Blog Post: Sense, Coffee, and Kindness

The phrase flew out of my mouth that morning: “Live your coffee.” My day (and truthfully much of my week) had been cloaked in struggle, the kind that is caused by the bad behavior of stressed out, suffering, self-involved, and mindless people. I know you’ve been there too. As the Chinese say, we are living in interesting times.

I am proposing a simple antidote:  sense, coffee, and kindness.

Let me explain….

 

Be sensible

According to Webster, sense is simply defined as conscious awareness. It’s easily implemented by anyone, whether you are eight or eighty. Be conscious. Be awake. Be aware of something outside yourself. And be aware of what is within yourself as well.  If you’re reading this blog, you are probably well on your way to some such practice of mindfulness.

But we all fall off the wagon. There will always be that person who presses your buttons and catapults you right out of your Zen. (Usually it’s someone who is close to you and has installed those buttons, by the way).

As my T’ai Chi instructor used to say to us every week in class, the practice of T’ai Chi requires constant correction.

So does the practice of sense.

 

Live your coffee

If you’re not conscious, if you’re not awake, if you’re not aware, well, then have a cup of coffee. Okay, so maybe not literally.  It’s a good metaphor though. Coffee sharpens the senses. It makes you more alert.  You know that saying, “wake up and smell the coffee?” Well, it has merit. At any given time we have the choice to pay attention or not, to be awake or stay asleep, to live our coffee or not.

What are you missing? Who are you not seeing who is suffering and needs to be seen? Might it be the crabby lady on line behind you at the Post Office? Might it be the crying child in the cart at the grocery store with the exhausted and short-tempered parent pushing the cart?

Might it even be you and your desperately neglected, abused, and weary spirit?

Pour yourself a cup of Joe. And ask yourself, ” To what and to whom may I be more present?”

Is God calling you into a deeper communion to be a vehicle of healing in this world?

Live your coffee and lean into that calling.

 

Be kind

Once you’ve taken the first two steps, I promise the third is a terrifically easy stretch. Robert Fulghum said it brilliantly in his book, Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten:

Share everything.
Play fair.
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Flush.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life –
Learn some and think some
And draw and paint and sing and dance
And play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world,
Watch out for traffic,
Hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.

A quick reminder:  Fulgham’s rules of kindness apply to you as much as they apply to the crabby lady behind you at the Post Office and the child in the grocery cart. The rule in my clinic is to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you go about the work of rescuing anyone else. It’s a helluva lot easier to smile at someone in need when that smile comes from the center of your soul. That kind of smile plays a lot better in the world too, by the way.

Be awake. Live your coffee. Be kind. The world needs you now more than ever.

Blessings on your path,

Maria Mandarino

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Blog Post: Honoring your Boundaries and Your Sacred Place in Creation

This past weekend was not an easy one. My fourteen year old little dog, Kira, had a serious cardiac episode. She’s been a cardiac patient for nearly two years now and we’ve had some episodes of syncope from which she’s always recovered quickly. This time she came into the house from a brief walk, coughed a few times, walked to her bed, sat and looked at me with a slightly dazed expression, and then her nose crashed into the bed and she didn’t move again. I picked her up. Her body was eerily light. Her head flopped lifelessly against my shoulder. I wasn’t scared so much as I was in disbelief. I held her against my heart, stunned that a vibrant life could extinguish so fast and without struggle. There’s a great sadness and also a blessing in being able to depart like that. I held her this way for what felt like a good minute, but probably was less.

Then, slowly and miraculously, her rib cage began to expand and she was breathing again. She still couldn’t lift her head. And so I kept holding her, not sure if she was making a momentary return, only to leave for good.

She surprised me. She lifted her head and looked around. I checked her gums. They were a mix of grey and lavender — hypoxia — and the first sign I’ve seen of it since her cardiac disease began. I looked into her eyes and they seemed to register. She gave me a look that I swear said, “If you can do this, I can.” She was straining to breathe, but she was in there and seemed to have an interest in staying. So I grabbed a blanket, wrapped her in it, and kept holding her.

