New blog on somatics!

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Hello!  If anyone is still receiving emails from my blog, here is an announcement:

I am now blogging at mindbodyway.wordpress.com

I am covering somatic psychology, or the link between movement disciplines and consciousness, using individual stories whenever possible to illustrate the subject.  I write about yoga, other movement disciplines, and bodywork, about the overlap of body-oriented therapies with health and mental care.

Thanks for following me; if the new blot interests you I hope you’ll check it out!

Work that makes sense

IMG_1918I was immersed in the fracking struggle in my town.  At this point, some guy and his Colorado and Oil and Gas Association lawyers are taking our citizens petition to court.  Crazy stuff.  Anyway, this whole experience made me look hard at how I live and where I want to go next, from using less energy to how I’m going about work, I’m cleaning up my act.

The day after this dude filed a lawsuit against us, I ran across an incredible commencement speech by John Weeks, an organizer and writer who publishes the Integrator Blog News and Reports:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-weeks/integrative-health_b_3844338.html.  It contained a message I really needed to hear right now.

He references former Czech writer, dissident, and president, Vaclav Havel. Havel writes this about hope:

“Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

Says Weeks, “I invite you to let that phrase guide you as it does me. We need engaged people. Health care needs engaged doctors of chiropractic, clinical nutritionists, quality educators, engaged practitioners of acupuncture and Oriental medicine.

Hope is not the same as optimism. What Havel connects hope to is not whether you can guarantee that you will be successful, that your view, perspectives or hard work will come to fruition. Rather, he connects us to doing something because it makes sense.”

These words hit home for my environmental work, but they also galvanized me for my work in holistic health.  Right now, as never before, I know what makes sense to me.  Treating the planet with respect, learning to be a good community member, and doing my work to promote health in body, mind, and spirit.  As friends strike out to create their own work, I begin to follow suit.  My job is working for now, even supporting my real work, but at some point I will need to shift the balance between them.

In the meantime, the doors are flying open.  My current employer is covering a professional training in yoga therapy for me.  A very old friend who is a career counselor is helping me draw up plans for my new venture, and she is the very best person to have in my corner.  Other friends are sharing their successes and encouragement.  And this darn environmental community is teaching me to do the work I must do, with others, supporting one another and carrying a vision of a new paradigm.

As a yoga teacher, writer, and budding environmental activist, I feel what it is that makes sense, and I know what needs to be done.  Onward.

Spiral staircase revisited

IMG_1872The Spiral Staircase is the title of a book I cherish by Karen Armstrong.  I like it because it portrays her winding career path, her failures, and the recurring themes in a vocational path.  A nun at an early age, Armstrong left the church, studied at Oxford, tried teaching, then television, then became a religion writer.  Ultimately, she writes to educate, to open our minds to the underpinnings of the great religions, an endeavor that in itself can evoke a religious response in writer and perhaps reader.

This fracking business in Colorado brings me right back to some initial motivations in my own life.  A lover of nature and its creatures from early life, I studied journalism hoping to cover and be an advocate for the environment, but an interview with Greenpeace didn’t pan out, and I landed a job in a trade association serving mental health professionals.  I became interested in reading transpersonal psychology, somatic psychology, Buddhist psychology.  I took up yoga and was intrigued by its ability to calm my flighty and restless temperament as well as to help manage grief.

I thought periodically of becoming a therapist, and I studied Hakomi body-oriented psychotherapy and yoga therapy.  I learned about ayurveda and its ability to balance humans in body, psyche, and spirit.  Working at a holistic center with a progressive psychiatrist, I learned how Western docs are learning to use integrative approaches to mental health.

But with fracking coming into my backyard, all of this exploration into finding our wholeness and engagement with life fades into the background.  The very natural foods and herbs that balance us, the cosmologies of India and China that inform practices of healing, are affronted by this myth of industrial progress and the destruction of the environment.

When I worked for a magazine on psychology and spirituality years ago, I met the cultural historian, environmentalist, and priest Thomas Berry in a small group of people in a quiet hotel room.  It was his birthday, and mine was three days later.  A gentle man with a sweet spirit, he made a strong impression on me, and somehow the nearness of our birthdays and the profound sense of presence I felt in him infused my meeting with him with a sense of destiny.

This assault on the earth in the form of fracking sent me to his videos on YouTube and to his books.  His words now reach into my heart and mind and act as a balm, as a divining rod, and as a guide to my own steps at this time.

The Dream of the Earth reveals the wisdom of an elder schooled in world spiritual traditions including his own Catholicism.  Informed by the cosmologies and spiritual teachings of India, China, and various indigenous peoples, he proposed a “story” for this current era in which man’s ways have potential for destruction of the earth.  His suggestion of moving beyond a vision of industrial progress to a “biocracy” in which we move “to the participation of the larger life community in our human decision-making processes” makes so much sense.  Says Berry, “We must now understand that our own well-being can be achieved only through the well-being of the entire natural world about us.”

We all know this on some level, that if we continue to pollute as we have that we will not survive.  Doesn’t this move to a biocracy not make intuitive sense to those of us who love the earth and its creatures?

Here is Berry again:

The four great components of the earth—the landsphere, the watersphere, the airsphere, and the lifesphere—are being decisively and permanently altered in their composition and their functioning by the more recent sphere, the mindsphere, altered, that is, in a deleterious, irreversible manner.

Here we need to realize that the ultimate custody of the earth belongs to the earth.  The issues we are considering are fundamentally earth issues that need to be dealt with in some direct manner by the earth itself.  As humans we need to recognize the limitations in our capacity to deal with these comprehensive issues of the earth’s functioning.  So long as we are under the illusion that we know best what is good for the earth and ourselves, then we will continue our present course, with its devastating consequences on the entire earth community.

Our best procedure might be to consider that we need not a human answer to an earth problem, but an earth answer to an earth problem.  The earth will solve its problems, and possibly our own, if we will let the earth function in its own ways.  We need only listen to what the earth is telling us.

My own journey through the human psyche and body takes me back to the body of the earth and to the community of human beings.  A bit wiser and a bit stronger and more connected to my own community, I want to challenge this idea that we need to blast this gas and oil out of the earth with all haste and utter abandon.  It won’t be easy to change our course, but we have to do it.

Evolve or devolve?

IMG_1821Our grassroots group turned in scores of signatures to the city clerk this week in an attempt to put a moratorium on fracking on our upcoming ballot.  Most of us are chilling in cool places after standing outside in the hot sun talking to people, but we will soon gear up for more education, fundraising, and a “get out the vote” campaign.

We believe we have enough signatures to meet our goal, having gathered more than required to account for those that are not readable.  A few retired folks did the bulk of the work, elders engaging with their community to educate, call to action, to address a moral issue staring us in the faces.

I am grateful for the experience of talking to people and encountering a majority who feel as I do about the issue of fracking in our town and beyond.  Though maybe two out of ten said they would not sign, and a handful were hostile, I absorbed many words of encouragement and many thank yous for the work we were doing.  And I had some good conversations with guys working for the oil industry, or who have friends that do, or who carry the water for the companies.  They were a bit circumspect, concerned, but believe we need the gas.

I have evolved from blissfully ignorant, to horrified and scared, from feeling isolated and puny to feeling connected, engaged, purposeful, and hopeful.  I have met people who may become long-term friends, particularly some artists and healers who share my interest in psychological healing and its relation to planetary healing.  My communication skills, written and verbal, social media related, were used, and I learned a bit.

My personal endeavors in yoga and consciousness change, in writing, and my own mission in life have come into sharp relief:  I see things more clearly and apply my skills with more focus.  I feel more a part of my community, more like a human engaged in the larger world as one perhaps should be, more alive in this slice of time in which we have yet to dig up and burn all of our fossil fuel.  In this critical time when our existing business paradigm does not work, and we must evolve.

Is this really happening?

IMG_0389I’m playing “catch up” on this fracking issue, watching videos and documentaries, reading articles, perusing websites.  This week I went to an event that included talks by environmentalist Wes Wilson and Phil Doe, state representatives, a Wild Earth Guardians representative, and a health professional.  They related their concerns about fracking, and the representatives spoke of their legislative efforts to control the process.

In the meantime, the oil and gas industry has plans to build 16 wells around an accessible apartment complex.  Many of the people I work with live in this complex.  They are disabled, and the complex has modified apartments so that they are easier to enter and to negotiate in a wheelchair.  I don’t think most of them realize what is happening, which is the problem in my town with the citizens too.

All of this is happening fast, and I am in the middle of it, through work and home.  Like it or not, the mayors and city councils are waving green flags, and plans are underway to build about 100 well complexes in the city where I work.  People are scrambling to understand how this will affect them.

I have no profound philosophical perspective to relay here.  I am spun about myself.   What I do know is people, visible and not, are speaking out, but in some cases they may be too late.   Too late.  While we gasp at the selling of precious water, the talk of toxic chemicals, and the power of the oil and gas companies and collusion of some politicians, our lifestyles, peace, and health are at stake.

I don’t even know whether this plan for the apartment area can be stopped or changed.  I know a lawyer is working on it.  I know these people all spoke in the town, and one did call it “ground zero.”  Problem is people aren’t aware enough to organize, and people with disabilities often have less money, feel more powerless and marginalized.

What does this mean?  I cannot digest and tell you, but perhaps the facts speak for themselves.  Watch the videos on Youtube and Netflix.  Read Ecowatch.  If your town is being invaded by fracking, find a local grassroots group.  Talk to neighbors, friends, and family, and then talk to your politicians.  Speak up for yourselves and the disenfranchised, and the water and land and animals.  No one is alone on this:  Citizens, environmentalists, physicians, and some politicians are weighing in for more information, for safer and more circumscribed drilling.  Some are working to ban it.

Yoga and fracking

IMG_0078I am working with others in my town to place a moratorium on fracking on our November ballot.  When I first started to learn about this drilling process and its effects on other towns, I felt a deep sadness and horror.  The more I learned about the lack of disclosure of what is in the fluids and weak regulation of the process, the spills and contamination of air and water, the more disturbed I felt.  It took awhile for me to get my feet under me again, to find the middle ground between grief and numbness and to act.

As a yoga teacher, I found myself thinking how juxtaposed are “fracking” and “yoga,” as words and concepts.  Fracking not only sounds harsh, it describes a violent endeavor that is often done in a hasty and rapacious way.   “Yoga” sounds grounded and gentle, and the term conjures up images of repose and peace, a person sitting, centered and calm.  Here is the yin and yang of life, and encountering fracking, ironically, certainly brings those complimentary sides of life up in sharp relief.  Certainly these two practices are now intertwined in my life in a way that is waking me up.

I moved to Colorado to simplify my life and expose myself to the wisdom of nature and quieter expanses.   The East, where I am from, felt close-in, and I couldn’t get my bearings.  In Colorado I entered a yoga teacher training, studied body-oriented psychotherapy and worked as a freelance writer and wellness coordinator.   To encounter fracking moving toward my town shocked me.  Suddenly my focus was ripped from holistic health and sustainable community to oil and gas corporations digging and blasting and beginning to disclose, partly through the efforts of one of my congresswoman Diana Degette, the cancer-causing chemicals added to billions of gallons of clean water used to break open the shale.

This phenomenon of fracking feels apocalyptic to me.  No wonder so many movies focus on the end of the world, that Stephen King has created a new TV show called “Under the Dome.”  We all know business as usual will lead to break down of our ecosystems, our lives, and our health.

At the same time, this force for destruction has brought out a beautiful, diverse community of people.  It’s drug me out of self-absorption.  It’s made my yoga and meditation practice more essential than ever.  Lately I feel my spiritual vibration, my community, my sense of calling, and the most relevant requirements of each day.

Through our little grassroots group I have met artists, other yoga practitioners, politicians, engineers, salesmen, housewives, and mothers who share my love of nature and cannot sit by as this force moves in.  People who have spiritual conviction and calmly ask fellow citizens for signatures on a petition without being deterred by an occasional hostile response.

Some of us do not reject drilling altogether, but all of us feel deep down this fracking phenomenon is moving too quickly, without enough knowledge, regulation, or caution.  We all feel it is profoundly destructive and hasty as it is being done.  There is growing evidence to support our feeling, but meanwhile we are responding on several levels of our being, from out hearts, to our heads, to our spirits.

So this dark cloud has made the light around it more visible.  It has outlined my life in sharp relief, pushed me deeper into my spiritual practice and toward seeking guidance, given that we little humans are so lost.

Now, rather than feeling spun about by grief and horror, I am poignantly aware of the beauty of our lives and our planet.  I feel the preciousness of living creatures more than ever.  I’ve found my voice.  Thank you fracking:  But don’t think my thanks means I won’t work with these good people to stop you in your tracks.

IMG_1226My friend the Iraq-war vet has told me several times he sees me doing environmental work.  I usually dismiss the idea, since I haven’t worked in that area or studied environmental policy.  But in the last two weeks my life has changed dramatically, and it seems his intuition was right.

How?  Having learned a few weeks ago that oil and gas companies plan to frack under the wetlands near my home, I joined a local activist group that is working to place a moratorium on the drilling process around our town.  I started reading all I could on fracking to understand its effects on the environment and people, and I was horrified.  (One to seven million gallons of water, chemicals including toxic chemicals, and sand are used to blast through rock far underground to release oil and natural gas.)  Though maybe some day they can drill and transport materials more safely, there’s no way I believe they are doing so now.  In fact, it seems the oil and gas companies are moving so fast they are making a mess as they go, and citizens don’t have enough time to organize a response or voice their opinion.

I feel compelled to act.  I’ve told neighbors and friends, helped with literature, and just began gathering signatures on a petition to get this moratorium on the ballot.  It seems eight out of ten people want to sign, while the others are angered by our little group.

I am not doing this for my career:  I am doing it because I have to.  I think the land and its creatures are sacred and that we are definitely going too fast and too far with this fracking business.  If we do this at all, it should be sparingly, with much more focus on more sustainable and clean sources of energy.

No expert on energy or fracking, I know in my bones that this process is wrong.  Actually, you can visit the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission website and see that the industry spilled 2 million gallons of fluids in Colorado during the first eight months of 2011.   There was an 84,000 gallon spill in Windsor, Colorado, in February of this year.  There is no way to thoroughly clean after these spills.  And I suspect that Mother Earth will ultimately answer back to the fact that we are gouging and blasting her guts and the fluids in her veins.

A coworker who lives in Eastern Colorado says at night all she sees is the lights of the oil rigs, and she worries about her children’s health.  Others in the country say they are sick from water tainted by fracking.

Since learning more, I have been angry, sad, and grief-stricken.  I’ve had nightmares and lost sleep.  But I’ve regained my footing, and I do right now have a penetrating sense of vocation, a knowing that the sensitivity I’ve felt toward nature my entire life is pushing me forward to speak up.  This industry is terribly destructive, and yet we know better, and I believe that Nature will at some point retaliate.  Our planet will become uninhabatable.  This “sense of vocation” I feel is a calling to help the people standing up to this phenomenon, an unmistakable, unignorable compulsion inside me to say my peace.  I do not want this in my town, no, but this is being done across our country and beyond.

We humans have really crossed the line.  We began to go toward renewable energy, than looked back and went toward the dark side.   With a vengeance.  There are people who are not ready for the new world that is coming, people who cannot imagine life without fossil fuel and automobiles as we know them.

But we are on the brink of a new world, one that includes gay marriage and female presidents.  One that includes new ways of growing and processing our food.  One that acknowledges the truth that we must lessen our dependence on oil and gas and develop more renewable sources of energy.

I have never felt this mobilized or this connected with my fellow citizens.  In the last three weeks I have met people young and old who share my love of Colorado and my spiritual sense of reverence for the earth.

We really are going to learn, through this issue of fossil fuels, what we are made of.  Can our country still stand for freedom of speech, for privacy, for the right to organize against a government edict if one disagrees?  As for me, and my friend Ray’s prediction, I am deep in.  Looks like I’m doing environmental work, paid or not.

Clarity in chaos

IMG_1724Some kind of change is in the air, in my little world and beyond.  Three of my friends quit their jobs a couple of weeks ago (two from my current workplace), and another coworker quit this week.  I too am trying to create new work for myself, but a bigger transformation is underway.

A yoga student who is a veteran of the Iraq war seems to drop in on me at these more chaotic times.  This friend, who is disabled by war injuries, is aware of the turnover at work.  He supports our organization and dropped in to say hi to a few of us.  The organization is about helping people, he has said more than once.   So why are so many people leaving in states of negativity?, he wonders.

Thinking about that question, and my friends new endeavors on the outside, I notice my own uncertainty and fear, but I also feel my focus sharpening, an urgency emerging, a clarity related to turmoil at work and in my community beyond work, and one driving a vocational shift of my own.

In fact, a spiritual shift is rippling through my life.  Not only is my workplace disintegrating; my young neighbor is fighting breast cancer, and oil and gas companies are preparing to drill close to my home.  I cannot solve all these problems, but my own tasks are clearer than ever.  I know what I must do.  Take soup to my neighbor, join with other citizens and tell my local politicians I don’t want fracking in my town.  Join a larger community standing for renewable energy and better health care.

I believe there are natural laws governing our earthly life and that we are breaking too many of them, that one day we will feel the full consequences of doing so.  I find myself wanting to seek out native elders and spiritual leaders in general.  I want to be around people who are wise and who are connected to the wisdom of the earth.

Not knowing how to find these leaders readily, I did the 21st century version of searching and went to Youtube.  I watched “Indigenous Native American Prophecy (Elders Speak)” and found reinforcement and nourishment in these elders’ words.

My vet friend and the Native elders say to me to call up my own wisdom and power.  They say seek the ways to see more clearly, to bond with my friends and banish fear.  Oren R. Lyons, faithkeeper of the Onondaga nation, says Native leaders make decisions with seven generations in mind.  They know they have a sacred responsibility to the land and their people.  Lyons says that rather than talking about “resources” and our need for them, we should talk about “family,” animals and plants and minerals as our family.  Of course we need them and have to treat them with respect, not like commodities.

Environmental and spiritual leaders of all races remind us that money cannot dictate how we live.  We can’t eat and drink it.  We have to honor the earth and let economics work itself out in the areas in which we can’t see the way.

So for me, I know I cannot waste energy at work.  I need to serve while I’m there, extract myself from politics and my own floundering.  Talk to my boss and others to increase my commitment and productivity, and if the environment is too toxic, or I can serve better somewhere else, leave.  Fear and inertia cannot dictate my behaviors.  Instead, my motivation must be informed by sacred responsibility and heart-felt love for life.

Quitting their jobs

IMG_1718Three of my friends quit their jobs last week.  A fourth intended to quit on Friday, but she decided to do a bit more planning for her transition.  Do I want to join them?  Yes and no.  Not yet. I am learning new skills, writing job proposals, talking to people about jobs.  My time will come, and in the meantime my friends inspire me and make me wonder about this sea change in all of our lives.

We are five of us women, in our forties and fifties.  I think of all of us healers in our own ways.  Maybe, just maybe, we are a few of those women the Dalai Lama spoke of when he said “The world will be saved by the Western woman.”  It is not his words that motivate us, and none of us has a lot of money; in fact we are scraping by or in debt.  But we know we have to do something different in work and in life, something that comes from our hearts and that begins to set us on a gentler and more life-affirming course, beyond the consumerism and the reductionism in our healthcare system (we are all involved in social work, healthcare, or psychotherapy).

Why do I say we are healers, particularly since that word is not usually associated with jobs in our time?  Because I feel that is our essence.  My friends are all deeply spiritual, and two are natural counselors whose intuition is keen enough that they sense the larger issues of a person’s life or circumstances.  They are able to convey their awareness and help others find their own deeper motivation.  Another friend, a teacher turning psychotherapist, is deeply intelligent cognitively and emotionally:  her clear awareness and compassion a gift to those who work with her.  One is a musician who works with people with disabilities.  She fell recently and experienced a severe concussion from which she healed through brain integration therapy, and she is learning this modality herself, exhibiting a natural ability for using acupressure and energy to help others with head injuries, learning disorders, and physical/emotional integration struggles.

Me?  I am drawn to write and educate, to support new models of health and mental health care.  To help people rediscover the wisdom of their bodies through movement, mindfulness, and inner exploration. To communicate new ways of being to our society, and to be part of a new sustainable economy.

When I get discouraged, or feel like I will forever be underemployed, I think of my friends, of these wise and gifted Western women.  Of their insight won from struggle, from continually listening to their hearts, from living in a great deal of uncertainty while remaining committed to meaningful work and their own authenticity.  We cannot ignore the awareness of a need in our society to change direction and live more gently on the earth, and these friends help me remember that truth.

There is something greater at work than our getting and spending, then our procurement of jobs with money and benefits, than our struggles with alienation or of feeling we do not fit.   I think of wise native people who remain clear in their awareness of spirit and nature, who consult the wisdom of the elders and honor the sacredness of earth, humanity, animals, and plants.  As we five women step forward we carry a trust in the necessity of doing our work, of making a stand for humanity’s  richness and creativity as well as its inseparability from the earth we live on.

Avant-guard psychiatry

IMG_0193When I encounter people working in alternative energy or holistic health, I find a purity to their work born from having personal experience with their modality and a conviction in its importance.  There is a clarity in their words and a humility in their demeanor.

At the moment I have in mind a psychiatrist named Will Van Derveer whom I heard speak in Boulder, Colorado, last week.   Van Derveer is soft-spoken and articulate, a lean middle-aged man with clear skin and the centeredness that stems from meditation and wisdom.  He spoke on a holistic approach to psychiatry, one that takes into account gut health, neurotransmitter fluency, chemistry, genetics, attachment disruptions, ego structure, trauma, relationship, and spirituality.  As someone who has studied psychology but often finds something missing, I reveled in hearing a perspective that made sense to me on every level.

Van Derveer does prescribe medications, but he keeps his sights on the truth that it is still the relationship between therapist that is the heart of healing, as research has shown for decades now.  He also works with natural medicine to determine if someone has adrenal fatigue, candidiasis, gluten intolerance, lyme disease, or some other issue underlying mental dysfunction.  He may order neuropsych tests as well.  He works with somatic experiencing to address trauma, and he uses a natural supplement to help those who wish to come off meds.  It’s a very complex job he has, and his clientele is varied, their symptoms sometimes mysterious.  But he listens, seeks the advice of colleagues, and recommends a variety of treatments, including yoga, tai chi, and meditation.

Many MDs do not even recognize the validity of adrenal fatigue or candida, and Van Derveer acknowledges that these issues are more often the territory of naturopaths and sometimes of a few integrative medicine docs.  But he believes these disorders are real and much of his clientele does too. He follows studies and can describe case studies in which clearing up candida or adrenal issues clears up depression, lethargy, or anxiety.

When people are suffering, have tried a myriad of treatment approaches that have not helped enough, or are inclined to minimize medication use, they seek out Van Derveer’s.  They may have to make some real lifestyle changes, but this doc is patient and understanding.  He understands the importance of community and social support in making changes and recovering.  He understands the problems involved in an unbalanced brain and in addiction.  He has compassion, and he is open to learning from patients, colleagues, research.

Here is a man in touch with the realities of his time, the evolution of medicine, the suffering of his fellow creatures.  When someone in the audience asked him why he often prescribes medications for a person in acute distress, he said, “fear.”  Not a common confession from a physician, but an honest one.  Another listener noted that compassion is also involved in wanting to help someone suffering deeply and using the most powerful or best known remedy at hand.  At another point he spoke of the need to accept a condition and the ongoing struggles associated.   For me, the daughter of a doctor, I am most impressed by one admitting his fears, the limitations of medical knowledge, and this awareness of the complexity of humans, our environments and the food we eat.  At the same time I am reassured that he is attentive to the latest thinking and research as well as the experience of patients.

Other things he said let me know he is aware of his own psychological issues, that he eats well, lives well, and learns from mistakes.  Here is the art of medicine in full relief:  open to mystery, employing intellect and intuition, considering the natural world, practicing what one preaches, learning from mistakes and from patients and colleagues of all ranks.   I call him enlightened.

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