For, What Is It Worth?

We went to Jamaica for our honeymoon. I had never been there before and didn’t know much about it other than Bob Marley called it home. I was amazed by its beauty. And stunned by the stark poverty of so many alongside the splendor of resorts and wealth. That was the first impression.

Then we went to Dunn’s River Falls on a bus with other tourists. It was a beautiful, interesting time exploring the waterfalls with everyone. In the area outside of the falls were native people selling their creations. The approach was moderately aggressive and in your face. A british man ahead of me took particular offense at this, sharply admonishing a man selling necklaces. The man selling the necklaces told the pissed off british tourist dude that this island is his inheritance, his home; his crafts are his bounty, and that it is his right to sell them or to give them away. He then told the british man he would give him one for free. The british man took this, for some reason, as a horrifying and unbelievable insult. He wouldn’t accept, in disbelief, and stormed over to the bus, still irate.

The man with the necklaces turned to me, as the angry tourist stormed off, and said he wanted to give me a necklace for free. I said I couldn’t accept. He insisted. I saw something in his face and eyes that told me this was important and deeper than what it seemed. I relented, and chose a beautiful necklace of nuts and seeds native to Jamaica. I thanked him and he smiled kindly. I returned to the bus and the british man was sitting behind me. He demanded, still sounding angry, “Did he give that necklace to you for free?!” I smiled saying, “Yes. He did.” Then I turned around and took in those words the Jamaican man had uttered with such calm passion and rooted knowing.

He had said that their wealth was the island. Their inheritance and abundance was the beauty of the island and what he made and sold came from that. He went on to announce that it was his right to sell what he had made at a price worthy of his labor and the bounty that it comes from or, if he so chooses, to give it away. I took that necklace and that lesson and kept it close to my heart, not knowing exactly why. It seemed profound.

That was 15.5 years ago.

I now have a keen understanding of what it means to create or give things from my own hands and being, freely, and to sell them. I know the toughness of it, the vulnerability and the lively challenge of what to charge for the work. I have a sensitivity to those who are financially challenged, who deserve what I offer as much as those who are financially more stable. Also, I need to live in a way that is sustainable for me and my family.

About 7 years after my honeymoon I had been doing reiki in my home for friends and wanted to expand to acquaintances and begin charging across the board. I had been giving my work away for free for many years. And that was appropriate for the time of learning and growing. I now had the highest level of training possible, had practiced for several years and had a dedicated practice to the work and to research and continued learning.

Even so, it took all the confidence and self-esteem I could muster to begin asking for $60 for an hour of reiki. In a small business class they told us that men rarely hesitate to borrow money or take risks in small business, and that women rarely do. Part of this hesitant nature to claim worth is based on gender and class. No doubt about it. Two big ways we are continually divided and preyed upon. Nevertheless, the hour of reiki with me included my rapt, gentle, hands-on attention to every joint, energy center of the body as well as to the spiritual and energetic needs that emerge, intuitive work and processing. It is a demanding practice, on my feet, reaching and holding positions. And, it is not just about being paid for healing work, as massage therapists, reflexologists, or counselors do, for example. It is also about being valued for one’s skills, gifts, talents, experience and time. It is about making a living using one’s talents and skills. All of this, I realized at the time and was seeking to fulfill.

It would be great if we could honor each other’s time equally. We could all get paid equally, and a living wage to boot, based solely on time being of equal value to each of us. You are a teacher? You are a plumber? You are an artist? A surgeon? Great! All paid a living wage for an hour’s time. Everyone’s hour is worth the same amount. Because isn’t our time all equal? As long as people are doing what they love and really doing their best, that would be a just answer. But, so far, this is not the case. Being dedicated to what I do, my clients could tell you, I have given as much for the time and money that I possibly could. I believe in abundance and sharing tools and positive energy for the better.

So, back to when I first began charging full price. An acquaintance came to my house, who provides spiritual services for others. The session went well and this person was really thankful and comforted by the work.

When this client asked about price, I answered, “$60.” We were sitting side by side on a couch, and the client audibly gasped, clearly revealing that my service was not anywhere near that worth from their perspective.

I know for a fact I have never made as much money in my life as this person who gasped at my hour fee did. I was aware of this, but didn’t have it at all in my mind at the time. It was realized in hindsight. At the time I simply responded at the heart level to this client appearing appalled at my asking for a living wage and tried to make it right. The last thing I wanted to do is create stress in the midst of healing work. I felt that visceral gasp reaction as a slap, and quickly tried to make peace by saying I would of course thankfully receive whatever was affordable in their particular case. The answer: $40. Ok, I thought. I am not worth $60. I must be wrong.

It was a steep hill to climb to get up to my worth after that. It didn’t take much to knock me back down. Because I had grown up in great stress of hardship for an extended period of time, I know what it is to be in need and to depend on opportunities, deals and breaks. So, I decided to offer fees on a sliding fee scale. Win/win, I thought. People can pay what is appropriate for them and I don’t have to be slapped in the face by a gasp that says I am worth-less. And I can serve more people in need.

I found most people want to pay a fair price. And they simply won’t come when they can’t afford it. I also found clients who assured me I am definitely worth $60 an hour and more. It took a few years, but that happened. But then the situation of work changed from having low overhead that supported the sliding fee scale of $30-$60 for folks, to being in a situation where overhead keeps gradually increasing. And, recently, I found myself not making it and needing to find another avenue of work. Thus, the last post on this blog, “Give Up!”.

I had erred on the side of ensuring sustainability for clients while ignoring my own needs for sustainability. When I receive $30 for an hour of work, since I am self-employed, after expenses and taxes it becomes $15-$20 per hour. It breakes down further when time is considered. When I reserved an hour for someone, that hour actually is 2 hours of prep time, service and clean-up time, as well as over-time in processing with the client. Most of my clients would actually get 1.5 hours with me and pay the hour rate. So, if I had 3 clients in a day, that would mean 6 hours in total, yet only getting paid for three hours time on a sliding fee scale. Since I was paying sublease that only allowed me to have room time for 8-9 hours per week, options for time were limited as well as very part-time. In addition, the requirement of working in that space was sliding fee scales and to be affordable. It was a matter of integrity to let go of that space, instead of increasing my prices, staying and insisting I was still “affordable”. Affordable is a subjective word, though, isn’t it?

I did up my prices to what was sustainable for me for a short time before I left, and I got many incredibly supportive and affirming responses from clients. At the same time, my business there was at an end. Right now, as we speak, I am re-configuring and starting over. I have learned a lot! And being a part of that holistic health collective was so important and good. I am thankful for it and the people I shared it with.

Anyway, during this and, after I left the collective, a colleague and friend of mine became very ill. I gave her a reiki session as she was recovering. We had often done exchanges, supporting and helping one another. I let her know that I would love to provide her with free sessions for a time as she recovers. She knew about me needing sustainable fees, and balked at the idea of me giving work away free. Even though she does the same whenever she wishes, for those in need.

I told her that I have the ability to give her free sessions as she needs them. She asked in wonder, “You do?” And I smiled warmly and said, “Yes!”.

That moment I was reminded of the man selling necklaces in Jamaica over 15 years ago and how proud he was to state that he had a right to give away his work if he so chose. I felt the same at that moment. Like a light had gone on. I felt it to my core. It is my choice. It is right either way as long as I am consciously choosing. Yes, I need the money. However, I still have the freedom to give freely when it is right and good. That is a true feeling of abundance and wealth that comes from within. I may not be able to reconcile reality with my ideals as yet, but I can do this for a friend.

Another friend I don’t see often visited me a few days ago. She makes amazing lap quilts. She makes them, often hand-sewed and praying over them, creating them in a way that feels like they are her children she is birthing. It is a sacred thing. And, in the past, as I did with my reiki for many years, she gave them away. Now she is selling them. Her time and attention to them is impeccable. They are beautiful. Several people she knows told her she must sell them for no lower than $150. So, she is. They also told her she could charge much more for them. Which is true. But she wants them to be accessible, so she is not going the exclusive route with the price.

She spent countless hours making them. And if she wants to sell them or give them away, that is her right and her choice.

There is care in every aspect of it. It is an art. Someone whom she had gifted a lap quilt to many years ago, asked what she was selling them for. She answered, “$150.”

Much like my experience years ago, this friend gasped at the price of the lap quilt.

Maybe she gasped at realizing that the gift she had received years before was worth so much. Maybe she gasped because the price shocked her. I don’t know. The funny thing  is, I know who that person was, who gasped, and she is a good friend who was the first to tell me that I was worth the $60 when that first paying client gasped at me! This friend had told me I was being undervalued and that maybe in our area, (8 years ago) at the time, that $60 was a bit high.

Prices can shock us. It happens. To the best of us. I am shocked that there are $300 backpacks for sale downtown. And I am shocked that handmade bras downtown cost $300 and up. It is true. And even if I had the money, I wouldn’t choose to buy a $300 bra or backpack. Even us artists, freelancers, small business people, musicians…we might want to get the handmade craft for free or we may want to go see live music for free or to get a quality bra for cheap and we don’t realize that we are living in a society that undervalues some of the best gifts of life…..beauty, imagination, vision, well-being.  At the same time, I don’t think that exclusive prices are the answer either. I opt for balance, choice and freedom.

Some spend a small fortune on Halloween decorations and costumes, going out for dinner often, movies, junk food, video games, beer, wine, pop, vices…. oh yes, all the random things we first world people throw our money at and then say we can’t afford something else that is priced by its preciousness, artisan quality and depth of experience and value. Why is that?
We have been lulled into thinking we deserve things cheap, not realizing what a violent notion that can be. Are we not seeing how much money we easily throw at things of less quality or lasting value, without so much as a flinch, let alone a gasp?

For me, my work, whether it is writing, art or reiki or something else  – it is about the healing, the love, the presence, the ideal, the vision, the passion, the dream, the need to do the work! I just need to be who and what I am and to do my work.

We have been lulled into thinking that we deserve things cheap, not realizing what a violent notion that can be.

When my quilting friend first told me she was selling her quilts online for the first time, I quickly looked at the link. I saw one that I instantly fell in love with and bought it then and there. I didn’t want anyone else to get the gorgeous lotus quilt! It was a quick and true gut feeling. It was meant for me. And, I was her first customer!

When I got it, my daughter asked how much it was. I told her and she raised her eyebrows exclaiming that was a lot for a small blanket. I then held it out from end to end and said to her, “If this were a painting of this size that I had painted, I would charge more than $150 for it! It is an original irreplaceable work, hand sewed. She put the same, if not more, time into it as I would for a painting.” My daughter exclaimed, “Oh! I never thought about it like that!” She caught on pretty quickly. We didn’t even have to discuss the cost of buying designer materials in addition to 8+ hours of creating the quilt and how much per hour that would amount to after the time and expenses are figured in.

My cat Abigail sitting against the lotus quilt.

My cat Abigail sitting against the lotus quilt.

I don’t know that I could necessarily afford the $150 for the quilt, but it was something deeper that I had to act on and choose. It was a choice filled with trust and a sense of abundance. I recognized the beauty, meaning and value; it spoke to me. In valuing it and buying it, I was doing the same for myself as an artist/writer – self-employed person. It felt good and right. It created great joy for both of us. And I get to be kept warm by a gorgeous meaningful lotus quilt, made by a friend and fellow artist, each time I am at home and need it.

What are we worth?
What is your price?
What is your choice?

I love what artist Kiki Smith has to say. This is how I am going forward:

Just do your work. And if the world needs your work it will come and get you. And if it doesn’t, do your work anyway. You can have fantasies about having control over the world, but I know I can barely control my kitchen sink. That is the grace I’m given. Because when one can control things, one is limited to one’s own vision.   -Kiki Smith

Chandra Sherin 2014 ©

Blue Horses

Blue Horses from my Grandmother.

Blue Horses from my Grandmother.

Blue Horses,  Mary Oliver’s newest poetry collection, is officially in stores today. Oliver is one of my favorite poets of all time. I was first introduced to her poetry in the early 2000’s in grad school and found a kindred spirit in her writing. I actually got to meet Mary Oliver when she received an honorary doctorate a little while back. That was a moment in time I treasure!

When I saw the title “Blue Horses” for the new collection, I was really surprised. It holds a lot of meaning for me. In fact, it is a sort of living poetry just seeing it. I found out where the choice of her title comes from. Her Facebook page posted a week or two ago that the source was Franz Marc who created a painting “The Tower of Blue Horses” in 1913. I was glad to learn the history of how the Nazis rejected and scorned the painting, as it was something I didn’t specifically know about, though I was aware of the Nazi relationship to books and art in general.

Blue horses have kept coming up in my life.

It started when I was very small. I was with my parents, before bed, and they would use their fingers to make a galloping sound on the wall and exclaim, “Oh! There goes the blue horse!!” And I would jump up and look and look for it with glee. I could hear it. But I could never find it. I would look at them and ask where it had gone. They each were grinning at my vim and vigor for this game, but would shrug and say they did not know. This went on and on for a time. It was great fun and my imagination had hold of this tiny blue horse that could run across my bedroom wall as agile as a nuthatch.

Imagination is sacred. It is a doorway to deeper knowing.

Later, when I was eight years old, my father had been rightfully and thankfully estranged from me and my family for about a year (and ever after). My mother sat by me as I lay in bed about to go to sleep. Randomly, she began galloping her fingers on the wall and mentioned the blue horse. At first I smiled. But then I frowned. Then I got mad and told her to stop. I suddenly felt furious at the elusive nature of the blue horse.  My mother didn’t stop with the blue horse-play right away, and like a kettle going from quiet to full steam, I began a full throttle sob. I sobbed all of the things I could never express or explain or totally know. I sobbed 7 years of entanglement of what is good with what is forfeit and corrupt. Something good that my parents had done for me (blue horse) was brought back by my loving mother,  and at 8, I didn’t know how to handle all those raw emotions mixed together so tragically in the moment. All at once, she spoke words I could not, comforting me and holding me, acknowledging a needed release. The blue horse came through, with my mother, lancing an emotional abscess.

Visiting my grandmother in Colorado when I was a teenager, I saw that she had 7 or more miniature blue porcelain horses. I was mesmerized when I saw them. There was a visual I had longed for! Even if they weren’t alive. After a casual questioning I found that grandmother seemed to have no specific connection to them other than, she just liked them.

Then, in my twenties, I attended a Sundance ceremony in South Dakota, with my mother, sister and niece.  I had gone to the center of the sacred circle, escorted by one of the dancers, to attach my specially dedicated prayer to the cottonwood tree of the Sundance. It was an unusual and special opportunity for those who wished for a powerful call for healing for self and others. That I was there at all was a miracle and gift. Afterwards, I walked out from the arbor and up the little hill where an Oglala Lakota woman was standing.

She told me that her last name was Bluehorse.

I looked at her with wonder. She stood and spoke to me with gentle passion and kindness. She told me that an eagle had been above me while I was at the center of the circle. She spoke to me about being a part of this land and how it is honored which was a direct connection to miracles of healing. It was a short conversation with concentrated power and effect. I felt, as I walked away from her to our tent, that I was in a dream that had become real. I found Blue Horse again, this time living and visible in the shape of this First Nation woman who stood as witness to my journey to the center of her sacred circle. Upon returning home I painted a blue horse on canvas with a medicine wheel around it to honor this time.

More recently, a couple of years ago, when I was 39, I was talking to a dear friend about wounds that heal but that can also be activated at times in life, even though they are healed. She shared with me a beautiful visioning process she uses of looking at it as if it is a beautiful fabric in an upstairs attic chest, to look at, honor, appreciate and then fold and put away. I thought that was brilliant. It inspired me to write the poem, entitled, “A Wound That is Healed”.  Here are a couple passages from that poem,

….Wear it.

Like a beautiful gown….

Thank it,

and dance onward.

Ride it like a blue horse….

Yes, a blue horse rode into the poem! Yes, blue horse, I see you! I feel you! I know you! You are a dear old friend, peeking at me at different passages of my life’s time, bringing me to wholeness!

There are others who have written poetry about blue horses….google poetry and blue horse and you will find plenty of it. Joy Harjo, another amazing poetess, wrote a beautiful poem entitled “Promise of Blue Horses”.

Which leads me to a couple months ago. Two months ago I was taking a tele-class called “Dreaming the Soul Back Home”, lead by Robert Moss and hosted by The Shift Network, where we explored our dreams and practiced active dreaming, re-entering dreamscapes to gain more insight, healing and useful information for our lives. In one such session, a blue horse came to me. I was surprised and happy, but hadn’t made all the connections yet that I have made here in this article. After the quick visioning, Robert had some of us share a quick summary of our journey with a title. To my surprise, others also mentioned a blue horse. In his feedback on titles, Robert mentioned blue being connected to spirituality and the Divine, among other things. And that a blue horse is a spirit or wind horse…an ally to the soul and the soul’s journey.

This led to the most recent blue horse encounter, the announcement on the Mary Oliver Facebook page, of her pending release of Blue Horses. My mouth gaped for a moment, I am sure, as I saw it. Needless to say, I cannot wait to read it! And it’s presentation to the world was noted both by me and my mother with an undertoned note of depth in the meaning.

The thread of blue horse in my life leaves me with a feeling of connectedness with all life. It also has me feeling that Love finds a way to speak to us beyond the shadows and fissures of being human. And the speaking is of hope, solidarity and compassion.  It is accessed through the courage of the sacred imagination. It comes with wings (visible or not) to fly.  This power of a blue horse takes me also to the nakedness of soul and heart, flesh and spirit. This is a place of vulnerability, truth-telling and hope.

Life can be poetry when we listen closely enough. Sometimes it takes the kind of listening that lasts throughout all our years.

 Chandra Sherin 2014©

Give Up!

So, my last post hinted that I would be talking with you next about giving up. Doesn’t sound too inspirational, but appearances certainly are not what they seem!

I had come to what felt like a really dismal day not too long ago. A day where I felt the word failure creeping in along with give up. The give up had to do with recognizing that something I had put all of my heart and effort into was now coming, inexplicably, to an end. I hadn’t wanted to see it. Yet, I had also reached the nearly undeniable stage with it. And that night, I lay on my bed at the edge of giving up. My cat Boris was beside me. I told him that I may have to give up, feeling very sorry for myself in a true heart sorrow grieving kind of way.

What he replied with startled me into a new awareness and understanding. The very presence of my cat Boris, his heart and inner voice said to me, “Good! Give up!”

“Wha?” I responded, in utter dismay. “Boris! Why would you say that to me?”

He replied calmly, “I gave up once. Then you found me. That was when my life began again! So….give up!”

I sat in a stunned pause, taking in this known information being applied to me in a whole new way.

Gradually, as my mind processed what he was really saying, Boris changed my perspective. He helped me to see that it isn’t failure to give up. I simply began feeling that way because I had invested so much of my self into it. And that even though I may feel like I am stepping off a cliff into a dark unknown chasm – in giving up what has been for something yet unknown – it is really for the best. Onward and upward! I looked at Boris thinking how amazing he is and how brave.

And here is the missing piece to the story: About 11.5 years ago I went to the local animal shelter, not planning on adopting, but simply visiting. Actually, I had felt a repeated nagging feeling that I ought to go. So, I did. The first thing I saw when I entered the room, was Boris, in the top cage as you walk in, not noticing all the people looking at him because he was too busy being disgusted that he had been washed. All the other cats were in desperation to attract a rescuer for adoption and his demeanor was, “What the hell do they think they were doing, washing me like that?” ignoring all the people as he looked down at himself in disgust. I casually observed him from a distance. Some college girls oohed and awwed at him. I instantly found myself thinking, They can’t take care of him the way he needs.  Next, I found myself chatting with the person caring for Boris. She told me that she had named him and that he had been found abandoned on a freeway. It was a freeway area near our city that has fencing separating it from the countryside. Most likely he had been thrown from a car and left. She said he was dirty when they picked him up. The kind of dirty that cats only get when they have given up, she said sadly. She mentioned that he had also been sick with a cold and and had just come out from quarantine. I adopted him after that conversation. Later that day they called to say Boris had been put back in quarantine because of the cold. They mentioned that this happened right after I left and that he would not have been available for adoption a minute later. I waited 1.5 weeks and then insisted that he come home. I could not imagine he could get better back in quarantine in a cage. They said yes, and I brought him home on Father’s Day 2003.

Everyone that met him always made some kind of coo or aw. There is a charisma and a handsomeness to him, that Boris. The first year that he lived with us he experienced PTSD and his doctor had him take an anti-depressant for 3 months “to help him remember how to feel normal again”. What I noticed about Boris in that first year was that he had definitely been outside during a major storm because he was always so scared during storms back then. He would go to the basement and hide in a corner behind something. It also seemed that there had been a man in his life that hadn’t been too nice to him. I could tell by how Boris first interacted with my husband and then how Boris’s heart melted and began to adore my husband as he felt his love and kindness.  Right away, Boris showed me that he had found a job at our house. Like a valiant knight, he vowed to watch over our then 2.5 year old daughter. And he did, devotedly. Every night he would watch over her without fail. Going with the knight theme, Boris always runs to the aid of anyone in the house who he thinks is hurting, in pain or in need of help, animal or human. He runs to whomever it is and offers his concern, presence and help. If he were a human he would be a first responder, nurse or healer. And, Boris did indeed remember how to feel normal and never needed meds again. Eleven years later he is happier than ever and aging with grace and a definite zest of wisdom.

So, you see, Boris’s response to me was profound. It came from a deep place. And it helped me to take the steps needed of acceptance of what is and moving in the now into the next amazing and exciting chapter of my life. So, yeah, I highly recommend it, if it is time, appropriate, respectful of life and ethical, then yes, by all means, give up.

Boris, The Valiant.

Boris, The Valiant.

 

 

Being The Impossible

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This was the sign of the day that I came upon yesterday. Was looking for what the universe had to say to me and this was it. It makes me think of the faery card (from The Faery’s Oracle deck by Jessica MacBeth and Brian Froud) called “Undressing a Salad”. It talks about doing the impossible and being impossible. The quote above, attributed to Disney, mentions that this can also kind of fun. This speaks to me of dreams, the big dream, believing in one’s self, leaps of faith, trust and zest for breaking ground in one’s own life. This also speaks to me of not only doing the impossible but the importance of being impossible!

I mean being impossible in a fun kind of faery way that boggles the mind even as it pleases and tickles it. The glee of new ideas, new opportunities, breaking new ground gets me feeling so full of optimism and playful mischief that I forget the seriousness of being an adult. And that is a darn good energetic state to be in when you need to create and get going on dreams and the hard work of play. What some feel and see as impossible is simply an idea that becomes tangible and real in surprising ways for someone else.

What new ground will I cover? What new territory will I discover in my dreams? What will I learn that will suddenly shock me into a new perspective, in a good way? In what way will all this adventure of endings and beginnings in my life right now bring me to a new expression of my purpose and who I am in this life? This is exciting! I feel the fun. And the thirst and hunger for more juicy fun that makes creation a dynamic, crackling, sparkling alchemy.

The message here is whether I feel like I am jumping off the edge of a cliff into the unknown, making my way in the dark at night, or dancing into new life and new approaches as yet unexplored…if I realize that it is kind of fun, that I am having fun and it is ok and good…then, perhaps I will accomplish the feat of being impossible because I am doing the impossible already. Being a phoenix, dancing with the trickster, improvising this life.

What was the precursor to this hopeful, playful message? Giving up. Yep. Which I will address in the next post. Stay tuned.

Photo Bomb

At the marsh trail today. This was a once in a flash of a second shot. I thought I was getting a photo of the bee on the milkweed flowers with two funky bugs. When I uploaded it onto my computer I found that a smiling wasp (looks like a smile to me) had photo bombed it. Nice! Saw a lot of bees at the marsh today enjoying all the natural wild blooms, by the way.

July 20 2013

July 20 2013

Her Throne of Plum Blossoms

Female house finch sitting in our in full bloom plum tree this morning. 05.09.13

Female house finch sitting in our in full bloom plum tree this morning. 05.09.13

 

 

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My daughter thought this female house finch’s perch in the first photo looks like a throne. She called to her mate the whole time I was photographing her.

It is a rainy day here today and the blossoms seem to glow with a strikingly vibrant spirit of hope. The fragrance that wafts to us as we stand outside is divine.

When I went outside to look at the tree again, there was this little lady duck asking for more seed to be put out.

Female Mallard that has been visiting our yard the last few days.

Female Mallard that has been visiting our yard the last few days.

I promptly granted her request of course.

Abstract Haiku

Close up photo of a a painting I did about Hawaii that included lots of glitter. :) I love the abstract aspect of this. 02/2013

Close up photo of a painting I did about Hawaii that included lots of glitter. :) I love the abstract aspect of this. 02/2013

Abstract Haiku

by CS Sherin Feb. 18, 2013

Deep blue ocean depth

Layers dreams between now and

Here, blurs edge to light

 

Chandra Sherin 2013 © All rights reserved.