Injured deer

A single gunshot and I’m weeping. What is this immense sorrow? The fawn had two broken legs and no chance for survival in the wild. Putting its suffering to an end was the compassionate thing to do. So why all the tears? Why the sick feeling in my stomach? Why the pounding in my head?

The story is a short one. I found a baby deer on the path to the cottage this morning. I could tell she was hurt, but in the dark, I couldn’t see how badly. When I went back to the house, she was still there. As she fearfully used her front legs to pull herself away from me, she went tumbling over the hillside to the brush below. That’s when my tears started. My good intentions had sent her over the cliff!

I found her down below hiding behind our garbage cans. Again, she scrambled to get away from me, wedging herself between my son’s truck and the hillside. As she moved, I could see that both of her back legs were broken, bones sticking out. It was a brutal sight. I couldn’t even imagine how much pain she must be feeling, and it amazed me that she made no noise. Her mama was pacing on the hill above. I put my hand on the baby’s neck and felt her racing pulse. I spoke to her in hushed tones, and she calmed down. I covered her legs with a sheet to keep the flies away and then left her alone as I searched for help.

I posted on FaceBook and then started making calls. After several unsuccessful attempts, my friend Linda found someone at DNR who was willing to come out. It didn’t take long for him to assess the situation, and he asked my permission to shoot the deer. I said yes and thanked him for doing the hard things that most of us would find impossible.

The sorrow and tears persist. They seem to be springing from my conscious choice to allow myself to acknowledge just how vulnerable this whole thing makes me feel. As I open my heart in compassion, I open my eyes to the truth: Everything,  everyONE dies, eventually. Pain is real. Suffering is real. The deer did nothing to “deserve it.” Sometimes, stuff just happens: to deer, to strangers, to those we love. I know it is impossible to selectively numb feelings. We cannot numb sorrow without also numbing joy.

And so I will sit here, grateful for the depth of today’s sorrow, knowing I have the capacity for equal measures of joy. I will hold myself gently and compassionately as I recommit to living life fully, with my heart wide open. Tears and laughter, sorrow and joy, death and life. This time around, I’m playing full out: Show Up – Be Seen – Live Brave!

Vulnerability is the Birthplace

A time to heal

watercolor painting

A Time To Heal (watercolor and ink by Barbie Dallmann)

When I was a senior in high school, I broke my left knee playing flamingo football–boys against the girls. After six weeks on crutches, my leg wrapped in plaster from thigh-top to toe-tips, the day came for cast removal. I vividly recall my first glimpse of the leg. I say, “the leg” because it really didn’t resemble MY leg. The leg was shriveled, dirty, and hairy! But even worse than how it looked, was how poorly it functioned. The knee didn’t bend, and it couldn’t hold any weight whatsoever. It was a useless, pitiful little thing, just hanging there with no cast to protect it.

After weeks of physical therapy and excruciatingly painful exercises, I was able to take my first tentative steps without crutches. It was over a year before I could attempt running and even longer before I could operate the clutch pedal of our extended bed International Harvester pick-up truck.

Now, over 40 years later, there are still times my knee “acts up.” It’s not particularly fond of steep, downhill descents on rocky trails. For the most part, though, I go through life, walking three or four miles a day without giving it much thought. I climb stairs, ride bicycles, and easily deploy a clutch pedal. Once healed, it’s hard to remember the process of recovery: limitations, pain, frustration, and wanting to give up.

I think the same is true for healing emotional wounds. For a little while, it’s okay to wrap ourselves in protective armor while the worst of the injury heals. But the longer we wait, the more we atrophy and the harder it is to return to normal. And it’s no more realistic to expect instant emotional recovery than it is to remove a cast one day and plan to run a marathon the next.

Sometimes the recovery period feels worse than the initial injury, and certainly some wounds are worse than others. The more traumatic the injury, the longer the recovery period.

Ultimately, I believe in the wisdom of the body and heart when it comes to healing. If we take our bruised egos out of the picture, surrender to the reality of the situation, release whatever needs to be forgiven, and listen to the small, still voice within, we will heal. Healing–both physical and emotional–calls for patience, kindness, self-compassion, and self-love. Lots and lots and LOTS of self-love. And maybe a trusted friend or two to lean on while you’re learning to walk again.



20150418_082154-2(Originally Posted May 11, 2010)

In March 1993 two bad things happened: (1) My kindergarten age son’s favorite riverside play area, “Magic Island,” was flooded, and when the waters receded, the area was covered in garbage. (2) Someone shot the windows out of my car, which was parked right in front of my house.

I was so angry about my car. I didn’t even bother with feeling worried or scared. Natural fighter that I am, I went directly into rage. Adrenaline was pumping through my body, and my heart was beating through my chest. I was shaking all over, ready to find the culprit and pound the crap out of him! That was my first reaction.

Through the inner roar that demanded revenge, I managed to hear a small, quiet voice: “You have a choice. You don’t have to respond with violence. You can choose peace instead of this.” I listened, but I didn’t know what to do with all that “violent energy” surging through my body. I NEEDED to hit somebody!

Then I remembered the playground, and it occurred to me that I could use my surplus energy to pick up garbage. I thought, “I’ll just pick up as much as it takes to get rid of this emotional super charge.” And so I grabbed a box of garbage bags and loaded my son and his friend into our truck, and we headed for Magic Island.

All I can say is that it took a long, LONG time to dissipate the energy. In fact, I filled over 20 giant garbage bags as full as I could get them. Add to that the work the boys did, and we pretty much cleaned up the flood’s footprint from Magic Island. When it was over, I was so tired and so happy. I had turned my violent rage into something useful and helpful and hopeful.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. The next morning while driving to work, the Mayor noticed the change on Magic Island and called the Parks Director to thank him. Of course, the Parks Director knew nothing about it. Enter the local press with the front-page newspaper headline: “Mayor wants do-gooders to come clean.” My best friend in Illinois turned us in. I had shared the story with her, and she’s the one who ended up calling the Mayor’s office to tell the tale. A couple of weeks later, the my son, his friend, and I received a Mayor’s Award for Community Spirit.

The best part, though, was the follow-up newspaper article in which I told my story about turning something negative into something positive in order to stop the cycle of violence. For many weeks thereafter, local pastors used the story in Sunday sermons, and something amazing happened as people began spontaneously getting together to pick up garbage all over the city. I’m still amazed by it all!

And so, next time you hear a quiet voice from inside telling you that you have a choice, believe it. We always have choices. We can choose to react out of fear, revenge, or self-righteous anger . . . or we can make choices and take actions that will lift us into a higher place, into a new, more peaceful way of being.

Ika Rose and the Trees of Kanawha State Forest

Ika Rose and the Trees of Kanawha State Forest

I went hiking today. Just me and Ika Rose. I chose a challenging climb, and took off enthusiastically upward with lots of energy. Before long, however, I was breathing hard and stumbling a bit where a scattering of rocks and tree roots required careful stepping. I became so intent on looking down and deliberately placing each foot, that somehow I lost track of the trail. I suppose I followed the dog, who was following a game trail, which eventually became impassable, at least for a novice hiker like myself.

Can you see the blaze on the big tree? How about the one behind it?

Can you see the blaze on the big tree? How about the one behind it?

I couldn’t get oriented just looking around, so I went back down the hill until I was sure I had found the trail, turned around again, and resumed climbing. I worried I would repeat my mistake and found myself wishing there were signs to guide me. That’s when I remembered that this was a blazed trail. I just needed to purposefully look up and search for the markings on the trees. Funny how easy they are to see when you’re looking for them and how they totally disappear when you’re not.

It made me think about my latest professional journey: creating and planning my first Daring Way™ weekend retreat. I started out enthusiastic about the challenge. I tackled the tasks with lots of energy, doing a lot of time-consuming preparation and marketing. I started to focus on the details a bit too much and got bogged down in the process. I started wishing for “a sign” to lead the way.

