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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Essence of Christmas

From my e-newsletter:

Out of the Chrysalis
- Where caterpillars find their wings

Maria Stepek Doherty

It has been six months since I last wrote to you. It has been a eventful time filled with opportunities for growth and the practical application of love in testing situations.
Next year I believe I will have assimilated and processed enough of the lessons of this year to convey them to all of you in a meaningful way. I hope you are sitting comfortably because there will be much to tell.

As I write here in my warm, safe, comfortable office snug within my home, it is Christmas morning. We were up at 7a.m. to open our presents which had been piled under the Christmas tree, a smaller one than in previous years, but perfectly shaped and beautiful, dressed in her sparkling red and gold decorations. Our fifteen year old son was delighted with his gifts, which included the new PS2 portable, totally unanticipated by him. The big bear hug he wrapped his now comparatively, diminutive mother in was the best present I could have received. Last year, unprompted by anything other than his own sweet spirit, he sold almost all of his computer games and consoles to raise funds for the victims of the Tsunami. He is the greatest gift in our lives; he is the beating of our hearts and the peace in our souls. He is our Christmas and every Festival of Light celebrated throughout the world.

Unlike so many people in this world, we have a secure roof over our heads, a reliable source of heat, food in our kitchen and a wider family which although a little bloodied after this year of change, remain lovingly unbent. Like the willow, we have learned to sway gently in the winds of life; better to bend gracefully than snap. Nature has many lessons to teach us if we will only look and learn.

Today I will give thanks for all that I have in my life, the tears as well as the laughter.

I will give thanks for the lost loves who returned to my life this year and the lesson that once we give our hearts, it is given forever, if love is true and not a hollow illusion. The way we express that love may change with the passing of the years and the shifting dynamics of human relationships, but the love never dies.

I will give thanks for the life of my friend of over thirty years who slipped quietly out of this mortal guise and into the beauty of her pure spirit earlier this year. It hurt to lose her physical presence but I sense the pure joy in her freedom and transformation. Then the hurt diminishes and the pain softens.

I am grateful for the gift I was given in being fully present to another old friend as he walked the last steps of this journey with his much loved brother. I am in awe of the fighting spirit of this man, the incredible battle his doctors put up for him, their grief when they lost him. They make me proud to share the same humanity.

I am grateful for the prayers and healing which poured in from around the world when I asked for spiritual energetic support for both of my friends. Each one of these wonderful people gave their time and their love to a complete stranger, then we are only strangers when we make that choice to remain so.

I am grateful for the glossy coated little black dog, our own Gremlin eared Jessie, who was never more than a few feet from me, for the fifteen years of her life with us. We rescued her, half-starved, cruelly cowed and beaten, when she was around a year old. She was my constant companion in the three years I have now worked from home. She passed yesterday and I miss her presence so much.

I am grateful for each client who blessed my practice this year. I received far more from them in so many ways than I could ever have given them. I learned from their courage and I grew with their growing.

I am grateful for my schizophrenic brother. He teaches me to stretch my patience, my compassion and my love. He also teaches me how to set boundaries which allow for my own self-care. Above all, I am grateful for his choosing me to be his conservator, the one he trusts to make the decisions about his life when he is not able to do so himself. It is a sacred trust and a very precious gift.

There is so much to be grateful for in all the light and darkness of this life. It is the shadows which give our lives their richness and depth. They are our challenges and our opportunities for growth. It is better to embrace them and allow the lessons of the pain to flow through our lives, than to resist and remain trapped in them.

I am grateful for every breath, for every tear, for every smile.

I am grateful for the incredible gift of life and I am grateful for each one of you who reads this

Take time to be deliberately aware of all you have to be grateful for in your lives, especially in those moments when external circumstances weigh heavily on you. It is in those time of sadness and shadow that we can be so much more awake to the beauty of the light in our lives. You have only to make the choice to see it that way and your heart will overflow with love and gratitude for all that has been, all that is and all that is yet to come.

My Christmas

Christmas is not a universal feast, but the underlying spirit is common to all of us, regardless of religious belief.
It is the celebration of light in the darkness, the warmth of hope spreading in the cold winter of life.
Christmas is about gratitude and appreciation of all we have been given and are still to receive.

This is my idea of Christmas.

Christmas is the distilled essence of love.
It is a time of angel's wings on earthly bodies, a time when the soothing touch of a nurse lets a dying man know he is not alone.

Christmas is the distilled essence of all that is good on this earth.
It is a time for softly spoken words of love that reach into the hardest heart, for it is only in giving our love unconditionally that we release the heart song in others.

Christmas is the distilled essence of a quiet joy.
It rings out crystal clear in the singing of the soul. It is the music of heaven played out on earth in each carefully composed note of giving.

Christmas is the distilled essence of the innocence of childhood.
It is their laughter, their astonished delight, their belief in magic,wrapped up in the overwhelming warmth of the love we feel for them that sets free the child in us.

Christmas is the distilled essence of peace.
It is the profoundest stillness of the soul when it quietens the rampant chatter of the mind and hears the single heart beat of the universe.
We are never alone.
In that stillness, we are one heart, one mind, one soul.

Hold the distilled essence of Christmas in your daily lives all year around.

Reach out in love to those around you.

I will always believe in magic.
Open your mind and let magic believe in you.

Christmas is here and now and every day of your lives.

Live it !

In Love and Light,

Maria Stepek Doherty
Chrysalis Transformations
where caterpillars find their wings

Should what I write reach out to you in a significant way, then I ask you to pass this on to someone you feel could also benefit from it. Thank you for joining me today as we journey through our transformations to becoming all that we may be.
Should any of the issues which were raised in today's letter, bring up anything that you feel
the need to talk about, please e mail me and I will do whatever I can to help. I welcome your questions, comments, input.
Please feel free to use this article in your publication as long as it is credited to me and any alteration is first approved by me.
Maria Doherty is Founder of Chrysalis Transformations.
Should you no longer wish to subscribe ,please send an e-mail to:
with the subject line "remove" and you will be removed from the list immediately.
I will be sorry to see you go.
If this ezine was forwarded to you by a friend, I would love to have you join us,
subscribe by sending a blank e-mail to with "subscribe" in the title line

Saturday, December 10, 2005


A thousand sparks of memory,
Ignited by your voice,
Flash fire through my mind.

Consigned to the past,
I thought you ashes,
Scattered in time.

Your words burn me,
Delusion melting to reveal,
A heart hardwired to mine.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


Will you not watch one hour with me
In this dread garden of Gethsemane?
Oh, Lord, you have forsaken me,
Abba, father, set me free.

I wander twisted paths of madness
Lost in a shadowed shadow world,
As though in a mirror dark I see
The crucifixion of my mind.

The serpent coils within my brain,
An ancient darkness writhing here,
As fangs plunge deep into my soul,
The venom of insanity.

Here are demons dwelling darkly;
I fear the coming of the Night.
Hell spawned voices of delusion
Nail me to this living cross.

I ask their name, they answer Legion
Devils from the pits of hell.
I burn, I burn; put out my fire,
Put out this night, this life, this now.

"Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani",
Words from sacred woundings rise.
I hang upon this cross abandoned,
Eternal void of endless pain.

Friday, December 02, 2005


I breathe out upon this paper,
The beating of my heart,
Out into the wondering world,
A butterfly breath.

It shakes the forests of the Amazon,
Thunders on the mountain peak,
Stirs the distant oceanic deep,
One sacred breath, one heart beat.

I breathe out upon this paper,
In Black words etching
The whiteness of the universe,
Butterfly breath, breathing worlds.

Thursday, December 01, 2005


It is busy in the hospital cafeteria. The Christmas decorations are up and the brightly lit tree brightens the cool modernity of the room, giving it some welcoming warmth. As usual it is filled with a mixture of patients, their visitors and the staff. It is good to see the patients out of their beds sitting with family and friends in a more stimulating environment than the wards. Even the ones who look deathly ill seem to be more relaxed here. I know that I am.

This is my refuge, my still quiet centre of sanity, when I visit my brother. From the moment the obnoxious stench of concentrated cigarette smoke greets me at the entrance to Ward 17, emanating in foul stale wafts from the smoking room, I am counting the moments until I am here. The image is like a beacon drawing me away from this sea of human misery to safer, gentler shores.

There is something so intensely and instantly depressing about that death bringing stench and yet it seems a fitting signal that we are entering a circle of hell, even Dante did not prepare us for. I walk down the corridor which sometimes smells of urine in spite of the cleaners' best efforts. Not all of the patients are continent. None are sane by any legal definition. I keep my thought shield vision of the clinically clean cafeteria to the forefront of my mind.

I smile at all of the patients who pass, regardless of whether they show any sign of even knowing I am there. Some shuffle past in their drug induced near coma states. Some stare at me aggressively and I rehearse avoidance tactics. There are some here that I have come to know bear careful watching. Ah, yes, we all come to know one another so well over the long years I have been visiting here. Sometimes it seems as though we are all serving our time together, patients and families. For this is certainly our own little prison. Think hot soup and tea, Maria. Hold fast to the protective vision of that other place.

I may exchange a few words with the nurses at the desk where they tend to congregate with one another rather than with the patients. I may have a longer conversation with the family members of the other lifers. We share a common burden and grief. It helps sometimes just to know that there are others who understand the longing for the cafeteria.

When I have procrastinated as long as I feel able to, I look through the glass windows into the day room where the shadow people come and go. Some of the shadows are more substantial, lively and talkative than others; the strident noise of their hyperactive minds assaults me and I have an urgent need to retreat. Some have disappeared altogether from this reality and inhabit other worlds. Once they were like you but now they are the projections of their own interior darkness and I cling to the normality of the cafeteria as my talisman against being overwhelmed by their chaos.

Today he is standing in a corner of the room. He is jerking his head from side to side like a marionette whose strings are being pulled by a drunken puppeteer. His arms are held out rigidly from his sides and he is flicking his fingers. He mutters dark incantations so softly yet so clearly we can all hear them. His beard is unkempt, greying and when I kiss him, it feels like a wire scouring brush. His dark curls have long gone leaving a lank thinning mess of long hair tied tightly back in a short ponytail. Sometimes he wears one of his many caps but not today. He is unbearably thin and his eyes are telling me that he has seen me, but is not yet ready to acknowledge my presence. I must wait until he has completed whatever ritual his voices are instructing him in today.

Then he is still for a moment and those sad, mad eyes pierce me. I am impaled on the memory of a four-year-old boy’s huge brown eyes sparkling with the mischief of childish innocence. It is better not to remember who he was, to stay in the present moment of who he now is. It is safer and less painful to simply be with what is. It is the difference between the abyss and the rack. Neither would be my choice but I can survive the rack; I doubt if I could ever find my way out of the abyss, better to suffer than to be forever lost.

He stretches out his arms and twists his head again. This is his crucifixion. He tells me about how his body is being continually broken on the cross and that his work is to heal it over and over again. He is redeeming the world, taking on its sins, and setting us free. It is hard to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. It is not so easy to be his sister and I long for the white walls of the cafeteria.

He tells me of the healing work he has done all through the night. He points to the little woman in the wheelchair who can now walk. He talks of the power that flowed through him into the young man admitted yesterday whose arm was broken in three places. An x-ray will show no breaks now. He asks after my son who has been unwell and tells me that worse is to come. We are the family of the Christ and we too are all eternally broken on the cross. At this moment, I am inclined towards believing him. I am one of the disciples who could not “watch one hour with him” in this Garden of Gethsemane. I want to escape to that calmer, saner place.

My head hurts. This is not one of my better days. Today my shield is thin and I cannot bear much more. I want to scream at him to stop his incessant shaking. I want to tell him that his pelvis has never been broken in three places. I need him to know that I don’t see what he sees and hear what he hears. I am ready to explode with the longing to deny him three times before the crowing of the cock or just the end of visiting hours. I also know that this would enrage him. I am not ready to be snarled at. I am not ready to walk away. I am not ready for any of this.

He stops as though he has read my thoughts. He looks sternly at me. Then he breaks into a great face-illuminating grin. He is that four-year-old boy again and I want to take him in my arms and spin him round and round. He laughs at me.

“Come on Maria, I’m hungry. Let’s go to the cafeteria.”

I wrap my arm around his waist and we walk away from the psychiatric unit, up the hill in the cool liberating air. We stop to look at the beauty of the sunset and I tell him he should paint it. I only have words but he has art. I know he won’t but it is good for both of us to think that he might.

We walk down the long sloping corridor of the general hospital to my sanctuary. We sit at our table, he with his soup and me with my tea. We reminisce about some of the funnier moments of our childhood. Sometimes he borrows from other people’s childhoods, including mine, but that is so much better than being crucified. I do not contradict him. He weaves his own history just as he creates his own present and future from the rich material of his psychotic mind. We laugh together and if I am really lucky, we will get through the rest of our visit without any more twitching or visits from the voices.

Normality. That is what this place means to me. Here we sit surrounded by people visiting their sick loved ones. Some of the patients are allowed down from the wards. Some are in dressing gowns. Some are in wheel chairs. Some are still attached to drips and are accompanied by a nurse. It is all normality. That is what we are seeking here within these cafeteria walls.

In the far corner a large Christmas tree flickers with soft white lights. I smile at the sight of it. It grounds me in happier times. I will take him back to his ward in a moment, but for now I can pretend that we are simply a brother and a sister who love one another. We are out on the town in a quiet little café, sharing and catching up with our lives.

Here in our special place, schizophrenia is just the subject which I wrote my final year thesis on. It does not exist outside of that yellowing paper. It cannot enter my sanctuary.