Have you ever woken up from a vivid and numinous dream – the kind where you experience a strange but comforting sense of mystery and well-being – and want only to return to its gauzy, imaginal realm? Such was my desire when I dreamt this scene two years ago, on the night of my 58th birthday:

I’m vacationing on the Island of Malta, having come there from Italy. I walk over a long narrow footbridge to get onto the island. While standing on the footbridge I am looking down on the island. All I can see for miles is a narrow beach with beautiful clean sand and turquoise water. There is a canopy

Dream of Malta, collage

stretched along the beach providing shade. It is made of a light beige cloth that looks like a natural fiber, perhaps linen. The canopy is held up by simple wooden poles. I am by myself. I am captivated by the sand, which I notice has subtle colors in it, when I am sitting on it. I begin digging onto the sand with my hands, and am surprised to see that it is actually made up of tiny shells that haven’t broken all the way down yet. The shells are lightly colored in pastel shades – pink, blue, yellow – which I realize explains why the sand appears to be colored. I continue digging into the sand and looking with amazement at the shells. A family with two small girls comes along and sets up their beach blanket behind me. I hear them speaking and turn around. One of the girls has found a turtle shell – it’s fairly large, about 10 to 12 inches in diameter. The dried empty skin of the turtle’s head and feet are attached to the shell, as if the turtle has molted and the form of its body was left behind. The mother is telling the girl that she can’t keep the shell because it will smell. I very much want to get the turtle shell and take it home with me. I am trying to figure out where I can get some plastic bags to bring it with me on the plane….I am wondering if people on the plane would be able to smell it.

Being embarrassingly challenged geographically, I thought that Malta was in South America. Out of curiosity, I “”Google searched” and read that the Island of Malta is located between Sicily and Africa in the Mediterranean Sea, a fact that grabbed my attention since my paternal lineage is from Sicily. I was fascinated when I discovered that there was an ancient and extensive fertility culture in Malta’s history, one that has been kept quite secret until relatively recently. There are twenty sacred temples believed to have been dedicated to the Goddess on the island, which is only 20 miles long. These temples have been described as the personification of the Earth Mother, with floor plans which echo abundant maternal curves, where one can easily imagine the concept of entering the “womb” of the temple for communion with the Goddess, and emerging “re-born” into the sunlight. Archaeological evidence dates the temples to a time period long before Buddha and Mohammed, before Jesus and Moses and even Abraham, to perhaps 7000 BCE. What surprised me most is that in all my years of interest in goddess spirituality and the sacred feminine, I had never heard of the Island of Malta or these temples. So, I put a visit to the Island of Malta on my bucket list, and eventually forgot about the dream as well as my newfound knowledge.

Fast forward to January 2015. I am driving on the northway to Saratoga Springs to attend an intuitive painting workshop. As I’m nearing my exit I notice a green highway sign for the town of Malta. Suddenly I remember my dream about Malta, and make a mental note that I had never noticed this sign on other treks to Saratoga.

The evening after the workshop, I was having dinner with several of the women who had attended. As we sat around the table leisurely chatting, somehow the topic of milestone birthdays came up. I mentioned that I was approaching 60, and was beginning to think about what I might do to honor and celebrate the occasion. Out of the clear blue, one of the women, a new acquaintance, said “Why don’t you go to Malta?” “HUH???? Why did you just say that?” I asked, taken aback by the synchronicity of my earlier noticing of the highway sign, as well as the dream remembrance. “I know a woman who leads women’s pilgrimages to Malta” came her reply. Information was exchanged, and as soon as I got home I looked up the website of Jennifer Berezan, said pilgrimage guide. Interestingly, the information page stated that there was no tour planned for 2015 because many of the temples were going to be closed for maintenance; the next scheduled trip was to be in September 2016, a few weeks after my 60th birthday. Without hesitation I pressed the “Register” button…and I leave this Friday September 9th for what I anticipate will be a transformative adventure.