Actually, there had been several indicators (aka, “signs”), but I hadn’t paid much attention. I was busy placing one foot in front of the other.

What is it in me that refuses to read the signs until I get lost?

I always think I know where I’m going.

I always think I know . . . .

I always think . . . .

When does listening occur to me? When does it seem appropriate to ask for guidance? At what point do I give myself permission to admit I’ve never done this before, and simply walk back down the hill and start again, this time paying attention to the signs?

But enough about my all-too-human foibles. I’ve decided to read the signs and reschedule the retreat. As I try again, I’m going to “look up” and search intently for the signs to guide my way.

A vivid blaze

A vivid blaze

Close-up of a hard-to-see blaze

Close-up of a hard-to-see blaze

In the woods, the signs are often hard to recognize. Sometimes the yellow paint is vivid and discernible from yards away, but other times, it’s overgrown with moss or eroded by the elements. What I noticed during today’s walk, however, was that the signs ARE there and are quite unmistakable when recognized.

So it seems in life. When I look for signs, I find them. When I listen to my heart, it’s much easier to discern their messages.

And much like today’s hike that ended where it began about 90 minutes later … my spiritual journey isn’t about doing everything perfectly, and it isn’t even about “arriving,” it’s about exercising my spiritual muscles, enjoying the journey, and occasionally remembering to read the signs before I get too lost.

The signs are there! (By the way, did you see the blaze on the tree in the very first photo? They disappear when you aren't looking for them.)

The signs are there! (By the way, did you see the blaze on the tree in the very first photo? They disappear when you aren’t looking for them.)

Acrylic paining by Barbie Dallmann

It’s Magic! (acrylic painting by Barbie Dallmann)


For nearly three months I’ve been practicing magic. I’ve been saying the magic words and intentionally engaging in magical practices. I have even been facilitating a magic group on Monday nights at Unity of Kanawha Valley. I can say with certainty, THE MAGIC has made a huge difference in my life.

You know the magic words. You learned them from your parents. You taught them to your children. We all say them often, usually without thinking about their power. I’m referring to the magical practice of gratitude and those sorcerous words: Thank you!

The most powerful insight for me has been the discovery of the chasm that lies between simply saying thank you and actually BEING wholeheartedly grateful. When I say thank you, I smile and feel a twinge of happiness. When I am engaged in wholehearted gratitude, I get a tingling that starts in my heart and moves out through my limbs. Sometimes I feel a chill and get goose bumps; other times, I sense waves of heat moving through me. Always, my body seems too small to hold the love surging through my cells. Often the joy leaks from my eyes.

At that level of gratitude, fear loses its stronghold. I am sufficient; I lack nothing. Every space of my being is filled by love, joy, and a sense of purpose. At those times, I am living the essence of “All is well.” It is magic! And it takes practice.

The MagicOne of the daily practices I learned from this book is listing ten things for which I am grateful and WHY I am grateful for each. I sanctify each entry with the words, “thank you, thank you, thank you.” When the list is finished, I read it aloud and allow myself to feel profoundly grateful. I literally breathe the gratitude into my lungs, feel it entering my bloodstream, and imagine it traveling into my heart and circulating throughout my body.

Even Facebook has become a gratitude extravaganza for me. When I see a post that makes me smile, I take a moment to think of the friend who posted it. I close my eyes, and give thanks for the ways in which that person has enriched my life. I imagine giving him or her a warm hug and whispering, “Thank you, thank you, thank you … for being YOU. My life is richer with you in it.” Then I open my eyes and click LIKE. When I see those who have “liked” one of my posts, I do the same thing, sending love and gratitude to each one. Facebook is no longer a waste of time nor a source of irritation; it has become an uplifting spiritual practice.

As Thanksgiving arrives and the countdown to Christmas begins, I will be choosing gratitude instead of stress, savoring the richness of the season instead of complaining about the traffic, and staking my claim to peace on earth, good will to men. Now that’s MAGICAL!

Full Moon

After I slipped down a muddy hillside, I sat in the mud and shot pictures of the moon. Some things are worth getting dirty for.

There is no doubt about it. Summer is winding down. Although the trees remain lush and green, an increasing number of dead leaves decorate my cottage deck. Sweeping them away this morning, I realized the days of denial are over. My intention to Create A Summer I Loved was fulfilled. Is it any wonder I’m dragging my feet a little? When must I officially declare summer over?

As a child, that happened on the first day of school. But here in Charleston, school started on August 11; I wasn’t even back from summer vacation yet! So, that doesn’t work. Labor Day? Well, that’s come and gone, and I’m still in a summer frame of mind. So, no, Labor Day isn’t the end of summer.

What about September 22, the official beginning of autumn? But I’ll be in San Antonio training with Brené Brown to become a Daring Way Facilitator. I can’t officially end summer while I’m still out of town. Nope. Can’t be done.

Yet, I know the leaves will turn and fall. The days will grow shorter. The nights will get cooler. Air conditioning will be turned off, and I’ll switch on the electric fireplace to combat the morning chill at the cottage. Perhaps I’ll be ready to say goodbye to summer when we set our clocks back to standard time.

It’s not really about summer being over. It’s a reluctance to release my “summer way of being.” I have enjoyed moving at a slower pace, skipping the morning make-up-and-hair routine, and being more spontaneous, adventurous, and fun. My summer has been a delightful balance of meaningful work and nurturing play.

But there are a lot of things that didn’t get done. I didn’t blog much; I didn’t write much. I haven’t put any effort at all into marketing my book. My website remains inadequate, and I have not yet cracked the owner’s manual of my new camera.

What did get done? Well, I worked 40 hours a week and completed all of my projects on time. Bills got paid. Grocery shopping done. Meals. Dishes. Dog walking. I watched the moon rise, hiked for hours in the woods, occasionally lounged in the sun in the middle of a workday, painted outdoors as the sun was rising, and sat talking on the deck late on a work night just because I didn’t want the time with my son to end.

If I’m going to move into fall and winter happily, I’ll need to take some of summer’s lessons with me. New priorities. New pleasures. More flexibility. A slower pace doesn’t mean nothing gets done. I want to continue to trust myself to get things done when they need to get done. Even blogging.


Watercolor … “Inspiration” by Barbie Dallmann

I was halfway through the morning dog walk, a little less than a mile from home, when I heard it. Subtle. In the distance. A faint fluttering of leaves in the treetops. I hoped the breeze would make it to the ground. It was a muggy morning, with intermittent sunshine coaxing wispy bits of fog from the low-lying grasses.

Then I heard it again. The sound was a little louder this time. No, not the sound of wind rustling leaves. This was a sound I never heard growing up in the treeless prairies of Nebraska. It is the sound raindrops make when they hit leaves. The tiniest splat. So tiny it can only be detected when there are millions of raindrops hitting millions of leaves.

“I hear the rain coming,” I told the dogs. “Let’s get home!”

I quickened my pace and dismissed the idea of running. Two dogs, hiking shoes, and no bra. If ever there were reasons not to run, I had plenty. As the sound intensified, I knew what was coming. The words “torrential downpour” popped into my head. I looked behind us and could see a sheet of water in the distance. There was no escape. This was going to be really bad.

A burst of wind, and my muscles tightened in anticipation. One huge drop hit my head, then two, then twenty all at once. This was not the gentle shower of a watering can, but the splash of water pouring from a bucket. Oh, my goodness! So loud, and so much water! My thoughts were racing, expecting a lightning strike or to be washed away by flood waters. Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! Get home!

And then, within 15 seconds, the rain stopped. I waited for a second wave, but that was it. I marveled as the tiny, yet powerful storm moved on. The dogs shook themselves, and I laughed, swiping the dripping hair out of my face. It felt more like getting hit with a water balloon than a rain storm.

Before we got to our driveway, the sun was out again, and I saw something sparkle on the ground. A quarter and a nickel. Wow! Thirty times more money than I usually find on a morning walk. This feels like my lucky day.


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