My journey with Gaslighting & Establishing Healthy Boundaries

This morning I woke up at 4:30 a.m. and couldn’t sleep. It was my favorite sleeping weather. Just love the sound of the rain hitting the roof. Yet when you have epiphanies and inspiration, at least for me, they tend to come. You can fight it, or you can work with it. This morning in the early hours, I had the inspiration and knew I wanted to share because it could help others.

Gaslighting. The term “gaslighting” came from a 1944 movie by that name. I recently experienced gaslighting. I have in the past too. I think it came up because as an empath – someone who literally “feels” the emotions of others, has incredible intuition, who can “read between the lines” and who likes to be of service to and help others, and express and embody unconditional love without judgment – it makes one more susceptible to the behavior. As an empath, it’s time for me to learn how to set appropriate and healthy boundaries around gaslighting behavior. That’s why this happened. A nice, juicy opportunity to bite into and exam, and then learn how to create new boundaries. Being a life coach can be so fun – we get to coach ourselves! Live it to give it.

Gaslighting is a source of manipulation, but it’s worse than regular ‘ole manipulation. It is worse because it literally is trying to change reality, change someone else’s reality – a literal rewrite of history or experience. It often comes couched with intense anger and attack. The explosive anger that especially as an empath knocks you completely off-guard. That is exactly what it’s designed to do. Knock you off guard and distract from and reprogram the situation.

Someone is angry at you because of issues of guilt they have. You might have done something or shared something that then “triggered” something in them, even if it wasn’t anything you did wrong. The other person cannot face something, and you hitting their trigger forces them to look at it. They can’t handle that. They project onto you. But more than that, they then gaslight you.

They tell you that you are crazy, they tell you that you are disturbed, you’re weird, no one else they’ve ever known has felt the way you do. No one else in their life of vast and knowing experience or in human history has ever acted or behaved the way you do or did. They rewrite the facts to cover up something they did that they can’t face, and your reality becomes expendable. They do this subtly over time, slowly, to where you don’t notice at first, and to where they literally start to believe their own press and their rewritten story, and then attach more “righteous” anger to it. They are the victim, always. It’s not them. It’s not their fault.

A LPC friend told me this week that every time a memory is retrieved it is changed, even subtly, and add some intention and guilt and shame over it, and it is changed more. Then the next time the memory comes up and something is triggered, they rewrite it and change it even more. That was fascinating to me. So memories don’t stay in a perfect box each time we look at them, and when you combine it with someone who cannot handle a memory as it damages their ego self (ego in a psychological way, not a bad way), then there is a great deal of revision taking place.

Then they tell their story with the rewritten facts, with their spin, to others to gain support for their narrative, and then they use the “others” against you as a weapon. The “others” think you’re crazy too. The “others” think your weird, or nuts, or whatever. The “others” think you boil bunnies. (just love to say that, lol! Included the link for the younger folks who never saw the movie Fatal Attraction) Etc. and so on. They don’t talk to you first. They go to someone else to build their case before they talk to you, to further blindside you. They rewrite and create their case first so they have it wrapped up to use against you to stop you from doing whatever it is you feel or said or did because they cannot handle it. Many times, it is because they cannot handle their own emotions of guilt and shame. Again, projection, so they shame you. And then they react to you as if you are shameful.

This is a massive violation of trust. By the time you’re in the conversation, you feel confused, disoriented, asking yourself is this really happening? Why is this person so mad at me? Then you realize. They really aren’t mad at you. They are mad at themselves. They cannot stand their own guilt and shame over their behavior, so they make it about you. You made it up. It never happened like that. You’re crazy. It’s disturbing. You’re weird. You boil bunnies.

I dated a man for two years when I was earning my MBA on the side. I graduated in 1996. It was July 1995. He had been gaslighting me. I was so busy taking over my department at work – youngest ever to do it – and working on my MBA that I didn’t notice he was slowly eroding my faith in myself, my own judgment, what I knew to be true and my own reality – and what was true reality. One night I went out with a friend. He didn’t like it. He was always jealous. He showed up at my house, had a friend drop him off after they went out, was in my house when I got home (I stupidly had given him a key) and was mad that I was drunk….in my own damn house. Lol. It wasn’t funny at the time though. Then he walked home. I’ve fuzzed out some of the details over the many years – and that’s something that can happen anyway in gaslighting. It twists reality so much that you end up by the time a conversation is over not remembering how you got there in the first place. I remember that feeling vividly.

His name was Jason. He was mad. The next morning, I called my work voicemail, even though it was a weekend, and he knew this was the first thing I did every morning. He had called my work and left me a voice mail breaking up with me on my work voicemail. I was shocked. I was upset. He and I had talked about marriage, said we loved each other, and this was out of the blue. He did it to gain control over me. Already I had withdrawn a great deal from my friends given his gaslighting behavior, yet I still had them, and I still was a strong enough person. But I was not at all strong enough at that point to walk away, even though as soon as I got him back later that day, I knew it was the beginning of the end. I couldn’t take anymore change at that point.

We continued to date, but things had shifted. I “knew” what he had done. He had been emotionally abusive throughout our whole relationship. I began to talk to my friends, tell them what things had happened. They told me what they had already seen on their own and were just waiting for me to talk to them about it. He was the classic narcissistic example. When I began to distance myself, he conveniently got “sick” with some mysterious disease.

During this time, a funny story, he had told me that when we were married he was going to buy a BMV. He, not we. Keep in mind I made a lot more coin than he did, so it was rather ironic. He couldn’t have afforded a beamer if his ass depended on it! He said that he would drive his company car during the week and that he’d drive the BMW on the weekend. I asked, what am I going to drive then, the company car? He said no, you can’t drive the company car. His intention was for me to be car-less. And as if I could not buy my own car anyway. I filed this away.

After Christmas, so about six months later, I gave him back all the things he gave me, told him he could keep what I had given him, I wrote a check to him for a tennis bracelet he had bought me and then I promptly exchanged the bracelet to “cleanse” the whole thing. I broke up with him. Then he stalked me. Full out. I called the cops. They talked to him. The stalking stopped. (I later had several other men stalk me – those I’ve dated, those I haven’t dated, men I don’t even know, etc. Always an adventure!)

What did I do? I went out on a weekend on a whim and bought a BMW – because I could. Satisfying. And I swore that would never happen to me again.

Looking at things now, I see it clearly with a spiritual group leader and entire group I was in – a concerted organizational attack of gaslighting. The attempt to deliberately shift reality, to rewrite history, to tell me and everyone else that I was “crazy and dangerous” – true cult-esque behavior. Of course, I left that group several years ago, and I have flourished with my own non-profit. I never knew until this morning, thanks to this experience this week, that the organization had gaslighted me. I see it so clearly now.

I see it with a past supervisor at a non-profit with the manipulations after they found out I was looking for a gig and how they behaved when my Mom was in the hospital. I walked away in both of those cases, definitely the right choice. Yet that is not always the right answer. I’ve experienced it now with a dear friend, though of course, not to the degree of the other experiences. I will not walk away from my friend. My friend is a good person in the core and someone I highly value in my life and hope to for years to come.

Your feelings are your feelings. You do not need to explain them or justify them. Your feelings aren’t wrong or bad. They may be inconvenient for someone, but they are not wrong or bad. If someone attacks you for your feelings, or tries to tell you that you have feelings that you don’t, it’s not about you – it’s about them. The Four Agreements – “don’t take things personally.” If you have a conversation where you feel it’s surreal and you stepped into an alternative universe – that is exactly what happened!! You did!! Because it is an alternate reality, with rewritten facts by the other person for them to gain a feeling of control and feel better or find safety for themselves. That’s why they call it a “defense” mechanism. It happened to me this week.

However, truly, it is not always deliberate. I believe the case with Jason was deliberate. I believe the case at the former non-profit was deliberate.  I believe the case with the organization was completely deliberate, and there was some intro-projection of grief going on by the group leader (think Mars & The Real Girl – rent it, watch it, learn it, love it! A different brilliant LPC that I consulted with on ministerial issues a few years ago taught me about intro-projection at that time; I wrote a prior blog post that gets into that more).

I believe there are folks that have no idea they do this. My friend has no idea. It doesn’t make them a bad person. It is a defense mechanism, a coping mechanism for themselves. They cannot handle the truth. They cannot face what is within. They are not truly awake and have not done that level of self-work, and do not have that level of self-awareness. They are trying to find safety and feel safe, and to feel safe, they need to have things fit into a neat box. If it’s outside that box, it’s not safe, it’s not in control.

The answer is not to defend yourself. The answer is not to defend your reality. It doesn’t fucking matter what the other person thinks or tries to tell you – what anyone thinks – reality is reality. It’s not a matter of communicating more and finding understanding. Because the conversation isn’t about understanding. The conversation is about control. The person’s need to feel in control. Your normal healthy efforts to communicate and find understanding just don’t work. It actually makes it worse – it allows for you to be manipulated more as you seek to find common ground. Somehow you just end up feeling dirty in the end because you take on stuff that is not yours. That’s an empath problem too – you need to always ask yourself “is this mine or is this theirs/other?”

There is only one response. To do nothing. Do without doing. Respond and do not react. Do not defend. Do not get angry back for the way they treated you for the entire thing. Don’t justify. Don’t explain. Don’t do it. Yeah, so I tried to explain and do the understanding thing. Then I realized after a day or so that through this discussion I had learned some stark new truths about my friend and the situation, quite eye-opening. So now I know. Or if you’ve experienced it too, you now know. Now that I know, I can hold unconditional love and practice healthy boundaries.

The effort is to practice unconditional love and withhold judgment of them. Getting upset or reacting gives away your power – it hurts you and the other person. Recognize they are doing the best they can with the tools they have in their toolbox. Not that it gives them a right to do it, but you can set new boundaries and not allow it in the future – by not engaging. Argument does no good, conflict does no good, trying to get them to see something they clearly are not emotionally prepared to see both will not work and likely could be harmful them and their sense of worth and ego. And I don’t mean “ego” as in a bad way, I mean their ability to cope with their reality. Remember, it is a defense mechanism for a reason.

If you step back, hold it in your hand, become the observer, you can see it and read it like a book. O.k. well then again, I’m an empath so I do read between the lines. But if you really look at it, it’s in the black and white letters, not the between. Interestingly, I did share this with a LPC friend of mine this week. I shared and came up with any culpability I might have in the situation. She really didn’t see any other than sharing my feelings about something, which is not wrong or bad. She immediately named it as gaslighting. I had never said it to her, but I already knew that’s what it was. Naming it helps – a lot!

If it’s bad, you can just walk away. Like I did with Jason. Like I did at the old gig. This time is different than those experiences, and I choose not to. Rather, I choose to know that this dear friend of mine is a deeply flawed human being, who is a good person, who I care for deeply as a friend, and I wish them all the happiness. Not at the expense of my own of course, but all I need to do in this situation is not engage anymore. Yeah, I know, easier said than done, but practice makes the master! Lol. This is my continued life lesson of enforcing healthy boundaries. Now I am at the beginning of understanding a new boundary that needs to be held, and more importantly, how to do it! That’s often the tricky part right there.

Unconditional love does *not* mean unconditional boundaries. Healthy boundaries dictate that it is not o.k. for someone to yell/rage at you. It is not o.k. for someone to throw up smoke screens. It is not o.k. for someone to call you names, deride you, tell you how you would feel or should feel, tell you that you are crazy or to lie or to cheat or to try to make you doubt yourself because they cannot handle what really happened or your feelings or their own. From four different experiences that I shared above, you can see there are as many different levels of response you may choose, just as there are different people in the universe. Each situation is unique.

Knowing your own reality, you do not have to explain it or justify it to anyone. Anyone. You do not need to apologize. You need to be you. Respect yourself. Stand in your integrity. The spirit in me, honors the spirit in you. That kind of thing. It does not mean you give your power away. You just be you. And when it happens again, do not engage. Hold Love…and hold boundaries. Namaste.

Where do you find your inspiration?

Art: Inspiration scifi art for writers

Here’s where I found my inspiration this morning… I booted up the computer to an inspirational video from the gig on the big project I’m working on.

It came from the initial research I did back in January and February. It is amazing to see how things start and where they end up, how it progresses. I think the same can be said for any project, gig or effort in life.

It often starts with the mundane steps. Though “mundane” or “boring” is a story we tell ourselves. In this case, I spent days in the archives (physically and online), and I found an amazing book and researched it as well. Now this brilliant video has been created out of that research by a lot of smart, creative folks, and I can’t wait to share with everyone! It’s one of those things where I can’t wait to see what happens next.

This whole process is a great reminder for life and for all things. Like building my coaching practice, building my business, being an entrepreneur or starting any dream. It first starts from the foundational work, the basics, consistent practice and dedication to showing up.

By showing up, day after day, the magic happens. You can have the magic when you do the work to allow it to happen. Can’t wait to see what happens next!

Grief, the rinse and repeat gift

I just finished listening to a great podcast on grief, betrayal, loss and disappointment by master coach Susan Hyatt.  It was a good reminder for me this morning. I wanted to share it as it could be a good resource for you too.

I’m a life coach, but I can only do this kind of work and help my clients if I help myself first. I’ve done a lot of work in this area for myself and have helped my clients, such as those grieving the death of a child, their spouse and also working through betrayal and divorce. Yet I can also use helpful reminders from others, and I hire coaches myself.

Life it to give it. Do the work.

It’s interesting because I literally now am writing this blog post for the third time as the computer ate it twice. I think that is a great analogy for the grieving process. You go through it in stages, at different times. Life hands you the opportunity to revisit it and go deeper, through a new grieving opportunity.

It sounds weird to call it a grieving opportunity, but really, that’s what it is. Even when you graduate college, or get your masters, there is still more to learn, right? You are never done learning in life. Same here. To me it’s along the idea of a life lesson, and that we are souls in a human body, here to go to a soul school – life.

I am experiencing something that is definitely a “live it to give it” opportunity as we say in coach-speak. About a month ago, my dear friend of 25 years died, and I have been grieving his loss. In the last few years, there was something that came between us, and that makes for a more difficult grieving process and possible lack of the illusive “closure,” even though he was still my dear friend when he died.

There also was not an official ceremony, and I am a big believer in ceremony. Normally I would light a candle myself, pray, relight the candle for a period of days, pray some more. Yet this time when I learned of his death, I was literally on my way out of town. I believe today will be the day for my own ceremony. It’s a grey, rainy day, and the feel of it fits for me. I go by “feel” a lot as an empath.

I also am a clairvoyant/medium, and that provides me with another opportunity for working with my grief when someone I love crosses over. Yet it is still necessary to do this kind of work. Susan’s questions are similar questions I ask myself and similar to the work I do. She include a mantra that I am going to work with in this situation. It is a beautiful mantra, and you may listen to her podcast to learn more.

The other thing about grief is that fresh grief brings up the opportunity to look at other grief. There’s been more for me even just this past year….another friend who died in November, dear friends of 25 years moving to another state (final move was last week), quitting my job a year ago January when my Mom was in the hospital (and more related to that, Mom is fine), losing another gig before it started, illness of my cat, something about a man, etc. This has been quite a year. I have forgiven where that was needed, done that work, yet there is always room for more.

I also have gained so much – like a fabulous new public policy gig that I love, with people that I love, that also gives me the opportunity to begin to really work on my coaching practice and business. I believe there is a reason for everything, even when it does not make sense at the time.

It’s o.k. to pause and give yourself a moment. It’s o.k. to be sad or angry or hurt. Grief happens in its own unique time, and it is different for everyone – just like the pattern of every snowflake is unique. I think as a coach sometimes I focus on story fondling so much – i.e. not to do it – that sometimes I may not give myself enough time, allow myself to be a human, in a human body, having this experience.

I realized last week in grieving my friend’s death and doing the work with a coach, that it raised some things that I have worked on before, to give me the opportunity to go much deeper. Yes, “opportunity.” I mean that sincerely. Opportunity like this isn’t fun, but it’s always good/necessary. Over the last three years, I lost quite a few very dear, close friends, definitely in the manner of betrayal, tied into a former spiritual organization. It was a loss, yet it was also a blessing.

My life is much better now that they are gone, and I am so grateful for that – grateful that they are no longer in my life, that I can “see” and that I have the opportunity to do this work. I am also grateful for the lessons that I learned and what their presence in my life taught me along the way. Yet despite that gratitude, I realized that there is still hurt, sadness and anger at their betrayal and behavior to look at again. Anger is a stage of grief, and it serves as a mask for the root emotions underneath. Susan’s questions in her podcast are similar to ones I have asked myself in similar situations. Her mantra gives a great way to address this, and I intend to work with it here as well.

Last week when Susan put out this podcast, I knew I *had* to listen to it – definitely what I call a synchronicity or a meaningful coincidence. Some folks call them God Winks. Whatever the name, personally I find it is my higher self, my soul self, trying to get me to listen, to go back to school. I finally listened to it, and it’s awesome! I listened to it twice.

Time to rinse and repeat.

For any of you who are experiencing grief, loss or betrayal, this would be a great 10 minutes or less of your life.

Feelings, Emotions & Empaths

Feelings. Sometimes the word scares people. Oh no, that person expresses emotions, they have feelings! Then the judgment sets in. The dreaded they’re too “emotional.” I’ve had others tell me that emotions scare them, that they can’t handle emotions. I’ve heard others described as being too “emotional” or even had myself described that way. But what does that all mean?

What does that mean to not be able to handle emotions? To me it speaks of not being able to handle the emotions within ourselves, first and foremost. If we can’t process our own emotions, how can we handle the emotions of others? It is harder for us to process emotions of others because we can’t process our own.

And more than that, the emotions or feelings of others are not expressed to us always in a state of unconditional love – they can come with strings, with rules, with requirements and expectations and an effort to control us and mold us into what someone else wants. It is not accepting of who and what we are. It seeks to change us. So we can become trained to expect emotions and feelings to come with all that other “stuff” – and that feels bad. True emotion and feelings, when shared without all the added “stuff” or stories and manipulations is such a beautiful gift to share with someone.

But if you’ve never had that, how else are you going to react? What else are you going to expect? Experiencing unconditional love is quite a powerful experience, especially when you receive it romantically for the first time, and learning what it’s like, what it feels like. Pretty incredible stuff.

Many times in our lives the emotions of others may be expressed in an effort to manipulate us, to change us, to get us to be or do what someone else wants. Once you have experienced that over and over, it becomes harder to trust in the idea of unconditional love, and cleanly expressed emotions. Maybe you’ve never even had that experience. Or maybe you’re experiencing it for the first time.

Yet much of the fear and inability to handle emotions is really from the feelings inside yourself that you fear to face. What will you see if you do look within, if you let the emotions out? What have you not yet processed and healed inside of yourself? What betrayal, hurt or loss are you masking and holding on to? What are you using to stop yourself from feeling again as a buffer to keep the pain from happening again? What story are you creating about that betrayal and pain? What are you making it mean in your life?

It makes me think of cognitive behavior therapy and experiments with rats – if you keep getting shocked over and over, you expect the same thing to happen again. It becomes automatic as an initial response. You no longer respond, you react.

Sometimes it’s subconscious, and you don’t even know you’re doing it.

As an empath, I have the privilege, and yes, sometimes the burden, of being able to “read between the lines” and see, hear, know and feel what the other person is feeling on a subconscious level. It makes me a great friend and beloved (and really helps with my coaching and other work). It also comes with its own challenges. The challenge is in being able to see it and feel it all and yet still respond to the person on the surface of what they are saying, to meet them with where they are at, with what they acknowledge to themselves – not with all the feelings and things they can’t see yet themselves.

What are you afraid you will see when you look through the mirror of someone else expressing their emotions or feelings? What makes you uncomfortable in that mirror?

What are you making it mean that someone else is expressing their emotions, sharing them with you, sharing their feelings with you? How are you receiving those feelings? Is it with a clear vessel, or is there other gunk in there clogging up the works and tinging the water, dirtying up the clean flow of emotion and feeling?

When others have feelings for us or share their feelings in general with us, or express their emotions to us, it can be scary. Yet emotions in and of themselves are healthy, beautiful and powerful. They can be intense, and that’s o.k. too. Things can be felt deeply. We can be moved. We can move mountains.

When you’re an empath like I am, it’s even more so. Then when you put two empaths together, the energy spirals. It is an amazing thing. You feel your emotions, you feel the emotions of the other person, and you feel the other person feeling your emotions and get that back. Likewise, the other person feels what you’re feeling, and they feel their own feelings back that you’re feeling of their feelings, and so on. It’s like a circuit where the energy increases as it goes around and spirals up.

That connection is palpable. It is somewhat akin to the idea Dion Fortune talked about in psychic and channeling work. She said that when working with someone else who has the same skills, it’s like having a battery added to the mix. She routinely worked with a partner in doing the work. You will also find magickal workers through time who work with a partner, particularly a spouse or beloved due to that increased connection. It increases and amps up the frequency and power of the work.

It also reminds me of the infinite reflection of mirrors within mirrors. It is the most incredible spiraling dance. It is intense, beautiful and powerful. Being aware of it, having awareness of it, is important. And when you do it with a clear vessel, the sky is the limit to the heights you can reach together, in stable flight. It reminds me of Eagle. Eagle is an ally and also is the highest expression of my sun and ascendant sign, Scorpio.

Emotions are positive, even the ones where we’re sad or mad. Those emotions or feeling states are healthy too – it’s o.k. The idea is not to stop ever having them again or to stop them up and end the flow. Let them flow cleanly. Not attaching to them, but honoring them, letting them flow and then continuing on.