I am a reluctant traveler but every once in a while an opportunity like this beckons to me, and it truly feels like an invitation from Soul. I am blessed to have the resources to say yes to this call, and I approach the journey akin to the way Otto Rank describes our experience of the Holy :“Mysterium tremendem et fascinans,” an unfathomable Mystery before whom we are awestruck and stand trembling, yet find ourselves inexorably drawn, …attracted and fascinated in ways we cannot fully explain.

Scratch one off my bucket list.

I’ve decided to stay off social media while I’m away so I can deeply enter sacred time and space without distractions.  See you on the other side!

Gifted…the Sequel


I’ve been overwhelmed by the responses to my previous post – it seems to have tapped into a rich vein of experience for many readers. I was trepidatious about allowing my reflection to go public- it’s the most personal writing I’ve ever shared with any audience. It’s a paradox that what feels unique and singular is oftentimes most universally human.

I’m also sensitive to my awareness that currently in my orbit of friendships and acquaintances, I know seven women whose marriages are in various states of unraveling or separation. That number is not hyperbole. Midlife renegotiation of changing roles and expectations is a treacherous proposition. Those of us who manage to stay the course as the decades mount in our marriages have no high moral ground on which to stand – only humble gratitude to fate or luck in our original choosing.

If maintaining long-term marriages is so difficult, perhaps it’s the institution of marriage as we’ve known it in our lifetime that no longer serves us. This thought is not original to myself, but it’s up close and personal at the moment. As life expectancy has increased and it’s less rare for us to live into our 90’s, the odds of sustaining common ground with another person for 25, 30, 40 years, are truly daunting. Most of our friendships don’t last anywhere near as long, falling away as we grow and change and enter different developmental phases. Perhaps its time to acknowledge that this is true of marriage as well, instead of subscribing to a pressure cooker of impossible and unrealistic expectations. I even wonder if entering a marriage without the vow of a life-long commitment might be a safety valve that helps sustain longevity.

Of course, the scenario becomes complicated when children are involved. We who choose to procreate undertake a sacred trust. Our children do not ask to be born, and we are fastidiously responsible for their tender souls. As adults who decide to parent, it’s incumbent upon us to prioritize our children’s needs above our own and postpone many of our own desires for personal fulfillment. I’m not talking about martyrdom here, but the necessity of honoring and vouchsafing our commitment to creating and nurturing innocent young lives. I wonder what it would be like if marriage was a renewable contract, with the decision to become parents requiring a commitment to stay together until our dependents reach the legal age of adulthood. The one caveat would be that this contractual agreement is null and void in instances of abuse or destructive addictions. Once our obligations as parents of minor children are over, we would be free to stay together, or not, as ever evolving individuals.

If marriage was entered into with this alternative framework, it seems to me that it would have numerous advantages: The decision to have children might be undertaken more consciously. Children would be raised with the knowledge that their parents are a committed partnership until they reach legal adulthood. After that, they would be aware that their parents are not obligated to stay together, having fulfilled their parental contract. Spouses would not feel trapped in a life-long commitment if they naturally grow and change. In midlife partners would be invited to consciously reevaluate their relationship and decide whether or not to stay together, without the stigma of “failing” at marriage. Thoughts?

Nearly 25 years ago I was invited to give the homily at my brother’s wedding. At the time, I myself had been married for 13 years. I’d like to share that homily with you here, because much of my reflection at that time is relevant to what I’ve written this morning. These words are offered in a spirit of continuing curiosity about the mysterious nature of marriage and committed relationships.

I’m a little nervous as I stand before you, two literature majors, and attempt to say something profound, succinct, and original – using correct grammar and syntax of course! – on the occasion of your marriage. I’d like to offer a few thoughts, drawing on my own experience, and the words of some writers and poets who have struggled to articulate the mystery of marriage as a lived relationship between two people.

In her book The Writing Life, Annie Dillard describes the creative process of writing. What she says about writing can also be said about marriage – for marriage too is a process. Dillard writes: “First you shape the vision of what the projected work of art will be…It is a glowing thing, a blurred thing of beauty. Its structure is at once luminous and translucent: you can see the world through it. After you receive the initial charge of this imaginary object, you add to it at once several aspects, and incubate it most gingerly as it grows into itself…many aspects of the work are still uncertain. You know that if you proceed you will change and learn things, that the form will grow under your hands and develop new and richer lights. But that will not alter the vision or its deep structures: it will only enrich it. You know that, and you are right.”

