Monday, Jan. 17, 2005 | 9:36 a.m.

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The last four years of my life have been years of bounding personal growth. It started with camp in 2000, when I experienced a serious opening -- cracked like a seed. I felt fractured for a long time afterwards, trying desperately to cover myself, to seal the edges back closed, but realizing that all the pieces of that shell weren't there. I wasn't the only one injured in that cracking -- others were hit by the shrapnel when my shell cracked. For a time, I thought the damage to those relationships was irreparable. I packed up and moved to the Midwest, enrolling in Diana's Grove's Mystery School as a way to stay involved in a program of spiritual growth.

I arrived in Illinois almost exactly four years ago. Mystery School had just started for the year - ironically, a story set in the Southwest. I didn't connect intensely with the story that year, but I did make plans to check Diana's Grove out in person. It was so intriguing and what I did get from the packets was a strong sense of the things I needed to grow from the crack, as opposed to being destroyed by it. I met two wonderful Witches almost right away, and after some strangeness with the group in which we had found each other, we separated and started working together. My relationship with both these women sustained me through my growth -- became part of the nurturing.

I attended the Grove for the first time late in 2001, on the heels of the 9/11 tragedy, with my friend Rowan. It was the celebration of the autumn equinox, the feast of Persephone, and I was so profoundly moved, that I came back one month later for Samhain and committed to another year of Mystery School. Being at the Grove was like being handled by the most compassionate gardener -- one who sees the necessity of the wounding for growth, but who gently covers the seed with earth and water and then tends it.

The following year was one of the most important in my life so far. The story at the Grove that year was of the Minotaur and it was exactly what I needed. I attended weekends often, driving into the heart of Missouri on a winding road, sometimes with friends, sometimes alone. I attended camp at the Grove as well... found a clear marker of what was coming in 2003, namely, Nina and Jasmine's transplant. I took my sparse toolbox for relationships and more than doubled what I had. Between the Grove, our local satellite group, and growing my coven, I was full of the work and it sustained me. In retrospect, I realize how provident that year really was -- I became much more prepared for the chaos that ensued in the later part of 2003 and 2004.

I learned about the cornerstones of community -- how they applied to me and how they applied to communities I choose to spend my time with. I learned so much about leadership that my philosophies completely changed -- and I know I still have plenty of work to do there. I uncovered fragments of who I am, pulled them together and built my foundation -- the bones of me. I became intimate with those bones, and for very possibly the first time since early childhood, really learned how to love myself, imperfections and all. I wrote a poem about it that remains one of my favorites -- if you're interested, you can read it here: (it's called Becoming, second poem on the page).

My relationship with MarshAster helped me grow in both leadership and simply in finding myself. By simply expecting me to be the person I wanted to be, she supported me. She listened and never hesitated to offer an opinion. Many late nights on her couch, post-meeting, or when I was staying there on my business trips home from St. Louis, exploring, reflecting and defining... she helped me see myself as something other than destruction, fire unchecked.

In the fall of 2003, we were told we needed to temporarily relocate to St. Louis as soon as possible so Jasmine could have her transplant. She was holding steady with her numbers, but they were very low and the time had come. At almost exactly the same time, Nina was conceived -- unplanned. Another cracking -- another opportunity that didn't feel like an opportunity when it happened. No, it felt more like an earthquake and all my carefully made plans for my spiritual and personal growth came tumbling down like dominoes.

The next year was one of intense adjustment -- new lungs for Jasmine, new baby Nina, telecommuting and ultimately deciding to leave my job, so many return trips to St. Louis that it became clear we needed to move closer to a city with a hospital that could care for Jasmine. My growth was just as intense, but it happened almost entirely at home. The relationships I had built with my local community members held me together in the next eighteen month period, and kept me from shattering when Jasmine died at the end of it. In the wake of that, my covenmate Cedar helped me find my bones more literally, helping me stay present in my body and helping me find ways to work through feelings and situations in ways that don't necessarily involve words.

Now I find myself in a place that is at once old and new. I am once more growing with the people who were with me at that camp back in 2000, as well as with some new members of my community. I have so many more tools, and maybe more importantly, a much better sense of who I am and how I love that person. Still, there is struggle. Living in a place that is so rich with traces of the old me is a challenge. That, coupled with living in a community where the ideas of Mystery School are new has me feeling like I'm on that Wheel of Fortune (which happens to be my soul card), standing the middle, holding tightly to who I am and what I've learned. Wands all over the place lately in my daily reading and I know this is the heart of it.

I have been so grateful in the past weeks for my time in the Midwest, for my coven there, for my involvement in Mystery School, for the tremendous opportunity that came of my wounded reaction to my first camp experience. Still, I am glad to still be enrolled in Mystery School, glad to be in a place where I can reconnect physically with my Diana's Grove community because I sense that again, that work will support what I'm trying to do here, in Arizona. I'm feeling a little overwhelmed right now, struggling to breathe, to find my footing again and move forward. Things have happened here in the past few weeks that intensify that sense of holding my center in the centrifuge and this is why I've felt so buried. This and real-time obligations to different groups to get things done. Next month I'm building in time to gather myself, to refocus, so I can find ways to nurture the seeds myself this time, or at least to participate in the nurturing.

Nobody said it was easy. Dammit.

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