Some have trouble doing that. There were times in my life where the intensity of being an empath was something I didn’t understand. Where I did not have discernment of what were my feelings and what were other than me. I was attached to the emotions, the feelings or to someone else. Having that discernment years ago made a huge life shift for me, with the most amazing gifts, and I’ve been able to pass that on to others. I haven’t had a lot of opportunity to explore it yet in a romantic relationship, but what I have been able to experience has been powerful.

Emotions can become unhealthy when we use our emotions and the power of our words to hurt someone else. To make them change. To manipulate them to do what we want. To use our love with conditions – I won’t love you or I won’t be your friend unless you do what I want, unless you change this, unless you bend to my will.

Emotions are unhealthy when we make our life dependent, or our feelings dependent, on what someone does or says. Wanting companionship and support, it is beautiful. When we take that to a standpoint of need of the level of neediness, it becomes unhealthy – “I will only be o.k. if she does this. Or, “I will only be o.k. if he does that.”

You can still be happy. You can still want it. But you are o.k. with yourself and with the other person the way they are. You don’t need them to change, and you don’t need yourself to change, to be o.k. and to be happy in your life. That level of need is not love. It doesn’t leave room for free choice, for following ones true will and for having respect and unconditional love for that other person. It also does not have respect for nor love for yourself. As within so without.

Unconditional love allows for the expression of feelings, sharing and showing healthy emotions and feelings, and that allows for intimacy between two people – be they friends or lovers. When I say “love”, this can be any type of love. Friendship, sisterhood, brotherhood, romantic love, parental love.

Unconditional love is a powerful thing. Yet it also just as importantly allows for non-judgment and detachment. And this is an incredible thing of beauty! If you’re in a relationship with a friend or lover, the idea of “detachment” doesn’t mean that you don’t care. Quite the contrary. It is not detachment from the standpoint of not having feelings. Instead, detachment is having love without conditions. It is having complete respect and value for the other person.

Detachment is…I love you for who you are without seeking to change you. I love you. I want you. I don’t need you to complete me. I don’t need you to fulfill some fantasy or expectation of who and what I want in my life. I am not attached to you. I won’t only love you if you do or are X Y or Z. I just want to share my love with you. I want to share my love for myself, for everything around me, and for you…just the way you are. I want to share my happiness and joy with you. And I love you more in return for loving me for just the way I am, for all of who I am.

To receive that love in return is something so amazing. You can have it with friends, family, lovers, spiritual connections – you can find it in many places. To experience total acceptance for who you are, to be appreciated and loved for who you are, with no conditions is the most incredible gift to receive.

In my life I’ve had this from family, from dear sisters, brothers and friends. I’ve also experienced it once recently from a man who has become dear to me, as a friend and whatever the thing is. He accepts me for who and what I am. He is curious about me, interested in me, for who I am, not who he might want me to be. He respects my yes and my no. Just as I respect his yes and his no.

Feeling cared about without conditions? That’s pretty amazing. It’s beautiful. And yeah, so it’s hot too. Because being able to do that for someone else, means that you’re in a place inside to do it for yourself first, at least to some regard. And that’s attractive. As within, so without.

Does this mean that everything in life or in a friendship or any type of relationship is automatically easy? Of course not. Does it mean that there is never sadness? No, I mean, what would life be if it was all painted with one color on the palette? Does it mean that there can never be pain? No. But it does means the pain is “clean” pain and not dirty pain with all our stories added into it, creating more suffering for ourselves and our loved ones or beloved.

We seek understanding, and we have respect for all of creation. We do not make assumptions, we do not take things personally, we use our word impeccably, and we always do our best in each situation and in each moment. (Yes, The Four Agreements, with much love and gratitude to don Miguel Ruiz and his family.)

Does this mean that we accept everything and everyone into our lives? No. It doesn’t. Sometimes my no may not work with your yes, and vice versa, and that’s o.k. It’s not personal. We can honor our boundaries and what is healthy for us while still holding that space of unconditional love.

It doesn’t mean it’s always easy, but it’s always worth it. And it’s always beautiful. After all, it’s magick.

Family & Farm Lore of the Civil War Era

This is a series of vignettes told to me as a little girl as it tied into the Civil War near our family “Century” farm in Northeast Missouri. Last night my parents shared something with me, a piece of cultural history from 140 years ago in the form of an article from a town near where my Mom grew up.

A newspaper article from 140 years ago prompted many memories of stories I heard while visiting the farm as a young girl. I am sharing the article, and also the stories, because I think the more things are illuminated on how they used to be, the inhumane and bad things that happened, the more can be healed by shining the light, and the more chance we have of not repeating horrific events as a society.

It is also why I have spent time visiting concentration camps in Austria and Poland and also Russian “camps” in Hungary when on vacation and other sites of atrocities. Honor those who have walked before, those who have walked in footsteps that we can never truly understand, sending healing, and sharing their stories.

I called my Mom this morning to speak with her about these stories from the Civil War and related farm lore and to have her refresh my memory on some of the details. Then I followed up with a little more research online to share as well.

Our Family “Century” Farm

Our family farm is in Northeast Missouri. It has been in the family over 100 years, since 1902, on my Mom’s Henderson side of the family. My mom Joyce Henderson Bilderback married Roger Bilderback, and they own our farm. Our ancestors on my mom’s side are buried in the area, and we regularly visit the cemeteries to place flowers on the graves, which really is a type of offering. When I walk our land, the ancestors walk with me. Their presence is so thick, and it is a presence of love and support and of gratitude for what we do to give back to the land and the area.

My Family’s Civil War Dead, Union Soldiers

One of our dead buried at a local cemetery there is David L. Wilkins, who fought with his brothers on the side of the Union during the Civil War, including Gettysburg, along with other locations. They all made it out of the war alive and went on to raise families. He is my Great Great Grandfather on my Great Grandmother Mae Willa Wilkins Northcraft’s side – he was my Great Grandma Mae’s father. She was a Wilkins before she married James Northcraft.

Newark Skirmish/Fighting

There were Civil War battles that took place near our farm, including in Newark, Missouri. There is a very old home there with bullet holes from that time that my Mom showed me as a little girl. It is still there.

The Palmyra Massacre

Palmyra is also near our family farm. It was the location of the Palmyra Missouri Massacre. There is an old hardback book by that name, which was my grandma’s and that my mom now has, which contains the first account of what happened. It has more details than you can find on the internet, and I will share some of them in this story, though for the story of what lead up to the massacre, you may visit HERE, which also contains links about Missouri slavery and the Civil War.

There were 10 Confederate prisoners in jail who were to be shot the next day on the town square in a firing squad due to the disappearance and presumed death of a Union sympathizer who had reported on numerous Confederate sympathizers. It was a threat and an act of revenge on the Union side, as it was reported, for the presumed killing of this Union sympathizer. This was an area of the country where there were those on both sides of the war – neighbor against neighbor. It reminds me of what I saw in Croatia, and the stories our Polish and Hungarian guides told us as they pointed it out, where some homes had bullet holes and others did not, as neighbors turned against neighbors there as well.

Here is the story that has been told of the Palmyra Massacre, as is outlined in the book… The wife of one of the Confederate prisoners that was to be shot the next morning in the town square by the Union side, had a large family, and she went to plead to get her husband released so he would not be shot. She gave a sexual favor in return. A young man around 20 years old and single volunteered to take this man’s place – Hiriam Smith (or Hiram or Hiran). The husband was released and the young man was shot on the town square with the other men/prisoners.

My Mom remembered his name was Hiriam Smith (she gave me that spelling), and I want to read the book to get the facts straight, as another website link talks about Hiriam Smith, but not in a way that he volunteered to take the other man’s place. He is buried somewhere in that area, and we had previously looked for the cemetery but still have not found it. It is in Lewis County. Mom says the book outlined the story as I presented it above.

Here is his story according to a genealogy website, which does say that Hiram took the place (though does not mention his “volunteering” to take the man’s place as it does in the book) of the other Confederate man/prisoner to be killed:

“Hiram Smith (Confederate) – Enlisted as Private into B Company, 10th Cavalry (Missouri)
Note Spelling of name Hiram instead of Hiran
Scarcely 22 years old.
He was the replacement for William T. Humphrey’s (wife Mary) who was freed.
Buried in little cemetery in Lewis County.
A headstone was erected by Senator George W. Humphreys the son of William.
The headstone reads:
Hiram Smith
This Monument is Dedicated to the Memory of Hiram Smith
Who was Shot at Palmyra, Oct. 18, 1862
As a Substitute for William T. Humphrey, My Father src#3”

It is interesting because this monument described above, that was erected to Hiram Smith, was erected at the behest of the grown child of the man who was saved through his act of volunteering to be a substitute so his/her father might live instead.

This account of the woman and the release of the husband upon substitution for a volunteer may be found in the book, yet Wiki gives a different account of it, which is not wholly accurate based on eye witness accounts in the book:

“After the massacre, it has been claimed that Strachan spared the life of one of the intended victims (William Thomas Humphrey of Lewis County) in exchange for $500 paid by Humphrey’s wife. Strachan is also said to have violated the chastity of Mrs. Humphrey, whether as part of the bargain or not. (Capt. Griffin Frost, quoted by Joseph A. Mudd, “With Porter in Northeast Missouri”). In 1864 Strachan was tried for the rape of Mrs. Humphrey and other offences, including misuse of funds. Found innocent of rape but guilty of embezzlement, he was sentenced to prison and was released by General William Starke Rosecrans on the grounds of persecution and an unfair trial, even though his accuser was another Union officer.”

Note that in this account above, there was a bribe and also alleged rape of the wife seeking her husband’s release and no mention of the volunteer. That time still had a culture of repression of women, so her story could have been she gave the favor or that she was forced into it to get her husband back, and even if she submitted to it, did she really have a choice? Back then rape would have been very hard to prove, and the idea that he was even tried for it speaks volumes.

In addition, to the victor goes the spoils and also the rewriting of history, and since the “volunteer” who took the Confederate prisoner’s place was also on the Confederate side, the newspaper accounts of that day or official military reports from the Union army would likely not have promoted that version that the young man “volunteered” to do it, as it would make a Confederate out to be a hero. I tend to believe the account in the book, and I also step out of the which side who was on viewpoint…to look at this as an individual young boy who was caught up fighting in a war, and did something heroic at the end of his life to spare the life of someone else on a basic human level.

The Washburn Story and Servant/Farmhand Quarters

This is another story of what I saw growing up and visiting the farm. There is the Washburn property, where they built a large brick mansion. They were wealthy and had extensive farm ground as considered for the times. When my mom was a little girl, she used to call on the Washburn family with her mother. My mom’s family was not wealthy yet they did visit and were welcomed. My grandma Hendrson on my mom’s side was an amazing woman in general – loving, hard-working.

When I was a little girl going to the farm from Peoria with my parents for vacations, before we moved to St. Louis in fourth grade, we would pass by the Washburn property on the way there. On the edge of the property along the road, there were small quarters. They were for the farmhands who worked the land. I had asked if they were slaves, and they were not. Though I am left to wonder if their pay was very good and I am also left to wonder as to their true ability to make something of their lives and thus be able to move on if they chose to do so. I always wondered as a little girl how they could live in houses that were so small because they were the size of a room.

At some point as the structures were falling down, they were bulldozed down. The house and land are now owned by someone different as the last woman in the family to live there died. I was given a tour of the home several years ago. The furniture and everything is just as it was left, though in some disarray.

Lots of ancestors, stories, lore and history.

The Edina Sentinel Story – Black Man Threatened 140 years ago

This is why I am writing this blog post today, what inspired it, and it also was the impetus for the ancestors to ask for the stories above to be shared. There is a newspaper, The Edina Sentinel, which is still published today. Edina is the Knox County seat where the County Courthouse is located. In each newspaper, they publish articles from years ago. Last night Dad gave me one that had articles from 140 years ago, as published originally on Feb. 17 1876. There is nothing like seeing history in print to bring home how disturbing it actually was/is.

In this article, you will note that none of the white mob that went to this black man’s house were mentioned by name in the paper, and that the white women were degraded for living with him, and of course there was no justice for the black man who was threatened…

“Threatened – Jack Smith (colored), living about one mile northwest of Edina, reports that on Saturday night last, some eight or ten persons came to his house, called him out, and threatened to kill him and his son, a young man of some 22 or 23 summers, if they did not run off two white women that were living with them. Jack, being somewhat scared, promised to obey all commands. They then retired in good order to their homes. It seems that two women (white), one calling herself Sarah Hale, and the other Mary Harman (reported hard characters) went to Jack’s house some five weeks ago and had since been resting there in peace and quietude. We understand that on Monday last Jack was in town making arrangements for their shipment north.”

My parents also told me that maybe a week or so ago, an article was published from the same time period that talked about a black man being sold for one dollar on the Knox County Courthouse steps, stating that his owner sold him because he was “lazy.”

Wow. I mean, who has words for that?

I think it is important that a paper like the Edina Sentinel makes old history living again, so we always remember and never forget. When I read and see these things, and though I know it all happened, there is still that part of me that is always in shock all over again that people can do this to others – racism, religious intolerance, war. And yet it happens all over the world, in different guises, throughout history and into current day.

The more we are aware of history, the more chance we have of not repeating it.

Listen to the ancestors. They have stories to tell.

Change is Magic

Daffodils (Getty)

Daffodils (Getty)

Change is magic. It brings the hint of a fresh breeze on the air. The shifting of the seasons has so much power to help us make changes in our own lives.

I feel the energy of spring starting in early February, as the daffodils have sprung from the earth and the crocus make their appearance. Even through the snow that may be on the ground, they find their way, pushing through the soil. It is a time of new beginnings as the sun begins to warm the earth, melting the snow and ice, nourishing the land for the flowers to come.

It is similar with us and winter, if we take the time to work with the energy of the season and the change between seasons. In winter, we spend time indoors. We can use this time to go within ourselves. Look at our life. What do we want to change? What do we no longer need to hang onto? Clean out that closet, that drawer, that file, including the file of limiting beliefs in our mind…look at our life and what no longer serves.

There is still time yet. What can you gently release from your life to make room for new growth to come? What do you seek to create in your life in its place? Plant the seed of that intention, that Intent, in your mind.

A few weeks ago, I sold two pieces of furniture, antiques. I had them for a long time. I loved them, but I needed more space in my house, so I advertised them for half of their value and what I paid for them.

First I sold the armoire. It was unique – an English, walnut, knockdown wardrobe. Gorgeous. A couple who had left a western state came here with hardly any furniture. They bought an older house in North County, and they love antiques. Their house did not have enough closets. They came and got it with a friend, and they were so happy!!

The second one is an even better story. It was a beautiful lime green, velvet, full size Victorian sofa. A delightful young couple came. She had just bought her first home in the City. They were so cute! They had specifically been looking for a “lime green velvet Victorian sofa!” What are the odds, right?

I call this a synchronicity, a meaningful coincidence. To me synchronicities are like the breadcrumbs of life, giving us clues to the right path.

I had a friend at my house on both occasions so I wouldn’t be alone, and praised her for bringing her boyfriend. They only had a loveseat and were sharing that to watch t.v., so I told them to lay down, test it out. Seeing those two curled up on the sofa was too cute for words! Then, her Dad came with his truck. Just like my Dad did to get the sofa from the antique store for me, and has so many times for me in my life. They carried it out in the snow. For some reason, both of their plans had changed, and they were free to come that night. I love it when a plan comes together!

After this, several things began to happen, more things came into my life and others began to shift in both little ways and big ways. When you catch this flow of energy, it’s almost like what some might call a lucky streak. But I don’t believe in luck. I believe in magic. Here’s what happened so far…

  • I had this amazing opportunity for a three hour meeting with a writer interested in my work, and they attended an event that I threw as well.
  • I had a great meeting with someone that may have a political position for me.
  • I also had an interview for a new gig, and got the second interview while still on the phone on the first interview.
  • I realized before any warning lights came on that there was something wrong with my car and got it taken care of before it was a problem.
  • I received a check for the first time ever from my mortgage company for an escrow surplus that was almost the size of a mortgage payment.
  • An old thing hanging out there was resolved to my benefit and satisfaction.
  • Things shifted back to the better with a man I’m interested in.
  • My health began to shift for the better.
  • My Mom’s health continues to improve.
  • And I got carded. (Had to include that!)

Change is magic. When things change, magic happens in your life. It happens in little ways and big ways. It releases the flow of energy. Energy wants to flow, it doesn’t want to be stopped. Yes, it doesn’t want to be forced or pushed, and it may want to be eased or gently started to keep that balance in the process of change, but it does want to flow.

Change is good! I promise. Sometimes you may not immediately see it, but it always is. It opens so many amazing doors and brings such gifts when you gently release the old to welcome in the new blessings!

Release what does not serve. Let go attachment. Release that energy to flow. State your intention or Intent for the blessings you want to come in your life. Allow the movement. Release attachment to outcome. Let it flow.

Enjoy the magic.

 

Life All In

I used to talk about the idea of “work hard, play hard.” Kind of a life mantra, though I also really like the one I started using during my MBA program, “make work fun.” Yet both of these don’t truly capture it or me. I have something better, which I just realized today on my drive up to the farm – Life All In.

Work hard, play hard is great, but it also is hard. Why does it have to be hard? If you have a passion for something, anything, even work, then it isn’t really hard – it’s your passion. The idea of fun really doesn’t capture it all either. Fun is great, but it doesn’t quite capture that level of satisfaction that comes with doing or creating something of significance in your personal or professional life.

On my drive, I thought about how I like to do things, all things. What I really do when I’m getting the most out of each moment, each task, each mission. No matter what I’m doing, I’m always all in. Not everyone understands this, and there are a lot of folks that don’t live their life this way, and that’s great too.

I choose to live my life all in.

Being all in means that you are giving life everything you’ve got. You enjoy and savor it all. We’ve heard the adage of “what you put into something is what you get out of it.” More accurately for me, it is the idea that the more you put into something the more you’ll get out of it. I’ve had that as a belief since I was a teenager.

It’s the same with life – the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it.

I live life up to the edge, full out, no matter what I do, with a passion and an intensity of focus. Gig? Bring it. Create something new? Bring it. Take up a new passion? Bring it. I’m all in.

There is no namby pamby about it. There is no hemming and hawing. There is no thought of “let me just stick my toes in and see if the water is warm enough.” I just know. Yes, I do my homework and my due diligence. I decide. And I do it. If it works and if I like it, I keep doing it. And I give it everything I’ve got.

I do things, and I do them with a passion and with an intensity for life. The few times I haven’t, to me it results in complacency. When you’re complacent, you’re not growing, you’re not experiencing all life has to offer in each moment. You’re stagnant. You’re not living your passion. You’re holding part of yourself back from the world, but more importantly, you’re holding it back from yourself. You dull your shine.

No matter what you do, do it all in. Let your light shine. Bring it. See how that shifts your life to this amazing brilliance and vibrancy. Even the little things all around you shift, and you see them with new eyes.

When I was young, that intensity for life perhaps burned a little too bright sometimes. Balance in life is always a great thing. Not all work, not all play, some rest too.

Now? That intensity is still there, but it’s focused into a fabulously hot, smoldering coal. It’s a fire that consistently burns and fuels whatever it is I want to do in my life. It is flame tempered with awareness of myself. Awareness of who I am, what I want, what makes me happy. It is awareness of what I can do, what I can’t do and what I choose to do.

If it makes me happy, I do more of that. Now. Tomorrow. The next day. But I don’t do it half-assed, I’m all in. This intensity of focus has made me a great lobbyist. A great friend. A great team player and leader. A great beloved. A great life coach and healer.

I don’t let limiting beliefs stop me. I don’t let fear stop me. I grab fear’s hand, partner with it and I go for it anyway. If it is something I want to do, I do it anyway, all in.

A lobbyist I worked with, whom I greatly respect, once said to someone about me as we were talking, “this one? This one here will go up to anyone and ask them for their yes, she’s not afraid to make the ask.” He was comparing me to others who he felt were afraid to make the ask. That was one of the coolest compliments I have ever received.

Got fear? Do it anyway. Anything else would not be all in.

Taking what I love and mixing in this intensity of focus allows me to accomplish so many things in life. I feel like I pack so much in, into every day, every moment, with so many different things and different people. There is this amazing tapestry that has been woven, with all of these gorgeous threads, creating this strong yet soft, textured, vibrant fabric. Sure, there have been holes in the fabric, who doesn’t have their challenges in life? But the darning of those holes has made the fabric even more robust, stronger.

It can take people, even my friends, a long time to discover and know all the threads of who I am and of what makes this fabric of my life, because it is such a rich tapestry, robust and full. I can be somewhat of a mystery, though it’s not intentional, there is just so much there to be discovered in the package of who I am. It’s like a present that just keeps giving with new surprises each day adding zest to each moment.

I find this intensity for life sometimes can be intimidating to other people, and I spent a lot of my life trying to tamp down the shine, especially in my personal life. I don’t do that anymore. Life is too short. I don’t apologize for who I am or for being happy. I’m happy and there is too much to do, too much to enjoy! I just keep shining.

I surround myself with confident, passionate people who encourage me to shine, just as I encourage them to shine, with whatever they want to do, whatever their hopes and dreams. You’ll find that my friends are strong people, who live their dreams, who know themselves, who do what makes them happy, who love what they do and who live life on their own terms.

Just as I live my life all in. I wouldn’t have it any other way.