Life is Not A Fairy Tale. Or is it?

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In the fairy tales of my childhood, characters found their way to the “happily ever after” through bravery and imagination. Since growing up, I’ve realized how much courage it takes to use active, focused imagination to answer deeper questions like Who am I? Why am I here? What is the purpose and meaning of my life?

For me, the Storyteller archetype is a protective figure – a wise elder who knows the power of thoughts, the vulnerabilities of being truthful, and the aloneness of existence. She also understands that stories can change people, heal shame, free us from fear, ease our suffering and restore our sense of worth.

In my Tales of Enchantment, the Old Gypsy Storyteller creates folkloric stories that brim with life truths. As she travels the “road to paradise” her fanciful tales speak in a symbolic way. I love the way she gives animals and objects touch of magic and wonder  She bridges the realities of my inner Self to my search for wholeness, truth, beauty, love and goodness in the outer world.

Now that you know my motivation for creating this book, you might like to try a one page or even one paragraph fairy tale from your own life and use this altered-point-of-view. In the book Your Life as Story by Tristine Rainer, the author tells us that stories are created from three essential ingredients. We intuitively know this structure is true for telling stories from our lived experience as well. Most of us are familiar with a beginning, middle and conclusion arrangement and my Old Gypsy Storyteller has made use of this in her tales.

Here are the steps.

Something happened so that a person (a little girl, a little boy, a woman, an old man – he or she) had a problem and a need. I found it helpful to use the third person to temporarily step back from real life.

As the person pursued his or her need, a struggle ensued.

And in the end the person changed with a realization.

Your turn! Just begin, Once upon a time…

 

 

Hard copies of The Storyteller: True Tales of Enchantment will be arriving soon. Please message me if you would like to be placed on my pre-order list for your own autographed copy. Digital copies are available on Smashwords and on Kobo.

 

 

A Gift for Mom

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The Storyteller: True Tales of Enchantment
by Kathie Sutherland

I have the perfect gift idea for your Mom and I don’t even know her! My new book of Elder Tales is just the right gift for the mature woman. I’m confident she’ll enjoy The Storyteller: True Tales of Enchantment. Do you know why? Because she’ll recognize her own elder wisdom.

Your Mom has experienced a range of emotions, dealt with life’s ups and downs, loved her husband and family through thick and thin, and learned from it all. Each of us has an inner Fairy Godmother, an old Witch, a Heroine and a Storyteller within us. These are mythic characters from the classic Fairy Tale. That’s why The Storyteller is a perfect gift for your Mom! She’ll understand!. 

The simple, entertaining stories in this book are symbolic Elder Tales inspired by my life experience. I’ve reached a stage of understanding common to many older women – one in which I recognize my values, my traditions, my beliefs, and the roles I’ve played. More importantly, I’ve glimpsed the authentic being I am. I see the virtues, values and strengths I have and your Mom can too. Together, we can look back and celebrate our common wisdom.

These Elder Tales are time-honoured wisdom stories similar to those from other cultures, which is another reason your Mom will enjoy them. She will be able to relate to their universal truths.  

The Storyteller: True Tales of Enchantment is available only in ebook format at this time and I’ve provided links to websites that carry it. 

Hard copies will be available soon. I’d be happy to add you to my order list if your Mom prefers a “real” author-signed book! Just visit my contact page and leave me a note.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/912286
https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/the-storyteller-true-tales-of-enchantment

 

Games of Life

A game (noun) is defined as “a calculated strategy or approach; an active interest or pursuit.”

You might like to ask yourself about “the game of life” in your journal. Is life like a round of golf where you practice perfection? Is it like a game of chess where you try to stay one step ahead? Is it a child’s game of Hide and Seek in which you play at discovering the gifts hidden in yourself or your relationships; or even keeping yourself safe by hiding your essence from others?

Sometimes we win at “real” games like Scrabble or Crazy 8s. Sometimes we lose. How we react to wins and losses help us understand the kind of person we are. Do we play to win by pushing others out of the way? Do we pout, get angry or throw our cards down when we lose? Is it the game, the fun or the possible win that attracts us? We all like to succeed. What is success anyway except finding what gives us happiness and makes life worth living?

Learning from our reactions makes us happier players. How we cope, accept our abilities and celebrate our strengths we learn a little bit more about who we are.

Warning! This poem contains a crude word!

life is golf

on the fairway –
set feet apart
knees bent
head down
grip loose
allow the club
to carry through
connect
hard and true
lighten the hold
sink one shot
into success

but no!
this shot,
is like life –
it’s a whack! fuck!
the ball’s got no lift
and you can’t get it up
you miss the cup
and frustration
takes hold of your focus
throttles your confidence

like mistakes
on the fairway of life
perfection obsession
takes over
and the lesson
is lost
like a chuffed ball
lost in the ruff

kathie sutherland
06/24/03

This poem appears in balancing Act a poetry collection which you can purchase right here on my website at http://kathiesutherland.com/books/

History in your Hands

Erich Maria Remarque once said in his novel A Night in Lisbon, “How can we be really sure of our happiness until we know how much of it is going to stay with us?” “The only way,” Schwarz whispered, “is to know that we can’t hold it, and stop trying to. We frighten it away with our clumsy hands. But if we can keep our hands off it, won’t it go on living fearlessly behind our eyes? Won’t it stay there as long as our eyes live?”

We frighten happiness away with our clumsy hands…Wow! If you think about it, history shows up in your hands and in them, what makes us happy, and it provides understanding of our ability to keep on living fearlessly.

I often look at people’s hands and nails. They speak loudly about what is important to them. Short, manicured nails speak of massage; artsy nails, glamour; broad hands, caring for the ones we love; soft hands, gentleness; scars, our wounds as we work; burns, our love of cooking; arthritic knuckles, our aging; callouses, our ability to play guitar; dirt under the nails, the joy of gardening; smooth, soft skin, youth and innocence; broken and split nails, neglect; vertical ridges, illness.

Take a look at your hands right now. Really study them. Write a few lines about your hands and see where it goes.

Life is a Mystery

“The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery.” 

― Anaïs Nin 

A mystery is defined as something difficult or impossible to understand or explain. Synonyms include puzzle, enigma, conundrum, riddle, or secret.

Writing your life is like writing a good mystery. You can dig deeper and deeper and still you may not find answers to the question, “Who am I?”

All the elements of a good detective yarn are involved: All the characters that live in you – all those roles and masks including the good guys and bad guys, the cliffhanger experiences, decisions, motivations and choices; turning points; values and intentions. And finally, in the end, you reach a conclusion, where it all ends, the final chapter. The most important part in my mind is the telling of the story in the voice of your narrator, the one who speaks from your unique point of view. These two things represent the most important elements. The Narrator is the inner you who really understands the overall story and has lived it. This is your Soul, Your Author. Your Inspiration. The Author animates your story, Your Essence illuminates the story. This is the true inside story.

If you’d like to meet other authors, find writing prompts or select a suitable genre for authoring a story, check out www.mandyevebarnett.com for delightful, positive blogs.

Happiness is…

This morning when my husband and I decide to take the grand dog to the dog park, the temperature is a pleasant –6 with patches of blue sky showing through thin cloud cover. As we stand on the deck out of the wind, I wonder if I’ve overdressed and will soon be sweating. In the car, I am too hot.

By the time we arrive at the dog park, the sun looks like an ivory disk under a gossamer veil. Out on the open field, the clouds move in, hanging low with their bellies ragged and torn. The wind blows over the land with icy cold gusts. Gooseflesh pimples the skin under my jeans. I pull down my hat and put up the hood of my jacket. My husband’s fur-lined aviator hat protects his ear, but his nose, chin and forehead are very pink.

The dog, however, doesn’t care what the thermometer says; he’s always up for chasing the ball. Today, his doggie smile stretches from ear to ear. I can’t help but smile too. Condensation from his huffing breath whitens his whiskers with frosty rime just like the earflaps on my husband’s hat.

I’m freezing. My cheeks are stinging. My husband’s face is red and raw. All I can think of at that moment is, “Give me a hot chocolate and I’ll be content.” Now that the dog is happily exhausted, we walk briskly to the car, and I tuck my chin into the furry collar of my jacket. My glasses fog up and my nose runs. I feel alive and invigorated by the cold. My senses are tingling.

I love the delicious feel of being alive.

So often, I hear people say, “I’ll be happy when I’m out of debt.” “I’ll be happy when I can go on a cruise.” “I’ll be happy when I can find the right home.” I wonder, “Is it really true that they’ll be satisfied?” When those things happen (or not) the wish list increases. The desire for more is always at work. All those If’s and when’s take over, and suddenly they’re expectations.“

If I lament missed opportunities, I’m also creating a list. “I wish I had…” “Why didn’t I…?” “What if I had…?” Now I’m on a trip down memory lane!

A friend of mine calls this phenomenon time travel. The grand dog’s happiness appears to be a function of time travel. He has expectations for the future when I say, “Dog park” or “Walk” He’s learned from past experience. “Oh boy! Oh boy! Here comes a treat!” Like me with a hot chocolate! Give him a chew toy. Throw a stick. Scoop out a dishful of kibble. He’s delighted.

For me, the gift at the dog park is Presence. One half hour there and my heart sings “Happy!” Afterward, I’m aware of the savory spices in the turkey soup we eat when we get home, warm air flows from the furnace, and the physical weariness that comes from fresh air and exercise is exquisite.

The grand dog is a Teacher. I am a willing Student. Today’s lesson? “Happiness exists right here, right now. Not tomorrow. Not last week. But here in this present moment.” Good doggie.

A marriage is like…

Last week my husband and I celebrated 36 years of marriage. I could write that these years were sweet wedded bliss but I’d be lying. We’ve struggled through some tough times. Despite our differences, we’re still here, still together and moving forward. You could say I’m a stubborn cuss or say I’m a persistent person. Either way, the same words fit for my spouse.

Because I love metaphors, I Googled “metaphor for marriage.” A metaphor, as you probably know, is a figure of speech that refers, for rhetorical effect, to one thing by mentioning another thing. The search engine results for marriage included metaphors like these…trees…swords forged in fire…a horse and carriage…a duet…a road…seeds…gardens…and a host of other associations. I read every idea and marvelled at the way the contributors elaborated on their meaning. Not one fit my experience.

The truth is a marriage is created by two unique individuals, and if nothing else, we are that. My husband and I have such distinct personalities it’s a miracle we’ve gone on this long. After completing my research, I concluded that I had to find my own parallels.

I sat for a long time waiting for a metaphor to come into my mind. During my reflection time, I remembered a family holiday that included white water rafting on the Kananaskis River in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. A group of multi-aged tourists showed up for the trip, donned raggedy wetsuits, helmets and lifejackets, and then armed with paddles and enthusiasm, we waited impatiently to set off. We felt brave and up to the risk; possibly a little apprehensive. After an instructivel lecture on rafting techniques and a safety demonstration, we piled into the raft. After our guide showed us basic paddling skills, we maneuvered our craft through an easy section of fast moving water. When our crew put their backs into the oars, we became a team. We felt brave gliding smoothly around rocks large enough to create eddies. We even survived a few nose-dives that sprayed up and soaked us to the skin.

Towards the end of the adventure, we tied up on the shoreline and scrambled along the edge where we were instructed to throw ourselves into the water. Some of us were doubtful. The rafting coaches pressed us. Plummeting into a frigid mountain river took my breath away. The river took hold of each one of us and carried us 50 feet downstream where our guides waited, laughing, to pluck us from the stream.

I’ll never forget the exhilaration and shock of leaping into that water. This was the link to my metaphor!

Like a new river rafter, you first experience marriage as if you are leaping into a cold mountain river that looks beautiful from afar but turns out to be risky for the innocent participant. Initially the novelty of romance and delight takes your breath away. You feel like you can handle anything. After awhile, the excitement wears thin, and you struggle to keep your enthusiasm going. Eventually you realize there is work to it so you put more effort into it. Emotional turmoil tumbles around you, pushes you off-balance and threatens to wash you onto the shore or send you scrambling over the rocks. Slippery stepping stones in your life upset your footing. Your well-anchored opinions are washed away like gravel, swept along in rapids, and tossed over thundering waterfalls. At the sharpest curve, you learn to respect the river. Sometimes you are submerged like waterlogged debris in the current; sometimes you float like a fallen autumn leaf. Eventually, you surrender: to the flow, to life, to the love that brought you to each other in the first place. After the rapids, you realize the current is slowing.

Where you once saw your husband as a heavy rock holding you down, you begin to appreciate him as an anchor. You realize the two of you handle the current in different ways; you learn to stand and let the wild water flow around you. He understands your need to float in still pools. You both learn to listen to the silence and stillness of the forest unconscious. His sharp edges smooth out, and his dark sediments slowly settle into fertile growth. The drama of the wild water fades. On the flood plain you learn to go with the flow.

Metaphor is a big picture tool that provides clarity. It shows me the similarities between a wild river ride and a marriage. It helps me step back and see the complete, overarching story of two souls who have learned to travel with the flow of life. From this vantage point, I can consider the future, and instead of focusing on the small details of past turbulence, make decisions that take the whole of the river’s course into account, from spring source to the wide sea.

So tell me in the comments…what is a metaphor for your relationship with your partner?

Compassion for the Shame-Baby

Yesterday, at a child’s 4th birthday party with red, blue and yellow balloons floating on the ceiling, big slices of chocolate cake on plates, piles of presents and 14 rambunctious children chasing each other around the kitchen, the mother of the birthday boy asked me to hold her 8-month old baby girl. We played pat-a-cake and peekaboo, and I revelled in the innocence of this small gopher-cheeked human being.

In the midst of the noise and chaos, she struggled to stay awake. I rocked back and forth, hummed a tuneless melody in the comforting way that I used when my own children were small. She eventually succumbed to sleep as a puppy does, simply closing her heavy eyelids and drifting off into dreamland.

While I felt grateful for this opportunity to revisit the world of little kids, I couldn’t help but compare it to the self-compassion work I’m engaged in myself at the mature age of 66 years. Just a few days ago, I talked with a supportive friend, and I told her about one of my Shadow Selves, “Critical Carla” who yammers at me when I make mistakes. “You don’t measure up!” “You’re a failure!” When Carla speaks to me like that, I become anxious and stressed and I see only my flaws.

Intellectually, I understand the purpose of Carla’s tirades. She’s trying to motivate me by correcting me so I’m safe from the rejection and disconnection that I fear will come with disappointing others and myself. I don’t necessarily feel her protection. Instead, I feel hurt and defensive instead of determined to be my best self. Worst of all, I feel alone.

When I make big mistakes, Critical Carla’s reactions can wreck havoc in my life. When she compares me to others whose lives seem idyllic and perfect, when she castigates me for my disorganized housekeeping skills, my frustration with my husband, my inability to balance my cheque book, or any other behaviour in which I feel “not good enough,” I feel powerless to stop her until I listen carefully and acknowledge her reason for protecting me.

Until I become mindful, the innocent child inside me continues to feel ashamed. She is, as self-compassion researcher Kirsten Neff says, a “shame-baby.” This baby needs my compassion and comfort whether it is warmth and reassurance, rocking, or whispers that say, “You’re okay just the way you are.” She needs to feel safe with me, that she is not alone, and that all human beings have moments when they feel flawed and imperfect. I can put my hand over her heart or cup her face so she feels rest easy in my arms.

Lonely Lila

Lonely Lila

Lonely Lila comes to me in darkness
when the interface grid is offline
when my soul radiance dims
i hear her whistling in the dark
then i’m not afraid
to share the gift of words
to light up the world
with forgiveness
and acceptance.

it shocks me to know
the live wire of my heart
when amplified and grounded
is powered by a great Wind
the natural source of all love

then Lila leaves her lonely lair
she illuminates the way, makes my heart shine
my eyes twinkle and my words hum.

(c) Kathie Sutherland 2015/02/03

Unearthing Essence

Since I began this blog, I’ve been paying more attention to the words I use, to their energy in the world, and to the things they convey. I’ve noticed that the subject matter I choose is often about the pain of the past. Many beautiful poetry, prose works and other artistic expressions arise from the rubble and hurt of people’s lives (think Edgar Allan Poe, Sylvia Plath and Ernest Hemmingway). I get judgmental about my writing when I continue to pull the darkness back over myself; like putting my head under the covers when it’s a beautiful day outside. Maybe that’s why, when I was a teen, my Dad woke me up by flicking the light off and on and announcing loudly, “You’re missing the best part of the day.” I didn’t like it at the time but now I see that he appreciated mornings and was grateful for the renewal that a new day brings. 

In my recent writing, I’ve tried to ease up on rehashing the past and spend more time becoming aware of the lessons that are right in front of me. I am aware that by telling stories over and over again, I am peeling off layers in a search for the essence buried under the mundane events of my life. Many days are not very interesting, exciting, or dramatic, the very things I use to create stories and poems. Perhaps that’s why I write, to relieve the tedious and repetitious nature of things. So I asked myself this morning, “What could I be writing that would be neither pained or boring but true to life?”

I could write that it was my daughter’s birthday today and that she loved all the Facebook messages she received and she is looking forward to her birthday supper with friends. I could write that her puppy, Jax, is the cutest grand dog ever, and I love that he communicates so much with his quizzical facial expressions. I could write that I finally got a good night’s sleep after a couple of long awake nights and I’m feeling more perky today. I could write that my husband makes the best oatmeal porridge, which is much better than mine probably because he uses the large flake oats and cooks it a long time.

Anyone can write about ordinary everyday stuff like this but some writers like to unearth the essence of things. They try to link today’s birthday with previous significant birthdays like turning 18 or 30 or 65 or describe the animated messages on Facebook. They try to write the thoughts a dog might have. They try to portray a peaceful night’s sleep or one with horrid nightmares and by doing so, understand themselves. They try to take the reader step by step through the precise measurements and cooking style of an oatmeal specialist. They try to write with appreciation, gratitude and renewed amazement at the darnest things.

What fascinates me is digging deeper than the surface fluff in search of treasures that exist at a spiritual level. Spiritual for me means writing in awareness of and integrating ordinary physical, emotional and intellectual experiences to find the extraordinary and connect that to All That Is. That’s one of the reasons I love metaphor. It’s a tool to connect concrete things to a spiritual abstract. I’ve been known to include a bit of twisted humour in my poems, a paradox or two, and find weird relationships between unrelated subjects. Riddles and puzzles stimulate questions about the Mystery and create synchronicity too.

Let’s consider a dog’s perspective, for example. Dogs are very intuitive, sensual creatures, present and focused on whatever they do, totally in touch with their natural instincts. A dog teaches me to stop and listen. I follow this inclination whenever I can because it feels like meditation when I pick out individual sounds and follow them until they are gone. One caveat I hold to as a general rule is… Steer clear of dog kibble and milk bones. 🙂

Here is a poem I wrote in 2001 that captures a dog’s imagined perspective on spring.

spring cycles

my dog teaches freedom
tugs at the leash
rushes headlong into the walk
she knows where she is going

i follow in her wake
believe her instinct
go where she goes
she has untamed advantage:
singular focus on scented breeze

here I stand
distracted by a plural mind
caught up in the colour of new lilacs
squeals of children at play on bicycles, water gurgling in gutters

but my dog knows better, raises her nose
obeys the call of the wild wind
with the smell of God in it

05/15/01

I believe spiritual essence lives underneath everything including the mundane. I’m always looking for it, asking questions, and listening for messages about the mystery of life.

If you like the idea of poetry as a spiritual quest, check out my poetry books on my Bookstore page.