Today we celebrate the vision – the deep structures – of the commitment you are making to each other. But many aspects of your life together are still uncertain. A relationship is a living thing; it is a dance, a dance with two partners touching lightly, then letting go; moving forward, then backward, to the music of the universe. It is a dance in several movements.

The first movement of the dance of a relationship is the Dance of Passion. This is a time of overwhelming attraction, of pure passion, what one poet has called “a bright stain on the vision blotting out reason.” Perhaps no other writer has expressed the intensity of this phase of a relationship more colorfully than the ancient poet of the Song of Songs:

O that you would kiss me with
the kisses of your mouth!
For your love is better than wine.
Sustain me with raisins, refresh me with apples,
for I am sick with love.
Behold, you are beautiful, my love,
behold, you are beautiful!
Your eyes are doves behind your veil.
You are all fair my love;
there is no flaw in you.

There is no flaw in you! If only what the poet says to his love were true! But we would be less than honest if we didn’t admit that, along with the comfort and joy of a relationship, there are also times of tension, conflict and ambivalence. There comes a time in every relationship when we dance the Dance of Disillusionment. We begin to wonder if we made the right choice, if we married the right person. We experience the death of romantic expectations, as described in the poem “Les Sylphides” by Louis McNeice. In this poem two lovers marry, dreaming of flowers and flowing rivers and satin and waltzing trees:

So they were married – to be the more together
And found they were never again so much together,
Divided by the morning tea.
By the evening paper,
By children and tradesmen’s bills.
Waking at times in the night she found assurance
In his regular breathing but wondered whether
It was really worth it and where
The river had flowed away
And where were the white flowers.

Anthropologist Bronislav Malinowski has written: “Marriage presents one of the most difficult problems in human life; the most emotional as well as the most romantic of all human dreams has to be consolidated into an ordinary working relationship.” And so if we can adjust and adapt and compromise, we waltz our way clumsily through the Dance of Disillusionment into the next movement, the Dance of Stability.

As this movement begins, we bring into our relationship many of the unconscious longings and unfinished business of our own past. Prompted by our past, we make demands on our marriage, often unaware that we do. If we’re honest with ourselves during this ripening season of marriage, we may realize that many of our struggles with our partner really reflect unresolved conflicts within ourselves. Marriage therapists Prather and Prather put it this way: “We do not pick our perfect match, because we ourselves are not perfect. The universe hands us a flawless diamond, in the rough. Only if we are willing to polish off every part of ourselves that cannot join, do we end up with a soul mate.”

D. H. Lawrence is a bit more blunt about the need to confront our own rough edges in his poem “Intimates:”

Don’t you care for me my love? she said bitterly.
I handed her the mirror, and said:
Please address these questions to the proper person!

If we work hard enough at it, and are faithful to the vision of our original commitment – if we are willing to look into the mirror at ourselves and our own unpolished parts – eventually we will come to a place of “at-home-ness” in our relationship which feeds our spirit. Amy Lowell captures the essence of the Dance of Stability in her poem “A Decade:”

When you came you were like red wine and honey
And the taste of you burnt my mouth with your sweetness.
Now you are like morning bread,
I hardly taste you at all for I know your savor,
But I am completely nourished.

So nourished, we can tentatively learn the steps of the next movement, the Dance of Commitment. The Dance of Commitment is like a web. As Anne Morrow Lindbergh tells us: “…it is a web made of loyalties and interdependencies and shared experiences. It is woven of memories and meetings and conflicts, of triumphs and disappointments. It is a web of communication, a common language, and the acceptance of a lack of language, too;  a knowledge of likes and dislikes, of habits and reactions, both physical and mental. It is a web of instincts and intuitions, of known and unknown exchanges.”

During this time in our relationship, we no longer cling to the other. We accept the reality that our partner cannot – and should not be expected to – meet all of our needs. Secure in our commitment, we are truly free to be an individual, to embrace our uniqueness and our solitude, and yet be moored by our fidelity to one another. Hugo Williams describes this aspect of the Dance of Commitment in his poem “Tides:”

The evening advances, then withdraws again,
Leaving our cups and books like islands on the floor.
We are drifting, you and I,
As far from one another as the young heroes
Of these two novels we have just laid down.
For that is happiness: to wander alone
Surrounded by the same moon, whose tides remind us of ourselves,
Our distances, and what we leave behind.
The lamp left on, the curtains letting in the light.
These things were promises. No doubt we will
Come back to them.

Finally, having danced the Dance of Passion, having danced through the dance of Disillusionment to Stability and Commitment, we come to celebrate the Dance of Joy. We sense in our love for each other, in our joys and in our sorrows, that we are enfolded in and reflect a Mystery that is much greater than ourselves. As Annie Dillard says, “We feel each breeze as the merest puff, but sail headlong and breathless under the gale force of spirit.”

In a reverie on his relationship with his wife, poet Wendell Berry expresses this sense of our connectedness with the Divine:

In a crease of the hill
under the light,
out of the wind,
as warmth, bloom, and song
return, lady, I think of you
and of myself with you.
What are we but forms
of the self-acknowledging
light that brings us
warmth and song from time
to time? Lip and flower,
hand and leaf, tongue
and song, what are we but welcomers
of that ancient joy, always
coming, always passing?
Mayapples rising
out of old time, leaves
folded down around
the stems, as if for flight,
flower bud folded in
unfolding leaves, what
are we but hosts
of times, all
the Sabbath morning shows,
the light that finds it good.

Today we celebrate the vision – the deep structures- of the commitment that you are making to each other. May your life together be a glowing thing, a blurred thing of beauty, luminous and translucent. May you incubate your relationship most gingerly as it grows into itself. May you change things and learn things. May your marriage grow under your hands into new and richer lights. May your life together be a dance – a Dance of Passion, a Dance through Disillusionment to Stability and Commitment, a Dance of Joy.


My husband and I are so different that once, when introduced to a mutual acquaintance who knew each of us from different professional circles, she literally had to grab a nearby chair and sit herself down in disbelief that we were spouses. Since I use my own birth name, she had no way of knowing that we were married. The look of disconnect on her face in that moment of revelation: priceless.

 How different are we? I am drawn to flowing asymmetrical tunics; my husband wears button-down collars and bow ties.   When he cooks, he cleans up as he goes along, while I create a cyclone of pots and pans and scour them after the dish is in the oven. He is conscientiously early for everything; I have a more fluid relationship with time. As a left-brained scientist, he just wants the facts ma’am; I am influenced by symbols, dreams and intuitions…and on and on. While it may be true that opposites attract, the tricky part is navigating and maintaining the territory of connection.

There have been times during the course of our relationship when I’ve looked across the table and said “Seriously? What was I thinking?” But then there have been those other occasions of ease and comfortable compatibility, sweet moments of mutual respect and deep recognition.   At such times I’ve experienced a profound nonverbal energetic acknowledgment that feels like a soulful perception of my most hidden and private Self. The evidence: an unexpected insightful and cogent assessment of something I’m engaged in; an inspired suggestion about how to approach a difficult interpersonal situation; a gift that synchronistically relates to a current that has been flowing through my psyche. It is the latter – small gifts bearing huge symbolic resonance – that have occasionally taken my breath away.

In my early 30’s I was reading Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, a book that literally changed my life because it spoke a language I had not heard before and gave me permission to embrace my creativity as a sacred vocation. Along about the twelfth chapter, my husband gifted me with a simple silver pendant with a howling wolf head encircling a round white stone – the one piece of jewelry I own that I would try to seize if my house was burning. Although we never discussed the contents of the book, his gift of this pendant spoke to me of a profound honoring of the transformation that was taking place interiorly.

Several years later another piece of jewelry did the same. While away on a silent retreat, I was grappling with despair over the reality that my desire for priesthood in the Catholic Church was a blind alley leading to a dead end. I had rediscovered art making as a way to express my frustration during this time. In the retreat center library I picked up a small book and began reading about indigenous cultures in which the priest, artist, and community healer was one and the same person. The chapters explained how ancient people marked sacred experiences with images painted on cave walls, such as the famous symbols discovered in Lascaux, France. I instantaneously realized that my true vocation was as an artist, that an artist is a priest of the imagination. A decade of wrangling with the church ended in that moment and the trajectory of my work in the world spiraled into new possibility. Shortly after my return home from the retreat, my husband’s Christmas present to me was a brooch in the shape of a small continent, with cut-out shapes of animals replicating the bison that are painted on the Lascaux cave walls…

Just last week I opened a small square box and unwrapped one of my birthday gifts – a lovely round ceramic dish glazed with an IMG_4046image of a bird’s nest. In the nest are three incubating eggs. My skeptical husband claims that there is no connection whatsoever with the launching of this blog “Still Life with Empty Nest” on my 60th birthday. I had told him about the blog but had not divulged its name. Once again I perceive a nonverbal recognition and honoring of my deepest inner being and my evolving Self… With his cynical sense of humor, he discounts my theory because the nest in the dish isn’t in fact empty. But for me, the recognition is even more profound, because this stage of empty nesting is actually a new beginning, and only time will tell what might hatch from those three symbolic eggs…

Entering the Blogosphere

“Behind the Veil”, mixed media mask

Today is my 60th birthday. I’m launching this blog to mark the occasion. For years I’ve been telling myself that when I reached this milestone, I’d begin writing my memoir – not intended for publication, but to engage in a personal life review. I hope that committing to posting on a blog will provide the structure that I need to follow through with my desire to write regularly.

But…where to begin? I haven’t got a clue.

My life has proceeded externally along its linear trajectory, yet my deepest unfoldings have spiraled back and forth and up and down and in and out through multiple layers of experience. Synchronicities, chance conversations, lines from a poem, night dreams and daydreams, have initiated changes and transformations that defy logical progression. From the outside looking in, an observer might evaluate my biography as the incoherent wanderings of a person who couldn’t figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. But from the seat of my interior self, my path, while circuitous, holds an internal consistency that continues to evolve.

Several months ago I was reading The Seekers Guide by Elizabeth Lesser. She suggests a reflective exercise in which one writes memories of both the joys and the sorrows of one’s life, as a way of connecting holistically with one’s story, embracing the expanse of its beauty as well as its pain. As I began my recollections, I was surprised by the memories which began to surface, and at their potency to evoke strong emotions. Each vignette I recalled felt like a holograph of the mandala of my life. And so this seems like a place to begin – with individual stories –from the storehouse of my experiences, allowing what wants to rise up in this particular moment to have its voice.

A few words about the title and tag line of my blog: In retrospect I realize that my journey into consciousness in young adulthood began with the birth of my first child. My experience of motherhood was a portal that mirrored Persephone’s descent, captivity, and eventual return to life, bereft but bouyant. The struggle to maintain a separate self while raising four children was a constant challenge….and then one day the fledglings had flown and I found myself staring into the proverbial empty nest. In spite of the fact that I had carved out a strong identity and had not allowed myself to be all-consumed by mothering, this new landscape was strange and has unleashed new challenges. Hence, the title “Still Life with Empty Nest” acknowledges the foundational and formational role that motherhood played in my 20’s through my 50’s, and meets me at this new juncture as I live forward into my 7th decade. The tag line “Memories, Dreams and Reflections of a Saging Woman” is a riff on the title of depth psychologist Carl Jung’s autobiogrpahy, Memories, Dreams, Reflections. I’ve been an amateur armchair student of Jung’s work for all of my adult life, and have found his world view congruent in many ways with my own. The three categories, “memories,” “dreams,” and “reflections” suggested themselves to me as a way to organize my writing. Naming myself a “saging woman” indicates that I believe I have not only grown older chronologically but have acquired some insight along with my accumulating years.

It feels significant that as the page in my personal book of life turns to 60, there is a full moon on this date. Like the orb who waxes, wanes, and goes dark each month, my life has gone through phases of growth, diminishment and darkness….as I turn 60, I embrace my fullness and hope that my words might be a gentle beam of light that will accompany all of us as we walk each other home.