I called a friend who is a hospice nurse and we decided that it was wise to give her a homeopathic for anxiety and her cardiac herbs, all of which she happily chewed (you have to love a dog who has a palate for Chinese herbs). A timid shade of pink was returning to her gums. I felt her energy sink deeper into her body and she had more of a substantial feel to her. In Chinese Medicine, we would say the Shen (the Spirit) was rooting back into the body. Slowly but surely (over a period of about 90 minutes), she returned to her old self, walked around, stood in front of her empty dish, looked at me with an expression that said “Are you gonna do something about this?” And I fed her, sitting on the floor next to her, never so grateful to watch that little creature eat.

She went on to play with her toys and look out the front door and bark at the dogs that walked by. Today she was even better and her energy levels seemed to be improved beyond what I’ve seen in her in weeks. She spent the day soaking up the sun as it streamed through the house, my job being to move her bed around so she could continue to sunbathe. (I am quite certain she was Cleopatra in a past life).

I am waiting on some labs this week and will then review options with my holistic vet, who is the only vet who has ever really understood Kira (or me, for that matter). And we will talk about maybe introducing a cardiac medication along with her herbs. I’m not sure yet how I feel about that.

There is an energetic component here too (isn’t there always?) and Kira is a sensitive dog. Less has always been more with her and pharmaceuticals have always held a price. So I’m not necessarily convinced that integrating meds will be right. But I am open. For now she is doing well, she is happy and playful, demanding as ever, and there is some seriously good Shen in those soulful brown eyes. She amazes me.

Kira has been my teacher since that early November day in 2002 when she ran across a basement room, crashed into me, wrapped her paws around my ankle and chose me. We have journeyed through so much together: divorce, three interstate moves, three businesses, the magic of holistic medicine, new loves, lost loves, two academic degrees, friends we’ve met (human and canine), friends we’ve lost far too soon. When I was scared and alone and had no one to count on, she forced me to get up each morning to take care of her. And in doing so, she made me believe in myself. God had entrusted me with this tiny life that was reliant upon me. What was God thinking? Through my panic and fears of inadequacy, Kira made me laugh and forget the terror. She astounded me at how smart such a tiny creature could be (she understands three human languages, plus sign language). She inspired me to give up cable because she was such an incredible puppy, all I wanted to do was play with her, watch her grow, and study for exams with her sleeping on my lap.

Two years ago, when she became old overnight with no clinical explanation and lost her hearing completely, she taught me how to be present to the unexpected. She also taught me about the grace of aging. Her muscular body was now thin and frail, her once thick and shiny coat had thinned and had become dull, but her spirit never wavered. She even barked louder, just like an old person who was hard of hearing. Her body might have gotten old, but she still knew how to get her point across.

Perhaps this past weekend was the best lesson Kira ever taught me though: sometimes it’s not only okay, but it’s absolutely necessary to put yourself and your own needs first in order to take care of those you love and who are truly are dependent upon you. She woke me up to the fact that living like this is part of honoring the sacred in yourself. I urge you to live this way, if you don’t already. As one whose vocation renders me a caregiver (and on-call most days), it’s a requirement to know when I am dangerously low on reserves. If I have nothing to give, I am not much use to others. Still I tend to give more than I wisely should. I don’t believe our Creator desires us to give everything.  What creator who loves her creation would? Honoring your boundaries is not selfish. It is a way to honor your sacred place in Creation and in the end, serve others better.

This honoring of boundaries in my life will be a new normal for a lot of people around me. But it’s healthy behavior and it’s what I need to do — for myself and for those I love. A lesson well-delivered by a 13.5 pound little dog with one great big spirit and a very determined heart.

Blessings and peace,
Maria Grace Mandarino

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Blog Post: Wherever You Go, There You Are

Six months ago, I had promised I’d write more about the unfolding of my journey into the healing arts. When I began on this road seventeen years ago as a student in the massage therapy program at the New York College of Health Professions, I was quite linear. I was learning. And I was a damned good learner. Muscle origins and insertions, innervations. Kinesiology. Neurology. There was plenty to keep my linear mind busy. Not to mention sitting for one of the most grueling massage boards in the country.

When things started to open up on that journey, I really didn’t quite understand what was happening and my linear mind wasn’t keen on making space for the non-linear stuff it didn’t understand. When I started to grasp it through T’ai Chi and Qi Gong, I couldn’t quite accept that it was happening to me and that it was happening so fast. Wasn’t this sort of thing supposed to happen over time with dedicated cultivation and the guidance of a wise mentor?

Over the years though, I came to realize this cultivation of energy had started long before I got to the massage program. This did not happen in a two year massage therapy program.

In Spring of 1996, I was a pretty intense Type A sort, working in medical editorial, driven by the almighty deadline. My boss, a physician from India, didn’t play into such physical world dramas, and one day when I had probably had one cup of coffee too many, and was chomping at the bit to select manuscripts for the next issue, he suggested that I learn to meditate. As only a dedicated Type A New Yorker could respond, I said, “I don’t have time for that stuff.” He nodded, smiled graciously, and said, “Precisely when you need to do it most.”

Some weeks later, I found myself in an independent bookstore on Long Island that was closing its doors. Everything was marked down. “Misplaced” in the literary fiction section was this book, facing outward so the title boldly stared me in the eye. It read, “Wherever You Go, There You Are.”

I was fond of the Clint Black song by the same name that was popular at the time. So I took the book off the shelf.

It turned out to be about Zen Meditation. I recalled my boss’s recommendation. The book was half price. What did I have to lose? I bought it. I opened it when I got home and devoured it. It was the first thing that made sense to me in a long, long while.

That book altered the course of everything that followed.

Three months later, I received a phone call at work — a defining moment for which nothing could have ever prepared me. I learned of the death of a childhood friend who was only 30 years old. It was impossible to breathe. Sound distorted. Vision blurred. My mental focus was lost and stayed that way for months. I plunged into despair. And there was no consoling me. I wanted one last time with my friend. One last conversation. One last song sung together. One last moment of raucous laughter. One last hug.

There would be none.

It was my first adult journey into grief. And I had no resources to guide me, except for the daily Zen practice I had begun three months before. Practice grounded me. It calmed me. It slowed down my racing heart. The very thing I had told my boss “I didn’t have time for” was the very thing I made time for — now twice a day. And eventually practice acquainted me with the peace of letting go. That process took nearly a full year.

But my opportunity to cultivate my energy wouldn’t end there.

But for a half hour, it would have been the first anniversary of my friend’s death. I was driving home from my grandmother’s house after her funeral, a funeral which came after an arduous two weeks of her failing health. During those weeks, I watched my grandmother decline in a hospital bed and stood by my mother and helped her make the decision to remove her mother from life support. I was present when she died. I saw her spirit leave her body. Although I told myself I had imagined that. The thing was back then, if you had asked me the point from which the spirit left the body, I would have said the crown. Because back then, even though I was meditating, I still lived wholeheartedly in my mind. The problem was, the gold spiral of energy I saw leave my grandmother’s body just before she flat-lined? It rose above her heart.

I was beyond thinking about it. I was emotionally drained. And I was making the journey into another layer of grief.

That night after the funeral, I was only about 15 minutes from home when traffic came to a stop at a construction site on the northbound Sagtikos Parkway.  I saw the cars in my rear view mirror cascading off the road as they were struck one by one, a ballet of headlights as cars were pushed onto the shoulder in a surreal blur. I remember bracing against the steering wheel and the brake pedal. And then the unforgiving sound and feel of metal hitting metal as my car was struck hard by the drunk driver, propelling my car into the car ahead of me, which my then husband was driving. I remember the sensation of my body moving upward against the strain of my seat belt. Then a violent slam back down into my seat. And then nothing.

I don’t know how long “nothing” lasted but it couldn’t have been long.

I remember being suspended in blackness. A peaceful silence. And these tiny beautiful sparkling lights permeating the blackness. I felt like I was floating. The stillness was welcomed and I was held in it for what seemed a long time. Then I heard a man’s voice. It was not a voice I recognized. But it was clear and firm in its directive: “You need to go back. Your mother cannot handle losing you and her mother.”

And then the next thing I remembered was sound. Loud and intrusive sounds. My husband was banging against the driver’s side window, screaming my name, pounding his fists against the glass. I wanted to tell him to shut up. A distant car horn was piercing the night. And then I saw my husband’s face as he continued to pound on the window. I recognized a frantic look I’d never seen before. I had been married to Joe Cool. An attorney. Nothing flustered him. Nothing. But this had him unearthed.

I got out of the car. I could walk, even though people told me I shouldn’t. I remember pacing like a wild animal on the shoulder, wrapped in a blanket until help arrived. We went to the ER. No bones were broken. Nothing required stitches. But soft tissue injuries and chronic pain plagued me, which provided me with more opportunity for Zen practice over the months that followed. I was also left with a heightened emotional sensitivity and spiritual awareness I didn’t understand and often scared me. And I was hesitant to breathe a word about those things to anyone for quite some time.

It wasn’t until years later, while in my first Myofascial Release class, that I had recall of a similar experience, when I was 17 years old. I grew up on Long Island and any Long Islander knows you never turn your back on the ocean. I had been taken under by a silent wave that rose up behind me. I remembered losing my footing and spiraling in the water, not sure what direction I was moving in. I pushed down on the ocean floor in panic and could feel my hands and legs being scraped by sand and rocks. I struggled. I fought. And then I had no fight left. I let go.

I experienced that same blackness with the sparkling lights. The same restful silence. The same feeling of suspension. Time ceased.  And then the harsh intrusion of sunlight as I found myself on the shore.

I told no one about this, not for years anyway. My linear assessment of the event went like this: 1) I was infinitely stupid for turning my back on the ocean, and 2) I was damned lucky to not be carried out to sea. And that was all I was capable of understanding at the time — luck had beat out stupidity. No need to celebrate it.

While I had forgotten about that day at the beach, when I experienced the blackness with the sparkling lights after my car accident, I knew I would never be the person I was before that night. I knew I was here to do something completely different from anything I’d done before. It would be a long time before I could give any of this a voice and put language on it. But the one thing I knew without a doubt was that after that night, there was positively no going back to life as I had known it.sedona-cairn

Blog Post: Alchemy and the Radical Transformation of Metal into Water

 

We are soon approaching the Winter Solstice, which in Celtic Spirituality is said to be a thin time, a moment when the spirit world is a bit closer to us, a time which celebrates the end of darkness and awaits the return of the light.  We cannot see it yet. But the promise of light is near.

In Five Element theory, we hold a similar idea. We leave the season of Autumn and the element of Metal as we progress toward the season of Winter and the element of Water. In the practice of acupuncture, we call this particular transition a radical transformation.

Consider the process. How can one transform Metal into Water?  Metal is hard, dense, and unyielding. Water is fluid, embodies movement, and life is born from it.  How can we logically explain such a drastic transition? The creation cycle of the other elements is clear: Water creates Wood. Wood creates Fire. Fire creates Earth. Earth creates  Metal (minerals).

But what of this radical transformation of Metal turning into Water? How does it happen? How can we apply laws of physics?

We can’t. This process involves magic. Alchemy. The hand of God.

In Five Element theory, the shift out of Metal and into Water is said to be the movement of death into birth,  similar to the Celtic view of the Winter Solstice and moving from darkness into light. And so this is why the shift from Metal to Water is called a radical transformation. We must make a giant leap. A leap that science cannot explain.  A leap of faith. Hard and unyielding Metal will be affected so deeply by some inexplicable force that minerals will be turned into water and life will start anew.  It is a transition beyond the mind’s reach.

Magic. Alchemy. The hand of God.

This transition involves a belief in a divine process,  in divine law, not man’s law. A process which requires us to make space in our lives for divine movement. This is the space in which God plays. And it is the space in which we wait and trust in our Creator’s deep love for us and in the belief that life will go on, despite what seems to be highly unlikely odds.

We experience this transition — this waiting between endings and beginnings — in times of grief and sorrow as well. In Chinese Medicine, it so happens that grief and sorrow are associated with the element of Metal. And the element of Water is associated with fear.

Ah, now, doesn’t this get a little more interesting?

When we grieve, we hurt so deeply that we are convinced we cannot survive our pain. Grief is a momentary death of our spirit. We are at the end of the cycle of Metal. Water is on the other side. Grief checks us. Fear stares us down from the distance. We are afraid of what’s on the other side of sorrow and grief. We wait in darkness, immobile, resisting the alchemical shift from death into birth. We are at an impasse. We are terrified of living again, of feeling again.

On the other side of darkness though is emerging light. Always. The Celts knew this. The ancient Chinese knew this. Metal waiting to be turned into Water. Death waiting for rebirth.

Magic. Alchemy. The hand of God.

To consider rebirth though and to start this cycle again is to risk great pain. We clutch at the darkness. Darkness is at least familiar. It is not normal or sensible to want to feel pain.

Birth is painful. For the woman. For the child.

But it offers immeasurable joy too. Birth is the only path to the human experience. To experience joy means to eventually experience sorrow. You cannot have one without the contrast of the other.

As we move toward the Winter Solstice, ask yourself these questions:

  • What in me has died?
  •  What in me is waiting to be reborn?
  • Am I willing to take the radical journey of alchemy from Metal into Water?
  • Am I willing to make space for magic and trust in the hand of God?

And in the tradition of a woman who asks no one to take a journey she has not taken herself, I assure you that I am on the path of radical transformation as well, walking right alongside you.

Blessings and peace to you as we all await the light’s return,

Maria Grace Mandarino 


Blog Post: Still Points and Watersheds

There are these curious moments in our lives. Moments when we know we are poised on the edge of something that will forever change us. Sacred moments.

In literature we calls these Watershed scenes. A watershed scene is a high point, a dividing line, a place of pause and vision, where you can look back and see the place from where you came. And also look forward at what lies ahead. It’s that place where you take a great big breath, honor and bless the past, and get ready for the great adventure waiting.

In body work, there is something called the Still Point, a moment where traumatic memory ceases and quiet enters. In this moment, the body reorganizes. Integration happens so the past can be released and new life can begin.

In both situations, nothing going forward will ever be the same.

We’ve all had defining moments such as these. The one that always makes me smile began in 1997, when I was writing my first (and so far my only) novel. A lot of things were happening in my life back then. A year earlier, I had lost a childhood friend at the age of thirty. I knew nothing going forward would be the same. Almost a year to the date of my friend Eddie’s passing, I lost my grandmother and was present at her death. Just days later, I was in a car accident caused by a drunk driver and had a near death experience. Nothing going forward could ever look the same.

During my recovery from the accident, I decided to write the novel I had wanted to write. Writing kept me sane. It kept me busy. It gave me a feeling of purpose. And it gave me a creative outlet. These things were good for me in my healing. I was dealing with some pretty serious pain at the time. I was dealing with PTSD (at that point undiagnosed) from the accident and near death. And I was feeling deeply alone, separated from my spirituality, and misunderstood. There were very few people I’d allow near me. Creativity saved me.

It took me two years to write that novel and fifteen years before I would see it published. It sold a few copies. Feedback was positive. I had given people a chance to think about some things that were important to me. And all that made me happy enough. It was that thing I had always wanted to do that I finally did. I could check something off the bucket list.

I thought that was the end of it.

A year after publication, I had moved to Colorado from Arizona (coincidentally, my protagonist had done the same thing). I was opening a new acupuncture practice. A friend back in Phoenix insisted I needed to open a Twitter account to promote my business.

I hate Twitter. I told her no.

She persisted. And persisted.

A few weeks later, I acquiesced.

I had no idea what I was doing, but I figured it was sensible to follow some gurus in the healing world. So I followed Deepak Chopra and Caroline Myss. A few  other suggestions came my way. I followed those too.

Then I got a suggestion to follow this mystical poet named Carl Barbarotto.

My grandmother’s sister, who had long passed, was married to a man with the same last name. I thought that was interesting. I checked out this guy’s poetry. I liked it. A lot. And so I followed him.

A few days later, I was chatting with my mother and I mentioned the interesting coincidence of this guy named Carl Barbarotto who wrote this incredible poetry.

My mother’s face drained. “He’s your cousin,” she said.

I laughed at her. Because I knew I didn’t have a cousin named Carl. And this guy lived in Washington DC and we didn’t have any family in DC.

She insisted. I showed her his picture. She screamed. “That’s Carl!”

I waited for her to let me in on just how I had this cousin  I had never heard of. It seemed when my grandmother’s sister passed away, we fell out of touch with that side of the family. Carl and I were too young to know about each other.

My mother still had Carl’s mother’s phone number and she dialed it. Miraculously, the woman still had the same number. And it turned out it was in fact the same Carl.

The next thing I knew, my phone rang. It was a male voice. “This is Carl. I understand we are cousins,” he said.

Carl and I spent nearly two hours on the phone, sharing (and marveling) at the coincidences in our lives.

But there was a watershed/still point moment beyond this.

I learned Carl had been in seminary and he left shortly before ordination.

This gave me pause.

My novel had a character named Carl who dropped out of seminary.

My character’s last name was Bonadonna — similar musicality to Barbarotto.

My character left the Roman Church and became a Buddhist.

My cousin left the Roman Church and embraced Unitive Consciousness, or what he calls the Zen Mind.

We talked more. A lot more. About spiritual beliefs, about our journeys. And then we came back to talking about my character Carl. I explained that I named him after Carl Jung.

That’s when my cousin Carl had his still point and watershed moment in the conversation.

My cousin Carl left seminary after an assignment in a class on Carl Jung, which led him to have a dream that gave him clear guidance that he needed to leave seminary. Jung remains one of his greatest inspirations.

My life was truly not the same after that Twitter encounter. That day on the phone Carl asked me if I was still Catholic. I said I was not and I didn’t quite know what I was. That put me on a quest to find out. I ended up at a contemplative service at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Lakewood, Colorado. The service is called Nishma, Aramaic for “Vital Breath of God.”

In all honesty, I only planned to attend twice. One time to experience it. A second time to reassess and make sure I didn’t belong there. Because me and church never worked out.

Not only did I return a third time, but I became an Episcopalian eighteen months later. And I went on to help create the contemplative prayer stations at Nishma for quite some time. Some months after that, a church friend asked me to consider becoming a Spiritual Director, which I resisted with all my being. I was flattered, but my friend had the wrong woman. Six months later? I found myself submitting my application for the Benedictine Spiritual Formation Program at the monastery in Colorado Springs. I am five months away from graduating as a Spiritual Director and beginning a new ministry of service. I have loved every minute of it.

We all have watershed moments and still points like this. Sometimes they find us. Sometimes we seek them. However it turns out, they are moments which change us. Moments which define us. Moments where the Divine joyfully meets us.

What has been important in the unfolding of my nearly two decade long still point and watershed moment is understanding what was at work in those years when I felt lost and alone. The years while I was writing, while my body and spirit were hurting, and I felt abandoned by my Creator. When I felt overwhelmed and alone, when I found myself about to graduate from massage school while going through a divorce I never saw coming. Then the years that led me to Arizona, finding myself in acupuncture school, running a full time practice, exhausted and stressed out of my mind. Then two years later, taking boards while packing up my house and moving out of state again. So many times when I wondered when I could stop climbing stairs and finally get “there.” Where was God in those long scary weeks, months, and years when I was asking for guidance, feeling beaten and broken?

Where was God? God was clearly weaving a story. Weaving my path. Maybe not the path I was on in that moment, but surely the greater path…. the path I’m on now. God was silently at work. In the words of Carl Jung, “Bidden or not bidden, God is present.”

My pastor says when we feel most alone God is never more present. He might be silent because the Great Creator is at work, doing what needs to be done so that when we reach our Watershed Scenes and Still Points, we can recognize them, embrace them, and celebrate them as the divine gift they are.

Blessings and peace,
Maria Mandarino

For information about my novel: Neat Little Packages Maria Troia (Mandarino)

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Blog Post: Spirit’s Promise

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I believe God speaks to us in the spaces.  In the moments of stillness. In the moments of connection.  I find all too often people are not comfortable enough,  trusting enough, or perhaps present enough, to listen to the guidance that comes to us in these moments.  And too often I’ve been one of those people.

Two summers ago, I had one such moment and a chance to live my life a little differently.  It was quite an extended moment, actually. And dare I say, it was a defining moment that has inspired me to find the courage to stand firm on my intuitive gifts.

My friend Kelly and I had been on the phone that day, talking about some training in equine massage that  I was contemplating doing.

And he said, “I think my heart would explode if I could work with horses.”

Our friendship is such that we don’t let each other get away with powerful phrases like that.  So I asked him what was going on.

He shared that he has always loved horses.  Working on them was not within the scope of his license as a New York massage therapist.  He had thought about taking a course in animal communication instead.  Finances stood in the way. He never explored it.

I knew this wasn’t about money though.  A statement like that is never about money.  It’s about the soul remembering what it came here to do.  But what happened next defied any measure of logic. Let me say first, it’s not like I’ve never done something like this before, but I’ve certainly never done it  with this kind of connection, clarity, and velocity.

I said to Kelly, “I’m feeling a horse running toward me.  I feel it running right into my chest.  It rips my heart open.  There is a gaping hole inside.  And then the horse fills that hole.  And then there’s a pause.  I feel you now becoming the horse.  And I feel you and the horse, as one, tearing out of the gate.  The horse transforms you.”

The information kept coming, equally as fast:  “You’re going to work with rescue horses.  You’re going to heal the horses.  But there’s something else. Your work with the horses is going to heal you.”

There was a pause in the information and I waited to see if there was more. Then I got this: “And you will heal these horses so they can work with kids who have special needs, kids who need healing. So you will be the healer who heals the horse. But the horse is the healer who heals you. And you free this horse so it can then heal children.”

Then I said, “You need to volunteer somewhere where there are horses. Forget about money and the animal communication classes. That will come. For now volunteer. You need to just be around horses. Look on Eastern Long Island. Somewhere around Riverhead.”

Then I paused. Nothing else was coming. Except this: “I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do when you get there. But Spirit will lead you.”

I paused and furrowed my brow because what I got next seemed crazy. But I said it anyway.

“And don’t be surprised if you meet a horse named Spirit.”

Here I was, in Colorado,  1,800 miles away from New York, where I had lived most of my life. I hadn’t been back home in ten years. I had no clue there was a rescue barn there. Yet I knew in the center of my being that somehow there was one. Exactly there.

What happened next was surreal. Kelly texted me in less than five minutes. He sent me the link to a rescue barn. It was not in Riverhead, but in Manorville, one town over.

The name of the rescue barn? Spirit’s Promise.

It was named after their first rescue horse: Spirit.

Spirit’s Promise doesn’t just rescue horses that have been abused and neglected. Once rehabilitated, these horses go on to work in their equine therapy program, helping humans heal. The horses work with people who have experienced various emotional wounds. Among them: cancer survivors, survivors of trauma and sexual abuse, and those who have been harmed by bullying. The horses are there to be healed. And then the horses become the healers.

What Kelly told me shortly after learning all this provided an added layer of validation for both of us. A few weeks prior, Kelly’s friend Danny had sent him a video link about an animal communicator and a leopard named Diabolo, who was sent to a wild life rescue facility. Danny told Kelly this was the work he needed to be doing, that he had this gift. No one in the rescue facility could handle Diabolo and so an animal communicator was brought in to determine what was distressing the wild cat. Through her work with Diabolo, the animal communicator learned that the leopard desired respect and wanted to be renamed.  Diabolo’s wish? To be renamed Spirit.

And so when I had told Kelly not to be surprised if there was a horse named Spirit, he paid attention. When he found the actual barn called Spirit’s Promise one town over from where I told him to look for it, he knew this was important enough to investigate.

He called Spirit’s Promise and learned there was a caretaker’s day scheduled in two weeks.  He signed himself and his daughter up. He immediately resonated with Marisa Striano Charles, owner of Spirit’s Promise. His story of how he found the rescue barn captivated her. Kelly described a magical day working with the horses, bonding with and learning from them. Kelly’s own spirit certainly needed to meet the Spirit.

But I was curious about something. The information I received that day began while I was sitting in my clinic, setting acupuncture needles in myself. The last bit of the conversation about finding the horse named Spirit happened on my short ride home, just down the hill from my office. This was not the first time I had received information for Kelly at that exact place on my drive home. Some months before, in that same location, I had a visual impression of Kelly scattering rose quartz crystals on the ground. I called him and asked why I might be seeing this. He texted me a picture of a piece of rose quartz, the size of a softball. He had just been meditating with it.

So I had asked Kelly if the name of the street meant anything. He said it didn’t. It took me a while to put it together. Since childhood, Kelly’s spirit guide has been the bear, the Native American symbol of courage. At the bottom of this hill is a creek. And that creek so happens to be called Bear Creek. Wild bear had once been hunted on this land. It is literally bear land.

Some days later, I told Kelly he needed to look for animal communication classes in his area. He called me back to tell me he found one. The school so happened to be named “Two Bears.” We both suspected it was the one. Kelly was sure he needed training. Danny and I were pretty sure he didn’t. Then a few months ago, I knew he didn’t.

My friend Jean’s Yorkshire Terrier, Fiona, was dying of liver disease. Fiona had been perfectly healthy and then suddenly turned jaundiced. The disease came from nowhere and progressed rapidly. There wasn’t much time left. Jean wanted to know what Fiona needed to be more comfortable in her last few weeks.

The animal communicator Jean had contacted was unable to communicate with Fiona. The reading didn’t really unfold. I asked Jean if she was open to me asking Kelly if he could try. She agreed.

Kelly was hesitant, but tried anyway. He felt he didn’t get much of a connection. But he was clear on this much. Fiona told him that she felt like she “wasn’t the princess anymore.” Kelly was solid on that, but he thought this was virtually useless information.

What Kelly didn’t know is that Fiona’s full name was Princess Fiona. She was literally Jean’s princess, her first Yorkie. Only months before, Jean had gotten a fourth Yorkie, a puppy named Duke. And Fiona suddenly found herself feeling  lost in the crowd. Jean knew what needed to be done: Fiona needed to be showered with love during those last weeks to know she would always be Jean’s princess. Such a simple and short message held tremendous healing.

It’s been quite a ride since I learned about Spirit’s Promise. There was healing in the message for Kelly that day; I could hear it in his voice. But there was healing for me in that message too. And validation…

Spirit.

Spirit speaks to us. Spirit is a powerful guide. Spirit , I believe, is love. And that Spirit — that love — wants to put us on the path of our destiny — back on the path to the Divine.

But that message was not just about one word. It was not just about Spirit. Spirit was found at a place called Spirit’s Promise.

Spirit offers a promise: Follow me. Trust me. Let me lead you. I promise, I won’t abandon you. Let’s take this ride together; I will lead you to blessings you can’t even imagine.

I have revisited this experience for over a year now, sitting with what I believe was a mini-miracle. A beautiful gift from God, shared between two friends. And shared beyond us too.  The story has touched so many. I’ve had the pleasure of talking to Marisa Striano Charles on the phone. We both say we feel like we’ve known each other from another time. She feels the same way about Kelly. When I feel a little off course and when I need to deepen my connection to Spirit, I wear the wrist band that Marisa sent me, the one that bears her website name: www. SpiritsPromiseRescue.org. It serves as a reminder of the promise of Spirit and the many mystical ways in which God communicates and validates His love for each of us.

©2016 Maria Grace Mandarino

Stop Playing it Small and Start Being Your True Self

Today my friend and fellow healer, Toni Krahling, and I got to have some live fun and with the help of our friend and channeler, Daniel Sonntag, who took care of the technology piece and moderated a spirited chat about why at this very point in history we all need to stop hiding our light, to quit playing it small, and claim the gifts God has given us.

For many people, this is a frightening proposition. But I assure you, your gifts are no more coincidental than the pattern in a maple leaf. God made each of us the way we are, with something special to celebrate and share. As Jazz singer, Ethel Waters said, “I am somebody ’cause God don’t make no junk.” And so it is our obligation to the Eternal Artist to cultivate and use our gifts to heal the planet and those who walk on it. Or to paraphrase Daniel Sonntag in our talk today: Change doesn’t begin with prayer. Change begins with each of us doing something different.

Click on the link below to hear more about why we all need to stop playing it small:

Or for those who prefer to listen on audio: