I Wrote a Book

 

I wrote a book!  Pilgrimage: A Modern Seeker’s Guide was launched on May 18 and is now available on Amazon. Over the last 5 years I’ve written about my adventures traveling in the world and at home in my everyday life. This is a guide book to help you find your own pilgrimage in the world and the path to your heart.

The first part is a guide for the physical journey, either around the world or close to home. I answer the questions of why take a pilgrimage and what is a sacred site. Then I created a step by step guide to help you take a pilgrimage from the first whisperings of a Call, preparing, the journey and integration of your experience into your life.

The second half of the book is 40 days of reflections to help find meaning in your journey and discovering your authentic self. Each day is written to take you into your heart and then unfold your new experiences and knowledge to bring you to a new understanding of yourself and the world.

This small book is an accessible and practical guide to make your journey a discovery of our beautiful world and yourself.

You can find my book here:  www.amazon.com

And here:  http://www.audreypress.com

I would love for you to write an Amazon review to help others find my book.

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photo by C. Savage

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Secrets of a Healing Garden

Guest post by valarie budayr

Nothing shows the journey of life better than a garden with its seasonal cycles of blooming and rebirth. For children who are victims of physical and sexual abuse and trauma the healing/therapy garden at New Hope is a welcome retreat as a place of healing and renewal.

New Hope Healing Garden is a private garden retreat for children, care givers, first responders, staff and therapists

The New Hope Therapy Garden is a private outdoor garden space that has been specifically designed to meet the physical, psychological, social and emotional needs of the children using New Hope and its resources as well as their caregivers, family members, friends, and staff as a place to re-connect with their well being and heal the invisible wounds of current and post-traumatic stress.

The design is to inspire play through nature exploration, nature and gardening care, and imagination. Throughout the whole garden we engage the child through various textures, sounds, imagination and interaction. It instills awe and wonder, and invites anyone to come in, look, listen, and see what grabs your curiosity.

Welcome to our Garden ~

The Singing Hopscotch Path


We enter the garden via the numbered circled path. There are two ways to use the path. The first is by hopping as in playing hopscotch. The next way of using the path is to sing. Each colored marker on the path makes us stop and sing a first line of a song such as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Both hopping and singing are ways to enter the present moment, the here and now. We have to concentrate really hard to hop on one foot and then the other. It’s a relief to be able to stop with both feet on two numbers. It doesn’t leave a lot of room for outside thoughts to run inside our minds. Singing also achieves the same thing. We can only sing one note at a time. It takes full concentration and our full breath. We need to sing the correct pitch, have enough air in our lungs and move to the next note in the song as well as sing the correct words. The pathway is an indicator that we are transitioning from the world out there, that at times isn’t so nice, to the safety of the garden where we will explore, experience, and embrace nature through play. Everything that happens in the garden, happens only in the present moment, the now. The experience of the garden opens up new possibilities and new ways of seeing things.

Flower Planters


Just in front of the parking lot are four moveable garden planters. These have been planted with a variety of flowers which once cut come back again. Such flowers are zinnias, calendula, marigolds, nasturtiums etc., as well as, herbs. All of the flowers and herbs in the planters will be used for nature play in the Nature House and in the Fairy Forest.
The flower planters are also away for the children to take the watering cans, and trowels and personally help care for the garden by watering and weeding. Both child and therapist while weeding, watering, or picking flowers can have those very important conversations that foster healing.

Sunflower House
Each Spring a 6 x 9 house will be created completely out of several sunflower varieties.
Children love hideaways to play in and view the outside world without being seen. The sunflower house is such a place to sit and create flower and nature mandalas, rake a zen garden, or sit an enjoy the world around them as birds fly in and out and squirrels scamper up and down the trees. It’s a place to feel protected, ponder and create.

Fairy Forest

Using only natural materials such as sticks, shells, stones, leaves, pinecones, acorns etc, we create fairy houses. There is no right or wrong way, only natural materials can be used. No nails, glues, twine or string. Building a natural fairy houses instills the idea of being able to fix things that one doesn’t like. We can create something enchanting by using our imaginations and by creating with what nature gives us.

The Fairy Forest instills the idea of impermanence that something may not be there forever but we can rebuild with what is left over and what new things we can pick up from around the fairy forest to build with.

Therapists also share the idea that they can create a safe house in the Fairy Forest and build what that looks like.

House by house, the forest fills until one day we come upon an entire village. There are two old trees in the garden and the stretch of land between the left hand tree, the bird bath/water play area and the tree on the right hand side will encompass the Fairy Forest.

Field of Flowers Bird Baths


Sitting in a field of seasonal flowers is our water play area. Local artist Linda Edmunds created bird baths using large squash and rhubarb leaves. Each one is hand painted and sealed to bring a fun and playful feel to the garden. The bird baths instill water play. Just to the right of the field of flowers is a big concrete bowl which when filled will have floating balls in it. Both the bird baths and bowl invite the child to play by simply pouring water into them as well as placing various nature items there to interact with. Many specific therapy modalities also use water as a tool for healing. This allows free play and imagination in a structured setting.

The Labyrinth


Welcome to the meandering path. Labyrinths are used as a centering tool to quiet the mind. The labyrinth at New Hope is a 7 circuit Chartre labyrinth.
The path winds its way back and forth, in and out. The mind becomes disoriented because it’s not sure which way the path will turn next. This confusion actually calms the mind in a still and gentle way. The wandering path also in only the width of one foot which means you can only walk with one foot, one pace at a time. Another tool which silences the mind.

A labyrinth isn’t a maze. The same path we use to walk to the center of the labyrinth is the same one we use to walk out.

A labyrinth is a tool of transformation. We are never the same person who walked into the labyrinth as the person who walks out. There are three stages of a labyrinth walk. The first is the intention to walk the labyrinth, quiet the mind and leave the outside world behind. The second is the actual walk. As we get closer to the center we are moving into our own interior space. Once in the center we take a moment to reflect, whether that’s a simple moment of gratitude, to take a few deep breaths or to even meditate. We are in the center of ourselves as well as being in the center of the labyrinth. Those few moments we took in our walk and reflective thoughts have us walking out a more centered person than when we walked in. The very design of the labyrinth instills this whether we choose to reflect in the center or not.
The labyrinth was designed for little legs and so the adults who walk it comment that the turns happen quickly, yes for long legged people but for our children visitors it’s just the right of walking paces between turns. Since the labyrinth has been installed, both staff and children have enjoyed walking the wandering path.

The Nature House


Next to the labyrinth is our Nature House. It is a place to have important conversations while playing and creating with nature. While in the nature house, children can create nature mandalas, use therapy trays such as sand, stone, and landscape as well as rake into the table top zen gardens.
Nature House is also a great place to be outside in all kinds of weather. It offers some protection from rain, snow, and sleet, allowing children to experience all moments regardless of weather outside.

As the children connect with the garden they are planting seeds for the future. The garden, the connection to nature, and life after the stress of abuse, are full of hope.

New Hope is a private garden and safe haven for those that utilize New Hope and its facilities and is closed to the general public.

The therapy garden was designed by Maryville resident Valarie Budayr. Valarie has been gardening her whole life. Valarie was on the creative design team for the Secret Garden at the Knoxville Botanical Gardens which opened in October of 2016. Valarie’s area of garden design specialties are labyrinth building and design as well as secret gardens, fairy gardens and houses,paradise, and healing gardens. She also greatly loves her vegetable garden. Valarie is also known as an award winning author and publisher.
It was her great joy to create the Therapy Garden at New Hope and wishes much healing and creative nature play to take place there.

Chickadee

Photo by Christopher L. Wood

Every morning I look out my kitchen window into my herb garden where I have my bird feeders and watch my darling birds flit and land, throw seeds on the ground and have little spats. Nothing could make me happier for in my world my birds, specifically chickadees, are “A” list celebraties. Forget seeing humans parade on a red carpet, it is these adorable birds that turn me into a screaming adolescent girl– “OMG there is a chickadee.”

Just like the opossum, I have always had the chickadee as a totem animal. There are so many characteristics of animals that play out in our lives and its common to have more than one totem animal. But over the years chickadees and opossums have played a prominent role in the lore of my life. According to Animal-Speak by Ted Andrews, the bible of animal totem information, the black cap of the chickadees indicates the depths of the mysteries of the mind and the search for Truth. There are seven types of chickadees that indicate the alignment with the seven chakras, seven stages of alchemy and ancient mysteries. All of that wrapped up in this charming little bird that demonstrates that Truth doesn’t always have to be hard but sometime comes to bring joy and cheer to life. I’m all for that.

The other day I saw a little post on Facebook that brings new meaning to the chickadee totem. According to Audubon News, chickadees have the remarkable capacity to swap old brain cells for new ones allowing them to keep track of the hundreds of new places they store seeds. Sign me up chickadees! I want some of that. As I head deeper into the second half of life I’m taking on chickadee medicine as I am actively swapping old brain cells for new and building new neuron paths. Remember last year I went to the Joseph Campbell Library in California? Well on that fateful day I picked up a catalog of degrees offered a Pacifica Graduate Institute. One program caught my eye and wouldn’t leave me alone, Depth Psychology: Jungian and Archetypal Studies. I tried to resist with lots of good reasons including a previous vow never to go back to school. But it seemed to be the next step on my pilgrim’s path—the road deep into the infinite universe of the mind and the mysteries of life. I started classes last month and although a challenge, it is a good challenge and with the help of my chickadee pals I’m going to grow some new paths into the mysteries of the mind. Thanks for being my adorable companions on this magical journey.

This month marks my 5th blogaversary! When I tentatively pushed that ‘publish’ button that day I had no idea where my pilgrim’s path would take me but it sure wasn’t across a country or to graduate school. But there you have it. Tell the universe “I’ll go” and you never know where you will be headed next but it will be well worth the journey.

Chickadee World

Media Fast

Beehive Hermit Cell,  Kilmartin Scotland

I was out of control. My YouTube time had ballooned into a near-addiction. Ever since I got rid of cable I had transferred my downtime to the internet instead of TV. And besides, YouTube is designed to keep you watching long past a couple of videos. I’ve never liked Facebook much but it still took up a bit of time everyday too. One Sunday morning I knew I needed to stop so I had Hamilton lock my iPad in the safe for a week. I need to take an internet break. I still had a laptop (too slow), smart-phone (too little) and Kindle (too basic) but none of them tempt me to do anything but important business.

With nothing to distract me I had to get back to books. I read some fluff on the Kindle and got the news from an actual newspaper and I got back to my early morning reading. I’ve had a routine since I was young of reading something spiritual when I first get up in the morning. I feed the cats, make some coffee and while that is brewing, unload the dishwasher. Then I pour my first cup of the day with just cream, and set to reading. I like to read a chapter or so in a spiritual or metaphysical book and then move on to something else I’m working on. It is amazing how many books you can get through in a year with a chapter a day.

The world is dark and quiet early in the morning and the only thing stirring is my cat Timmy who wants his morning cuddle. It is in this silence that I can open my mind and heart to the spiritual masters and teachers who left beautiful writings to help guide me on my path. During my internet fast I was reading a lovely book called The Way of a Pilgrim and the Pilgrim Continues His Way. An appropriate title for the a perpetual pilgrim to be reading, don’t you think? This spiritual classic was written by an unknown Russian peasant in the 1800’s who’s life was in shambles after losing his home and wife.

The author sets off to travel looking for his spiritual truth with only the clothes on his back and some crusts of bread in a knapsack. He wanted to follow the words of the Bible and learn to ‘pray without ceasing’. With the Bible and another book the Philokalia, a collection of early Christian writings. as his guide and solace, he encounters hardship, hunger, cold and thieves. As his journey continues he finds meaning and comfort in prayer and is able to help many people he encounters on the way. Two books and some bread—that is far from my stack of electronic devises and pantry full of food. Would I have the courage of this man? Could I ever be able to dedicate my life to such an ideal? Times have changed but the need to find our truth is still there.

I will definitely lock up the iPad again if I need a break from the world. I’m not quite ready to be a wandering mendicant but I did learn to put the world in its proper place again. By the way, my second book in the morning currently is about Thoreau and Walden Pond, Expect Great Things, and my third book is about a young man living in a van, Walden on Wheels. I think there is a pattern here. But as appealing as a good wander sounds I think I will stick with my air conditioned house during this hot and humid August and enjoy some vicarious wandering.

The Secret Garden

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As much as I love a grand adventure to a foreign land, sometimes a gentle adventure close to home is exactly what my soul needs. On a perfect October day with bright blue sky and the brilliant colored trees, I went to a new sacred site in my home town of Knoxville, a secret garden.

The Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum is 47 acres of trees, flowers and old stone walls, originally a land grant from George Washington to David Howell for his service in the Revolutionary War. Before the land was part of the state of Tennessee the Howell family were planting trees and building stone fences. Past magnificent century-old cedars from Lebanon, there is a secret garden tucked in a corner along one of these old stone walls.

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This secret garden maybe new but the inspiration for the garden started many years ago in Knoxville with the celebrated children’s author Frances Hodgson Burnett. Originally from England, Frances came to Knoxville in 1865 and fell in love with Dr. Swan Burnett. She started writing novels for children. Among her most famous works are The Secret Garden, A Little Princess and Little Lord Fauntleroy. I loved all these books as a child and my copy of The Secret Garden was tattered and taped. I related to lonely Mary who just wanted “a bit of earth” and wished I had a friend like Dickon who always had a baby animal with him. I wanted a robin to show me a magical walled garden where I could have my own secret world.

Two years ago my friend Val wrote a book, A Year In the Secret Garden, about bringing the magic of the original story into everyday life with activities, stories and recipes. It is a charming and beautifully illustrated book that just happened to be published right at the 150th anniversary of Frances’ move to Knoxville. A few months ago Val was asked to be on a team to help design a secret garden for the children of Knoxville in memory of Andie Ray who loved the book so much that she had named her clothing store Vagabondia after Frances’ Knoxville home. Andie’s parents wanted a special place to honor their daughter’s memory and reflect her love of life and beauty. In the story the garden is a place of healing for the lonely Mary and her invalid cousin Colin and I know this garden is a great healing for Andie’s loved ones and a place for everyone to renew enchantment with life. The secret world of your heart can blossom and grown in this special, beautiful garden.

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So on this beautiful October afternoon Val and I, her daughter and friend had a picnic and then entered the secret garden. A curved wooden door welcomes you and draws you into this magic space but don’t forget the key that unlocks this world of wonder; it is right next to the door. The path meanders along a scent garden to add to the beauty of the flowers in large pots that change with the season. If you look carefully, you will find a fox hiding in the bushes. Further down the path you see a giant nest and as you come around the corner you see a robin’s egg made of blue granite. There are large rocks in a circle, the perfect place for storytelling or to sit with a good book. There is more to come as the garden matures and becomes a beloved place to visit in every season.

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Photo by V. Budayr

If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden—-

Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden (1993)   If you love Downton Abbey you will love the film version of the book.  Maggie Smith plays the housekeeper Mrs. Medlock.

Secret Garden designed by Sara Hedstrom  and Rachel Beasley

Water

Hilton Head beach

What is it about water? Why are we so fascinated with it? We pay a premium to live by water. We go to places just because we want to be by water. We must drink it daily, use it to clean our bodies, baptize our babies. We listen to it, gaze at it, touch it, smell it, taste it for purity.

The water calls me. If I wasn’t so happy in my rural home in the foothills of the mountains, I would be where every moment of the day was accompanied by water. Fortunately my morning walk is beside a lake and I have moments to breath in the beauty.

The ocean calls me. I need time by the vastness of water, looking out to see nothing but water and sky. Every year I find a way to be renewed by the salt and sand, sky and starkness. It is the starkness of only water, sand, sky that I crave. The stripping of life to only the essential elements that renews my soul building it back from the foundation stones of existence.

For the first time I have come to the ocean alone. No children to play in the sand, no friends to share the experience, no husband to walk hand in hand on the beach. Just me. I have to be with the ocean. I’m using the excuse that I need time to write and I do. But it is the longing of my soul for the primordial water to cleanse myself in the salt water, like cleaning a crystal, an act of life-affirming renewal.

I’ve come to this same little borrowed hideaway for many years so I have my routine. The first morning is a long walk around the pristine neighborhood, seeing my favorite houses, hear the clang of metal against metal of the sailboats. This morning I walked out the pier and saw a solitary dolphin fishing for its morning meal. Every few minutes the fin or snout surfaced and I had a moment of joy.

I headed to the beach to read, walk and bob in the water. It is September so there are families with very young children and retirees, the people that are not bound to school schedules. The weather although still hot is not as intense as a month ago. I feed the parking meter and gather my chair and beach bag with the essentials: sunscreen, drinks and koozie, snacks, books, towel and phone. I alternate between reading, walking, swimming and just looking at the waves.

The water is just cool enough to be refreshing without any need to slowly get wet. Sometimes I face the vast distance and watch the birds skim across the water. The pelicans with their prehistoric silhouettes come in twos looking for fish. The seagulls fly just above the surface in large groups making the sound that is so familiar at the beach. Their squawk is as essential a sound as the crashing waves. Sometimes I face the shore with the colorful umbrellas flapping in the breeze and the colorless sea grasses nodding in agreement.

I’m not the only one who craves the ocean and aloneness. On the mantel of the cottage is a slim book, a book I had been thinking about for the last couple of week. Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, is a small book of wisdom and comfort for the inner life. Anne deeply craved solitude, her life of celebrity, family and personal tragedy left little time for quiet. In a two week trip to the beach alone, Anne wrote this treasure that has comforted women for decades.

Every chapter is telling a very familiar story woven around the beauty of shells on the beach. Anne needed time alone to sort out who she was from the world around her of demands and schedules. She voices the truth that so many of us share. Quiet, alone, solitude are not experiences to be shunned but moments to be savored as gifts to yourself so that the voice of your heart can be heard.

“Woman must come of age by herself…
She must find her true center alone“

“Perhaps this is the most important thing for me to take back from beach-living: simply the memory that each cycle of the tide is valid; each cycle of the wave is valid; each cycle of a relationship is valid.”

“I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before.”

― Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

 

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

A Year by the Sea by Joan Anderson

 

Thomas Merton

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Last week I had the most unexpected delight. Brother Luke from the Abbey of Gethsamani wrote me this note.

Many thanks for the thoughtful and generous reflections about your visit to us. Rest assured, the company of our fellow pilgrims is a blessing and enrichment for us there in the choir. Every warm best wish and encouragement from us all!

I was so pleased that our time together was a blessing even though the Brothers in Gethsemani and I have never met. The quiet interaction of our devotion was equally beneficial to our hearts even though our conscious mind didn’t know the specifics. It is through the quality of our heart the blessings are received. This is one of the great mysteries and graces of the devotion of the pilgrim.

How do we grow the quality of our heart? So glad you asked! Because one of the most important spiritual writers on contemplation and devotion was a Brother at the Abbey of Gethsemani, Thomas Merton. All you have to do is open one of his many beautiful books on the contemplative life and you will find the answers to the way of a Spirit filled life. You may have heard of Thomas Merton before but if you haven’t I want to introduce him to you because he brought contemplation into the 21st century and continues the long line of Christian mystics going back to John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila. You will find his influence on many of the lives of current spiritual writers.

Thomas, known as Brother Louis at Gethsamani, was born in 1915 in France to non-religious artist parents and spent his childhood going between France, England and the United States. He ultimately ended up Columbia University where he got a masters in literature, with a thesis on William Blake, the first clue of his future. By the time Thomas was in his mid-twenties, he had no living family and a deep Christian conversion. He felt called to the life of devotion and eventually found the Abbey of Gethsamani. Thomas wrote about his childhood and conversion experience and first days in the Abbey in his classic best-seller, The Seven Storey Mountain. With a great talent for writing about the contemplative life, Thomas continued his work as a writer as his vocation in the Abbey. Eventually he was able to move to a small converted hermitage on the Abbey grounds where he could spend his time in the solitude he craved. The last few years of his life (in the early 1960’s), he became increasingly interested in social justice and the common spirit between Buddhism and Christianity. He made a famous trip to India to meet the Dalai Lama and attend a global conference on world religions. Unfortunately Thomas died on that trip in an accident exactly 27 years to the day of joining the monastery.

I’ve known about Thomas Merton for many years but the visit to Gethsamani gave me the context to read his books I had collected. I could spend a lifetime with this amazing writer and mystic. But let us go back to the original question that we asked, how to grown the quality of your heart. Thomas has some beautiful suggestions. He said that you didn’t have to be a monk or nun to live the contemplative life, that the life of prayer is open to all of us. It doesn’t require hours of meditating or renunciation of the world to make your own life an act of devotion. Our lives are perfect for growing the heart for it is the act of taking time to connect with the Divine everyday and see everyone we meet and our work as service to the world. He wrote, “to be a saint is to be myself.” Doing the dishes and the laundry, our commute, caring for our children and our elderly parents can all be acts of devotion and love.

Yes, every part of our lives can be a chance for awakening. One of Thomas’ most profound experiences wasn’t in the monastery in prayer but in a moment while on a busy street in Louisville, Kentucky.

I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. . . . This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. . . . I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.

Be who you are, love the life you have, spend moments in silence, start and end your day with moments of prayers, sing a hymn, read a scripture or inspirational book, notice the birds and the wind in the trees and realize we are “all walking around shining like the sun.”

Books by Thomas Merton:

New Seeds of Contemplation

The Seven Storey Mountain

Thoughts on Solitude

 

Books on a modern contemplative life by Marsha Sinetar:

Sometimes Enough is Enough  

Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics