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I’m willing to bet you’ve heard some version of the story about the child who sees a wriggling caterpillar but fearful of its suffering, the child opens its cocoon. Only later, after seeing the creature unable to fly, does he learn that a butterfly must struggle through its own metamorphosis to grow beautiful, strong wings.

Most of us have a personal story that sounds a lot like this, Goodness Knows I do.

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Discovering my Authentic Wail

By the age of 46, I lived a somewhat privileged life. My children were happy and healthy. My graphic design business had successfully grown from a solopreneur to an entrepreneur responsible for a dozen employees. I owned vacation timeshares, season tickets to concert events, my dream convertible, and more “stuff” than one person could possibly desire. I should have been happy. I should have thanked God every day. I should have focused on what was right in front of me. Instead, I busied myself with work to avoid heartache in my marriage and I smothered my personal creative voice by putting out the fires of my clients. Before I knew it, I became trapped by financial commitments that drained my bank account, took responsibility for my mother’s livelihood and event my brother’s co-dependency. I had run out of patience, out of love and out of reserves.

“Is this how you want to feel when you’re 50?” My business mentor asked during a coaching session.

“NO!” The word came out faster than a speeding bullet.

“Are you ready to work on your spirituality?” He pressed on.

“I’m not particularly religious,” I said as my sinuses burned and my nose twitched. I reached for the tissue box I often carried into my coaching sessions and felt a tidal wave of tears approaching.

Two weeks later, my “spiritual” journ Save & Exit ey began. Nestled among the gardens of the Encino Holy Spirit Retreat Center fourteen of us – a musician, coach, intuitive healer, attorney, fine artist, MIT professor and more – had all gathered to discover our Authentic Voice. I arrived convinced I would sail through the weekend with flying colors and expert timing. Our first activity, share our intuitive thoughts about one another and since most of us had only just met, there was nothing to go on but intuition. When it came time for me to be on the receiving end, I laid my journal on the floor and tucked my hands under my thighs so as not to fidget. The singer/new mother-to-be was the first to speak. She saw me as a “princess.” I think her intuition told her to read my shirt that literally said “princess” in appropriate Disney-fied lettering. The spiritual healer elevated me to “Goddess.” Oh, my Ego liked that! The attorney’s wife suggested I take pole dancing lessons. Seriously, she said that. Even my business coach, who was also in attendance said I had a story building inside – that I may become the next JK Rowling. Oh, how my Ego loved that.

Then our workshop leader said something I never expected.

“You are each to touch Cheryl for several minutes today,” he said. “Hold her hand. Share an embrace. Touch her face. She has special healing powers that will help each of you.”

I kid you not. That’s what he said. My own intuition told me he sensed a loneliness and isolation rising inside me and that sharing an embrace with others was not for their benefit, it was for mine.

The next morning my body felt listless and heavy underneath the cotton sheets and ceiling fan. I didn’t want to get out of bed little along pick up a pen and write again. I didn’t want to extract any more of my “authentic voice.” And the last thing I wanted was to do was walk to breakfast and talk to people. As the day progressed, I sunk deeper into depression. I watched everyone in the group share their gifts for poetry, storytelling, and painting, while I descended deeper into darkness and doubt. I felt resentment towards my colleagues as they found their personal moments of enlightenment, and I found nothing. I was supposed to be the star student. I was supposed to be the one who figured it all out. Instead, I shut down. I cried uncontrollably that day. I walked the grounds alone, pleading with the trees, the streams, the rocks, even the sculpture of the Virgin Mary for some kind of answer. All I heard was crickets as I mourned the passing of my passion.

That workshop and the five years afterward was my cocoon. But I don’t want to mislead you into thinking I’ve magically transformed into a butterfly with glorious wings. No, I still struggle every day. I have also come to accept that the struggle IS the metamorphosis and that if the change is constant, so is the wriggling.

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This past weekend, in celebration of the holiday of love, a good friend and I gathered eleven of our mutual friends to share how to care for our most beloved Valentine – ourselves. We toasted the afternoon with a sip of champagne, we nourished our bodies with fresh berries and decadent chocolate, then met in the family room of our hostess’ home. I let a workshop and conversation about how to identify the feelings we want to experience in our work, wellness, relationships and creativity. We reviewed four lists of over a hundred positive feelings, then narrowed down our list to the top four. As we shared our results, I wrote each onto a white board while my friend identified an aromatherapy scent to match each category.

“My favorite part of the day was choosing our four words. You said meaningful things and made us think.” Irene   

Afterward, we took a short break and each guest selected a one-of-a-kind handmade clay bracelet that I had made the night before. The bracelets were designed to absorb the essential oil into the clay so everyone was encouraged to select one of the four aromatherapy oils and place a drop or two on their piece. The scent, the touch and the deign of jewelry were to serve as reminders of their chosem core desired feelings.

“I really liked the diversity of women, even as young as 12 years old. You’re never too young for internal work like this.” Lisa    

The last activity of our afternoon was the most meaningful for me. As a creative professional, educator and author, writing has been a constant companion over the past seven years. Writing helps me focus the 1001 ideas in my head and inspires me to help others pursue their own personal growth using creativity. I shared brief stories from my upcoming memoir and how writing can be a source of healing as we face daily challenges. Then I passed around a clean sheet paper and invited everyone to write a love letter to their self-beloved. A few minutes later, many women read their letters aloud as we laughed, awed and of course, teared up.

“I enjoyed taking the time to reconnect with my inner self and reflect on how I got to where I am. It felt like a safe environment, one where I knew I was not being judged.” Peg

What happened next touched me in ways I never anticipated. As my own daughter read her letter, I felt my heart burst wide open. She wrote to her future 18-year-old self. Oh my goodness, I can’t believe she’ll be 18 in only three short years. In her letter, my daughter gave herself permission to be fearless, to seek creative freedom, and at other times, to do absolutely nothing at all. She told herself she is deserving of everything she wants to learn and do in her life, to trust her instincts and “believe you know the way.” Yea, I needed that box of tissues again! 

In closing our day together, I revisited my story of the Authentic Workshop from years ago. You see, on our final day, we were also asked to write a letter to ourselves, much like I had just asked of the women who surrounded me. I didn’t understand the significance of the letter at the time I wrote it. But at the end of this day, I saw that I too had written to my future self. And this, the day we have deemed as Galentine’s Day, was the day I was to read it.

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Beautiful Women –
I have been where you walk, unsure the ground will remain solid under your feet. I have served as the dutiful daughter, wife, mother, artist, business owner. I have followed wise mentors and kind hearts, listening and learning along the way. I have admired beauty in all forms of art which surround me. I have pricked my finger with needles that have mended shredded seams and unraveled dreams. I have questioned my commitments, my friendships, my personal strengths. I have lost my patience and my most passionate love. My gypsy soul has traveled miles in the search for “something more” that is “somewhere out there.” Today, among the battle fatigued, I caress every scar, soar among those who have courageously jumped before me and am inspired by those who shine brightly even in shadow. Most of all, I reach my hand to you in companionship and comfort to say that in this place, this day, this moment, as dark and thorny as it may appear, you are the eternal Beloved.

Our mourning has passed. We are Woman Waking Up.

Happy Galentine’s Day!