Archive for the ‘Women’s Lives’ Category

Leaving400 Monday, 31 August 2009

We decided early on that this pilgrimage would not be a journey of deprivation, but rather one of celebration and joy. Two close friends, heart sisters, celebrating mid-life empowerment and vitality. Our day in Paris was carefully planned to be a time for relishing our sense of adventure as we anticipated the road ahead of us. We wanted to mark our course with a careful and meaningful setting of intention. Our anticipation ran high as the Eurostar whisked us out of England and across France. Arriving in Paris, the weather was glorious, the city beautiful. We were on our way! ND400 The Rue Saint Jacques, with its history of pilgrimage, welcomed us with familiar pilgrim symbols. We dropped our packs at our hotel, then wandered through the Latin Quarter on our way to Notre Dame, the spiritual beginning of our pilgrimage. We lit candles to dedicate our journey to the Divine Feminine, appreciating the scallop shells and amazingly beautiful depictions of Mary. Jacques400Leaving the Notre Dame and its gawking tourists behind, we walked on, heading towards the Tower of St Jacques, the traditional gathering place for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. Here we marked the beginning of our physical journey, feeling the presence of the centuries of pilgrims who had gone before us. It was peaceful and quiet in the little square park, full of Parisians enjoying a few quiet moments in the late summer sun.

From here, we took the Metro to Montmartre, home to the Basilica of Sacre Coeur, the beginning ofMontmartre400 our heart journey, and another opportunity to light a candle for the journey ahead, with all its internal and external implications. This was my point of coming full circle, my return to the exact spot where I had made my decision to reclaim my vitality so that I could say yes to all that Life has to offer. In 15 months, I had made good on my promise, had lost the 100 pounds (7 stone in British parlance) of weight that buffered me from fully engaging with life; Iwas here to accept the challenge and invitation I had given myself.

As the day grew to a close, we could feel ourselves shifting into Pilgrim Mode. We stumbled across a restaurant that intrigued us…. truly an ideal place to celebrate our departure. Located just off the Rue St Jacques, the walls were covered with scallop shells and we dined in true Parisian elegance, sipping  champagne and feasting on beautifully prepared and delicious shellfish. Walking back to our hotel in the balmy evening air, only one thing remained to close out our day: we tied our scallop shells on our packs and went to bed.



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Ile400I tend to see life as a Hero’s Journey. For many years I taught a class on Myths, Dreams and Symbols at Sonoma State University, using  texts by Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung. Over time, it has become second nature for me to look at life symbolically, and my weight loss and quest for vitality has been a Hero’s Journey of epic proportions. This has been one of the hardest things I have ever done, not because of the dieting, but because of the inner work I have done to support it. I have had to become a new person, not only in my approach to food and exercise, but in how I think of myself and how I relate to the world.

This pilgrimage is a hero’s journey within a Hero’s Journey, a fractal. To not respond to this call to adventure when it stirred my soul would be to invite stagnation into my life. To accept it is to risk failure as much as to invite success. One of the hard truths I have had to face this year is my own stubborn perfectionism: I don’t want to try something  unless I have some guarantee of success. Shedding weight has taken away my main excuse for saying no to adventures, my main tool for buffering myself from failure and the world. I wore the truth of my fear rather than speaking it.

The truth is that I may not succeed in walking all the way to Chartres. The walk may prove to be too much for me… and all of you will know about it because I’ve finally chosen to break my silence and announce it from the rooftops of Blogland. And therein lies my success.

In my quest for vitality, I’ve had to come face to face with the demons of an aging (and sagging) body. I’ve had to learn for myself that vitality does not necessarily mean trying to look like a young supermodel, nor does it mean accepting every challenge on offer. It means honoring one’s hard-earned battle scars and accepting some limitation with grace.

I love shopping for adventure clothes, love the gear, love the planning! I will always be a curvy woman, will never, ever have the trim stick figure I long for… but I now fit nicely into medium-sized clothes, which delights me no end. I love that I can finally wear zip-off trousers! I will confess to having spent many happy hours shopping for clothes and  trekking poles and rucksacks over this past month. But not shoes; no fancy new high-tech trail shoes for me.

I have a serious problem with my right foot. It’s one of those hard-to-explain problems that seems to defy definition and diagnosis, which persists despite having  had a toe-joint replacement in an attempt to address the swelling and pain. This foot worries me as it will no doubt trouble me on our walk. I have tried on literally dozens of boots and shoes, but in the end I will be wearing the running shoes I bought in California last spring. The enthusiastic and knowledgable saleswoman, Deborah,  spent over 2 hours with me, evaluating my feet, watching me walk and run, finally suggesting I think of my new shoes not in terms of any specific activity but simply as Going Forward shoes. I like that! I am honoring my body’s limitations by wearing carefully chosen shoes and using trekking poles for stability, but I am still managing to answer my call to adventure with a resounding YES, balancing my sense of adventure with a dose of common sense.


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I often miss my family…. and whichever of my friends I’m not with at any particular moment…  Since I clearly live with my feet on two continents, that means I am always missing someone. And it also means that I have a pretty damned exciting life and have plenty of good in-the-moment experiences. I consider myself very lucky, and even the missing really just signals that my life is rich enough to let me love lots of people (and places). This blog is my attempt at staying in touch.

In all actuality, I am really making this into a Dear Family and Friends letter that is simply cloaked in modern technology. I loved my blog as it was, but found myself stymied and stagnated as I tried to restrict myself  to focused writing  for special interest audiences instead of being able to simply share my life with all its eclectic absurdities. In my real life, I can’t separate my knitting from my labyrinth work, my psychology from my cooking. Perhaps later, I will organize my writings into specialized blogs, but for now Ariadne’s Thread is taking the form of a letter from my heart to the people I love. I hope you will visit often and enjoy reading what I have to say!

I’ve always loved the When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple poem and admired those people who could embrace their own eccentricities as they got old enough to shake off the constraining perfectionism of professional stereotypes and social mores. So, welcome to my world of  labyrinths and love, of spiritual thoughts and mundane realities… walks in the countryside, special recipes, knitting updates, and snapshots of my life in England and our labyrinthine travels; in this blog, it’s all fair game!

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Eiffel Tower

I spent this past weekend visiting with good friends who have rented a flat in Paris for the month… France was celebrating Pentecost while we enjoyed the revivifying effects of special friendships. Our travel usually ties into work of some kind, lecturing or research, but this weekend away was purely and simply a much-needed holiday. We spent hours lingering over leisurely breakfasts and came home to simple suppers of fresh tomatoes,french bread, and cheese accompanied by good wine and deep conversation. During the days, we visited Paris landmarks and wandered comfortably through shops, cafes, churches, and cemeteries. My friend, Erwin, wrote this morning that Pentecost reminds us that “Spirit is blowing everywhere.” When I read his post this morning I thought about how well our weekend fit into the spirit of Pentecost.

And, of course, labyrinth enthusiasts that we are, we made a quick trip to Chartres on Friday, realizing late Thursday evening that the famous Chartres labyrinth was likely to be open and that this was a rare opportunity for us to make a mini-pilgrimage together. What a joy to be able to simply catch a train to take us to a place that looms so large in our hearts and imaginations!

I’ve been to Chartres enough times now to feel at home with the streets, the shops, the cafes — and the Cathedral. Inside, the splendid windows soothe my soul while the candles and statues welcome me home. Memories of past pilgrimages weave through the cool air as I revisit the stones and treasures I know and love so deeply… new memories in the making!

While the cathedral prepared to receive its Pentecost pilgrims, we arrived less officially, but in good company nevertheless.Within moments of disembarking from the train, we walked straight into a group of CSJ’s from Minnesota, including several good friends from my spiritual community there. Later in the day, other friends from far-off places drifted into the cathedral and we enjoyed that incredible sense of belonging to an international family where an unexpected rendezvous is always a heartwarming delight.

DianeLinda TaylorCarol\'s CappuccinoLeana

Another highlight of the trip was our Saturday evening pilgrimage to Montmartre. Despite having visited Paris numerous times in the past, I had never gone up to Montmartre, and really had no idea of what to expect. It being a holiday weekend, there was a party-like atmosphere on the crowded streets, and I loved the sense of easy comfort as we listened to music drifted into shops, and rode the funicular to the top of the famous steps.

MontmartreSacre Coeur was crowded, and I was somehow surprised that everyone who had gone up seemed to be making a visit to the church; it was such a party atmosphere out on the steps and streets that I wouldn’t have expected many people to take time to walk around the church. How wrong I was! Despite the crowds, I could feel Spirit blowing through — and in a moment of quiet inspiration, my own heart opened to answers I had been seeking. I left with a new sense of purpose and direction…

Women need to spend time with other women — unstructured time to allow hearts to open and stories to flow. Paris provided a wonderful backdrop and gave us unforgettable memories (as well as luscious cappuccinos and great wines), but it is friendship that heals the soul and renews one’s zest for life!

To share our memories, I have posted an online photo album here . Enjoy!

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Memoir in an image and six words:
Mystery gives birth to endless flow…
The lovely Peaceful Knitter tagged me last week (my first tag!!), challenging me to pen a 6-word memoir then illustrate it with an image. I’ve spent the past few days pondering deeply, asking myself about what six words could possibly sum up my passage through life….. The answer is Mystery as she weaves her magic into my ordinary existence.
I suppose some of you will be surprised that I did not show an image of the labyrinth, which I surely could have done, as Mystery led me to the labyrinth as surely as it accompanies me through the meandering paths of my journey through life. Indeed, the dedication in my doctoral dissertation which was on the labyrinth’s potential for transformation reads:
To Mystery,
who guides our passage through life’s
strange and unexpected turnings
From my love of labryinths, to my knitting and beading, to the cherished connections I have with friends and family throughout the world, I have learned that Mystery gives birth to endless flow….
In turn, I tag Tales from the Labyrinth, the blog that made me yearn to blog; MyMaze, who might choose to write his memoir in his native German; firefly of I Live on a Farm, who inspires me with her boundless energy and beautiful taste; Wovenflame, who probably doesn’t know I exist, but who opens her heart, her family, and her knitting to the world; and Thistle Hill, in hopes that this will rekindle her blogging efforts.

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London TixMy good friend, Pauline, and I went into London yesterday for a long-awaited Girls’ Day Out. After purchasing our tickets, we warmed ourselves with cups steaming of hot chocolate while we waited on the platform at Rayleigh Station. Transferring to the Docklands Light Railway at Stratford, we passed bustling construction sites for the 2012 Olympics and headed into a part of London I’d never seen. Sparkling new building are set into the old Docklands where the train stops still bear the names of the area’s interesting and colourful history… West India Quay, Mudchute, Island Gardens, Canary Wharf.


We had a destination, a place that sounded perfect for a day out with no husbands in tow. From the outside it looks like just another Georgian townhouse set in a Greenwhich neighbourhood of discreetly lovely homes….but inside is housed The Fan Museum, the only museum in the world dedicated solely to showcasing fans from around the world. The museum is beautifully and artistically laid out, reflecting the refinement and elegance of a bygone age. Even the warm welcome at the front desk seemed an invitation into another world.


As chance would have it, the current exhibit is A Touch of Dutch: the Royal Fans from the House of Orange-Nassau containing dozens of exquisite fans on loan from the Netherlands. As two of my dearest friends are Dutch, I have a great interest in the Netherlands, so I was thrilled by this glimpse into the Dutch Royal Family at time when the women would give each other beautiful fans, sometimes set with diamond and other gems, for special occasions. These fans would then show up discreetly in various portraits and court pictures, giving a sense of the importance they held for the recipients. I felt I was being given a peek into not only the fashion, but also the relationships that wove through these women’s lives. I found myself wondering about their long-ago days out together…

Time moves on and fashions come and go,
but the magical thread of feminine connection
endures as it sustains us
through the journeys that are our lives.

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