path. 


during a new moon, there is no moon to see in the night sky. it seems as if it doesn’t even exist, but it is there. the hidden moon is often seen a symbol of new beginnings. which makes sense. after this weekend, the moon begins to reappear slowly in the dark night sky, one little sliver at a time until it grows into our next full moon in two weeks. the dark new moon sky is just the beginning of the journey toward the full moon. out of the darkness comes light.

a solar eclipse is that crazy cosmic experience that occurs when the moon moves in between the earth + the sun, making it seem like that sun disappears completely for a few minutes. this solar eclipse happened in the early morning on sunday, and most of us will not likely see it. it’s only visible from south africa, antarctica and locations in indian and atlantic oceans this time.

but that doesn’t mean that we won’t feel the affects of it.

so with the combination of the new moon (which means no moon is visible at night) + the solar eclipse (which means the sun is hidden), we will have magical energies swirling about us. new beginnings are happening. powerful, supercharged, and life affirming.


photo from here

and if we slow down just enough, we may see that things are actually changing in our lives. we may feel the shift. feel the power. it may feel amazing and scary all at the same time. but, if we can just find the courage to surrender to it… if we can just let go and let god, if we can just trust the universe + ourselves, if we can let ourselves patiently feel about in the darkness, then we will soon see that a whole new way of living is opening up to us.It’s been two weeks

i, for one, am experiencing just this.

since the last full moon two weeks ago, my life has had some major changes. some that i have shared (my new photography job and my meditation training class)) + some that will be shared in the next week or so. let me just reassure you, life is not the same for me at all. the past two weeks have been ridiculously eventful. and honestly, it is wonderful and scary – because i never imagined any of these things happening in the ways that they did. and yet, i’ve been planning and praying and hoping for them all in one way or another.  i am overwhelmed and grounded. and a part of me feels as if i am groping around in the dark right now. not knowing what comes next, but also knowing that everything is exactly as it should be. there is a quiet calm in my soul, even in the midst of all of the uncertainty + changes.


i was just talking with a friends last night about how often times in life, things rarely turn out how we imagine that they will. or even hope that they will. and that can be frightening and nerve-racking. but, trusting in the flow of the universe and aligning our lives with who we know we are called to be, will ensure that we are on the right path – even if at times it seems off course,  completely dark, or a totally different journey than we had planned.

looking back, i can always see that life has made some crazy turns, all leading me to the place + the moment where i find myself right now. and with that knowledge, i can let go. i can surrender. and i can trust that the energy that i feel swirling around me right now, though it is both uncomfortable + exciting, is precisely the energy that i need to take me to the next level, the next phase of my life.


while the darkness may symbolize stumbling + fumbling around, it is often in the midst of this darkness that we find ourselves.

why is that? perhaps it’s because it is here that we are the most vulnerable. it is here that we have no other choice than to keep on keeping on. we have nothing else to rely on but ourselves, and there is nothing else to do but forge ahead. somehow, in the dark, in order to survive, we find the courage and confidence to move forward. and that is the only way to go actually. we begin to trust in the present moment, because that is all we can see. and we find our way as we travel along, surrendering and trusting only the present moment. not worrying about the future because finding our way right now in the darkness is all we can do.

but, focusing on the present moment is exactly all that we need to do. one step at a time. one moment at a time. one day at a time.

the darkness shows us who we are right now. we can leave behind who we were. we can kiss goodbye all of the old ways of living and being, and look to our future. it is time to look towards the new beginnings that are waiting for us. the adventures of the journey that lie ahead. and, because of where we have been, because of the darkness of right now, we can courageously forge onwards and upwards.


life is changing fast. i’ll bet that if you look back on the past 3-4 months, you’ll see that you are not the same person at all. and while, what lies ahead is totally uncertain, there is something that is deep within that makes us feel grounded, secure, and excited about what is to come. somewhere along the way, we have learned to trust the darkness. we have learned to balance both the fear + the thrill of life.

this weekend of cosmic darkness just may be exactly what we needed to help us realize that we are embarking on a brand new phase of our lives. new beginnings are all around us. there is no time for pausing and reflecting, we are now moving into a season of action that has already begun, a path of truth and adventure that we are already on. we already know where we want to go, how we want life to be. now, it’s time to let it manifest. it won’t happen immediately, because all of life is that journey to becoming who we are truly meant to be. but, right now, for the next little bit of our lives, perhaps we have the opportunity to make a huge step in our journey, in our quest to live an authentic life.

hold on, my friends, it will not be dark forever. anything is possible and life is ready to take us for a ride. to give us a whole new perspective and truer way of living. out of the darkness + into the light.

 onwards + upwards!! xoxo

the magic of sweden’s simplicity.

i’m not sure if this was my fourth year or my fifth year of having the joy of being part of the annual camp at skeppsgården in sweden, but it doesn’t really matter. every year is exactly the same and completely different all at the same time. it’s very much like my reynolds family beach week tradition that my family in the states has had for about 29 years now.

the camp at skeppsgården was started many many years ago by the methodist church in sweden, and it is a place available for people to come and enjoy the simplicity and beauty of the swedish archipelago (islands by the sea) and the beauty of gathering with friends & family year after year. lina’s grandfathers, both methodist ministers like my grandfather, were a part of beginning this week-long tradition of renting the camp for their congregations and friends/family year ago, and the tradition and been passed on and carried down by lina’s parents and family.

skeppsgården, for lina, is that thing that has been a constant in her life for as long as she can remember (she was only 6 weeks old when she at tented her first week in 1984). and while i’ve only been a part of it for 4 or 5 years, i feel that history and connection, and i can understand it very well, because of my family’s own traditions. so, now i have my family’s beach week tradition of 29 years and lina’s family’s camp tradition – both constants in my life.

it’s so important to have these places and people and times in our lives, i believe. they give us (me) a sense of grounding. a reminder of who we are – and that, even when life changes and moves on, there is a ritual, a sacred space, a certain, special spot that touches our soul like nothing else.

so, skeppsgården has become a place like that for me. my first year there i had no idea what was going on, what people were saying, or anything about anything. it was all so, well, foreign. then, there came a few years that i “worked” the camp, seeing as i was one of the ministers that was to led some of the group discussions/worship services. and this year, after being away from sweden for an entire year, it felt as if i had come home. this year, skeppsgården was my home. i now have my own traditions, feelings, memories, and special places that are tucked away in my heart. i know the people, i can speak the language. what i am saying is, this place is now a part of me. i am not just a participant or observer, but i belong.

and that, my friends, is amazing. i give thanks, once again, for the beauty of having two places, two countries that i call home.

now, it’s time for me to finally share with you some photos of this magical, beautiful place – where life is simple and easy and all about community. enjoy!

DSC_0342 skeppsgården water archipelago water sweden path camp teenagers dock summer archipelago canoeing archipelago sunset archipelago rowing archipelago oar archipelago lina rowing oar archipelago sunset archipelago our room archipelago trees sunshine skeppsgården house gula huset skeppsgården tree archipelago cabins archipelago stuga gula huset archipelago skeppsgården path archipelago archipelago archipelago archipelago flowers boat archipelago archipelago campfire sunset archipelago market skeppsgården market skeppsgården market skeppsgården market skeppsgården market skeppsgården market skeppsgården maggie market skeppsgården anders market skeppsgården ego selfie me sunset archipelago sweden sunset archipelago sweden sunset archipelago sweden sunset archipelago sweden sunset archipelago sweden sunset archipelago sweden candle tips promenade sweden trees tips promenade tips promenade me sunset archipelago sweden ego me sunset archipelago sweden sunset archipelago sweden full mooon sunset archipelago sweden me sunset archipelago sweden sunset archipelago sweden full moon sunset archipelago sweden friends

here’s to wishing you a sacred place (or two) of your own, where you can just be who you are, where you can connect with your soul and others, and where you can feel at one with the nature that surround you.

peace and love.

40 days in a cathedral: week 3

i did it, friends. i made it to the cathedral/basilica every day this week. being committed and following through is such a powerful feeling. there were no major personal revelations or anything, but it was a chance to experience the joy of solitude in the midst of community. let me explain…


on monday i decided that i would head over to the little chapel off to the right of the sanctuary. it is a very intimate space, with only 4 chairs set up – two on either side of a walkway – facing an altar. there is also a bench behind the chairs. there are candles all around the little chapel, and i’ve come to understand that people use this space more than any other place in the sanctuary for individual devotion and prayer.

i must say that i felt a bit awkward walking up to the chapel, wondering where i was going to sit. i didn’t want to invade anyone’s personal space. and i didn’t want people judging me because not only do i sit quietly, but i take photos as well (obviously). anyway, i snagged one of the two chairs on the right side. there was a woman in one of the chairs to the left, and a woman at the little altar in front of her. directly to my right there were some pillar candles burning, and i hoped that i wouldn’t set the whole place on fire as i peeled off my jacket and scarf.


i sat down in the chair and began snapping a few photos of the space. on a little kneeling bench in front of me, something caught my eye. it was a purple and white plastic rosary. just left there, hanging right in front of me. taking it as a sign, i picked it up from its place and held it in my hand, twirling the beads through my fingers as i meditated.

as i held the beads and thought about many of you, i realized that my uncomfortable-ness at being so close to others wasn’t weird or strange at all. in fact, those moments of personal solitude in the presence of others who were also having their own moments of solitude, was a powerful, bonding moment. there was a silent energy moving between us, a spirit of love and connectedness, simply because we were humans seeking silence and peace together. and then, the idea of sharing that space with others became a beautiful gift.


the theme of a community of silent meditators continued into tuesday. when i opened to door to the basilica, i heard a voice and i realized that i entered in the middle of a service (they have daily mass around noon). i slipped quietly into a back pew and listened. it took only a few minutes before the priest began reciting the liturgy for holy communion. as a christian, i knew that i could take part, but i decided to stay in my seat. not as a refusal of this ritual, but more as a continuation of my reasoning for entering the basilica every day – for meditation and silence. it was still quite powerful to observe and quietly be a part of this community. what a great change from my regular routine.


i admit that i began this little lenten journey with the hopes of finding some discipline within myself which would ultimately lead to some sort of transformation or growth. and i still think about that – it’s still a goal. but, ultimately, that meant that i was thinking only of myself.

on wednesday, my whole idea/purpose of this 40 day challenge changed. i entered the sanctuary and headed to the chapel to the left, the chapel dedicated to mary, mother of jesus. it’s a place where i feel the power of women – like some sort of solidarity. i sat down in a chair and before i knew it, another woman sat down right beside me in the other chair (there are only 2). we are very close to each other, and yet we never really acknowledged one another. still, it was comforting and amazing. seeing her devotion. wondering why she was there. and then, just sharing that space with her.


it was then, in that silence as i meditated through my list of intercessions for others, that i realized something… this 40 day journey is not about me. it’s about you all. it’s about others. it’s about the fact that you and i and everyone else are all connected. it about learning to love and think of others. it’s about how to support one another – whether we know each other or not, whether we even know what’s going on with each other. it’s simply about being present with each other. in mind and in spirit.


thursday was the first day of spring. and guess what greeted me when i walked up to the basilica? a cute little birdie landed on the church’s sign just as i passed. such a perfect greeting, i thought.

i opened the door and walked in and was struck by the complete silence. i know that this place is silent every day, but this was different. it was poignant. usually there is some murmuring going on, or people walking, or some kind of little bit of busy noise. but, today, there was nothing. utter, total silence. and it was beautiful.

i slid into a pew bench toward the back and noticed that the sun streaming in the east stained-glass windows. with the silence and the sun, today, the basilica felt like home. and my soul was filled with peace and comfort.


friday was the total opposite of thursday. i walked in and right away saw about 6 people sitting in a back pew bench, with  – since the basilica is in the middle of downtown and is a unique architectural building, it is a popular tourist spot. there was a man standing in front of the bench talking. it was immediately obvious that it was a tour. the man spoke with a regular conversational volume, which meant that his voice carried through the entire basilica, bouncing off the round walls. and, while his voice was loud, it was not disturbing. i found my place, sat down, and enjoyed the moments. however, i was a bit distracted every now and then because the tour guide was sharing some pretty interesting information. still, i found a nice balance between focusing on my meditation and listening to the guide. more than anything, though, i was happy to share the space with others.

at the end of the week, i felt so inspired, realizing that the entire week had been one that i spent alone in the basilica; and yet, i was never actually alone. what a powerful thing it is for us to be in community with one another. thinking of you all… and wishing you a beautiful, lovely sunday.

namaste. xx


40 days in a cathedral: week two

“we cannot become what we want to be remaining what we are.” – max depree

lent is the time for confessions. and i’ve got a doozy…

i did not go to the cathedral one single time this week. that’s right. not once did i darken the doors of that beautiful space. but, i have some good reasons – i mean, excuses. because that’s what i need when i mess up, right? excuses. oh, screw the excuses. i admit my failures. here’s the simple truth:  i just confess that i did not go. i did not make it a priority.

here are my excuses:

  1. guests: we had german friends visiting and were all over the mountains around asheville doing touristy things all day long, so i wasn’t downtown and couldn’t get to the cathedral. but, i still took time at home, or wherever i was, and did some very focused lenten meditating and praying. i did not forget those of you whose names and wishes are on my lenten list.
  2. spring break: after the german visitors left mid-week, i could have (should have) made time to go to the cathedral, but i didn’t. i used lina’s spring break as an excuse for the interruption in my routine, or my secret reason to stay home. i still took part in lenten acts of devotion and silence, though. i promise. i did not fail completely.


so, yes. i am disappointed in myself. but, i am also ok with myself because i did continue to read/focus/meditate/contemplate. was it as good as it should have been? no. but, it was something. i attribute this week’s “cathedral” time as being contemplative in the world – not pulling away, but being in the midst of the world. of course, that is a good thing. but, it is also not the ultimate point of a lenten journey. the idea is to pull away. and to be dedicated to that promise/challenge. to spend time alone in the wilderness. and that i did not do.

i suppose that this is the nature of journeys. everything is so exciting and fun in the beginning. everything is new and there is no lack of enthusiasm. it’s always such joy and an adventure to start something new!

but, as time passes, when it gets down to business, everything gets a little boring, mundane, and/or challenging. it’s easy to just make little adjustments and slack off. it’s easy to make excuses and forget the real intention of the beginning of the journey because it just seems too difficult.

however, if we hold on through the difficult and challenging times, there will be a time when we settle into the routine. there will come a time when we accept what is and then begin to thrive and grow. and we will realize that, because we pushed through, we will be changed.


that’s the beauty of the lenten journey, of any journey. there is always transformation at the end for those of us who hang on and push through. oh, yes, there will be mistakes and failures. but, those are the points where we learn and grow. a journey that is easy and perfect would not actually be a journey at all.

so, i embrace my failures this week and i celebrate my accomplishments. this is my confession. i lay it down and leave it here. i need you to receive it, for there is no confession done in isolation. i ask for forgiveness from you, from the Universe, and from myself.  and i recommit myself to my original plan of devotion. lord, be with us.

onward, my friends! namaste.

40 days in a cathedral: week one


it’s only been three days and i already feel quite settled into my little lenten practice. to read more about how i chose the practice of visiting a cathedral for 40 days in lent read yesterday’s post here.

i’m not really sure yet how i want to share with you all my experiences. i have decided to post every saturday in lent, reflecting on the past week (or in today’s case, three days). other than that, i know nothing. i suppose i will just let it come. i am taking photos every day and spednign some time writing while i am there. so, i’ll let my images and words lead the way, trusting that i’ll know if i want to just share the photos, or if i want to write a lot. it all depends on the experiences and inspiration i feel.

so, let’s get on with the first week!


day one

i had no idea that this was going to be a 40 day challenge on ash wednesday, my first day. i just went in so i could have somewhere to spend a few moments in silence as a way to mark the beginning of my lenten journey.

IMG_9782it was while i sat in the cathedral, in the silence, and yet part of a community of individuals who had all gathered for one reason or another, that i felt the challenge rise up out of me. it just came to me. and it felt right. so, on that first day, i committed myself to returned every day, monday through friday from now until good friday (april 18).

IMG_9789i also thought a bit about my mortality – which is what we focus on on ash wednesday. it’s a great day to ask some questions:

  • am i living my life to the fullest?!
  • am i living as fully as possible as who I am, true to myself?
  • how should i best live?
  • am i connected to that spirit that connects us all?
  • how can i best be true to me and my calling/destiny/dreams?
  • how can i best love and serve others?

day 2

IMG_9835i arrived midday and there was a noticeable difference. while there was no service going on, there were people everywhere. a few groups of 4 or 5 people. individuals. tourists. it was still silent, but that was a little buzz of activity and voices. it felt very active and alive. i sat down in the pew, but i soon felt drawn to the far left corner down front, a little to the side, off of the sanctuary. i saw candles burning and without hesitation, i gathered my things and went to  this little chapel area.

IMG_9834i was first struck by a statue of a woman. it read “fatima” on a engraving beneath the woman. and then, as i looked around, there were images of women all around me. it felt powerful. holy. divine. i stood in front of the fatima statue for a while, and then moved to a chair in front of an altar. sitting there, i realized that i heard a woman’s voice, singing the lyrics, “no turning back, no turning back.” it was a woman working in a room off of the chapel, someone who was part of the congregation i suppose. i never saw her emerge from whatever room she was in, though. she just sang as i sat by the altar. so peaceful.

i wondered what the message might be that i might be receiving. but, i don’t know what it is yet. i am certain, though, that something will be revealed.

i turned back to the statue of fatima, bowed to her, and then turned and left. completely inspired. knowing that this little corner in the sanctuary is a place i will return to during my challenge. there is much more for me there.

(fatima is a title for the Blessed Virgin Mary based on reported apparitions to three shepherd children at FátimaPortugal, on the thirteenth day of six consecutive months in 1917, beginning on May 13. lúcia , one of the children, described seeing a woman “brighter than the sun, shedding rays of light clearer and stronger than a crystal goblet filled with the most sparkling water and pierced by the burning rays of the sun”. it is believed that the visions of mary hold secrets, callings, and inspiration).

day 3

day three was friday. it was very, very quiet in the cathedral. there were people scattered about, but all were sitting, standing, or walking individually.


my intention was to do the stations of the cross on fridays, but when i sat down, i didn’t think of it… until, I looked forward and saw some white shadow boxes on the walls. turning around, I realized that they went all the way around me, in a circle. and that there were 14. these were the stations of the cross, the story of good friday, of jesus’ betrayal and execution before me.

so, I got up from my pew bench and made my way down front, looked up to the left and assumed it would be the first station. it was. so I spent about 20 min walking around the circular sanctuary looking up at each one of the 14 shadowboxes. one at a time. letting the story sink into me, open to hearing whatever the universe wanted to say to me.
what I heard in my soul, as I looked at the statues of jesus walking, falling, helping, and walking again, as he was led to his execution was a reminder to never give up, to never give in. in the midst of all of life, to always extend a hand to others, to always love extravagantly. to be true to my calling, to always fight for who i am.

i noticed a man in the chapel to the right of the sanctuary. sitting in a chair, quietly, and alone. as I was at the last station, he got up to leave and I noticed he was crippled, dragging his right leg behind him and unable to use his right arm. he was of hispanic origin. as he made his way down the center aisle to leave, he turned and walked between two pews just to the left of me (I was now sitting in my pew bench again on the right side of the aisle). and then I realized something…


while I had been circling the stations of the cross, I noticed a crutch leaning up against the wall. i snapped a photo of it because it was so simple and yet so poignant. this man that  I watched, was going to get his crutch on the way out.

I turned back to the front of the sanctuary from my seat and my eyes began to tear up. and it hit me strongly… everyone here is seeking something. we all are seeking something, aren’t we?.
the clock in the bell tower struck 11 and I finished up my meditation time. yes, I have come to seek something myself. I suppose it is to seek to nurture my connection with the divine, which lives within each of us.
today, i feel that i have done just that. and it has been amazing. I walked. listened. watched. felt. i’ve been comforted and inspired. i am certain that these 40 days in a cathedral will be a beautiful gift of inner reflection, which will lead to an outer transformation.

namaste. xx

40 days in a cathedral

there are two spiritual seasons of the year that i love. (background note: i grew up within the christian faith, so i recognize that i see everything through that lens, though i celebrate and observe and include other faiths and spiritualities in my personal spiritual life practices). these two favorite seasons of mine are not your ordinary seasons. they are what christians refer to as penitential seasons = reflective, somewhat somber, quiet, and contemplative. which, of course, is why i love them.

i’m talking about advent (the four weeks before christmas) and lent (the six-ish weeks before easter). i love that these times of year are like mini-spiritual-pilgrimages. of course, there are other religions that celebrate pilgrimages (literally and figuratively) within their faith. in fact, most faiths do. think: native americans & ancient greeks sending boys out to survive on their own as a right of passage to becoming men. think: muslim journeys to mecca. or hindu journeys to the interior world. or christians pilgrimages on the el camino de santiago.

pilgrimages are essential to life, i believe. it’s like going off the grid, spiritually speaking. whether it is a physical trip to a faraway land for a few weeks of walking and journeying, or an emotional/mental/spiritual trip to your innermost being for a few moments every day for a few weeks, it is a time to focus and reflect. a time to be challenged. to get out of your comfort zone. to confront your fears and demons. to listen to your soul. to connect with your self. and to be transformed. we can always use a little self-reflection, i believe. for, what is life, if not one great, amazing, journey of discovery and love?

as i realized that the season of lent was approaching, i began thinking about how i was going to celebrate this year. i remembered that this past advent has been the most inspiring advent i had every experienced, so i looked back through my blog to discover why and here’s what i found:

“this has been the most spiritual, meaningful, powerful, and disciplined advent season i have ever experienced. interestingly, i did not step foot in a church or take part in any other organized religion’s activity the entire time. what i did do was devote at least 30 minutes every morning to myself for reading, writing, reflecting, and/or meditating. that time every day was perhaps one of the greatest gifts i received this christmas.”

black bird this week, lent actually began. and i didn’t decided how to observe my lenten practice until the last minute.

suddenly it was wednesday. ash wednesday – the beginning of lent, a day to confront and ponder our mortality, a day to question if we are living our lives to the fullest, being the best being that we can be, to ourselves and the world.

even though it was the beginning of lent, i still had no idea how i would celebrate. panic! i had not found any great thing to read that would be inspiring. so, repeating what i did in december was out of the question. i decided to just let life show me. since it was ash wednesday, i didn’t want to go to any ash wednesday service, but i felt pulled to sit in a sanctuary of some sort. so, i did.

basilica of saint lawrence

there is a cathedral in downtown asheville. the basilica of saint lawrence. it was completed in 1909 by Rafael Guastavino, a spanish architect who emigrated to the states in 1881 and came to asheville to work on the biltmore house. he liked the area so much that he bought land nearby and built a house. he ended up working in the states on many buildings including, grand central station and carnegie hall in nyc, and the breathtaking duke chapel in durham, nc. the basilica (a term given to a special cathedral because of their antiquity, dignity, and historical importance) in asheville is beautiful, amazing, and is now listed as a national historic site.

it is a catholic cathedral, holding mass twice a day, everyday. now, i’m not catholic, but i don’t discriminate – as you probably understand by now. i knew that the basilica was open all day, every day for prayer, meditation, confession, and as a tourist place. so, anyone is free to come and go as they please – how holy places should be, i believe. so, on wednesday, i decided to go in.

i sat in a pew bench and just soaked in the beauty and the silence. a few people milled about or sat silently. the longer i was quiet, the more my soul felt at peace. and then it came to me… i was going to come here for the next 40 days, throughout lent.

so, welcome to my 40 days in a cathedral challenge.

i found it interesting that this time i felt the pull to do the complete opposite of what i did in advent ( = go into a church). but, i am not using it to attend services, i am using in the building as a sacred space, and as a challenge to myself to visit every day (monday-friday) throughout lent. for me, god is not a building, but within each of us. i simply use the building as a place to be still. to focus. to reflect. to listen.

my plan is to share this journey with y’all in two different ways:

  1. if, you are instagram, you can follow my journey daily. i will take a photo every day and post it with the hashtag #40daysinacathedral.
  2. but, i will also post a summary of my week here on the blog every saturday.  check back tomorrow, to see my thoughts and reflections for my first 3 days of lent in the cathedral.

for now, i will close with the thought that, though this is my solo pilgrimage, i am so thankful for each of you. i do not feel alone. i feel the presence of the people around me as i sit in the cathedral, but i also carry your presence, dear readers, with me every day i enter and sit down. there are many of you that i think of personally. i say your name in my head, or i close my eyes and send you peace and positive energy.

i have an invitation for you, friends. i want you to know that, if you have anything you would like for me to take with me, to meditate on or just think about during my daily time in the cathedral, please let me know. email me at elre74 at yahoo dot com and share your thoughts, needs, prayers, wishes, dreams, hopes, fears. you may also just leave a comment below. you most definitely don’t have to be religious or spiritual. you don’t even have to believe in anything at all. i will simply surround you with my thoughts; good, peaceful, positive thoughts. i promise that i will simply carry you with me throughout lent. having a community of support, being part of a community of support is all that this is about.

so, my journey begins. i hope that you will feel welcome to follow along. or to even begin a journey of your own – to celebrate life, yourself, the changing of the seasons, and the power of love to transform any & everything.

namaste, lovely people. xx