Unblocking the Heart as Life Flows

Dedicated to my friends, Shelley Brown and Kristen Peairs, who both continue to draw, inspire, and create from joy.

Everything I need to become the woman I’m meant to be next is inside my feelings of now. Life is alchemy, and emotions are the fire that turns me to gold.

—Glennon Doyle, author of Untamed

My adult daughter’s birthday this year became the first in which we were not together. Anticipating this, I called her.

Grasping for ideas, forgetting I was talking to a twenty-something, I blurted: “Maybe we could do a Zoom Bananagrams game or Zoom dancing together! I just don’t want a five-minute phone call. I know you have a full adult life. I honor that, but I really want to celebrate you! I’m your mom!”

“Mom, during the week I’ll likely have a dinner with my dad, then a lunch with my aunt, and drinks and a meal with my friends.  I’m disappointed we will not be together, but I understand. Mostly, I look forward to when we can be with each other.”

“I do too. I love you.”

“I love you so much, mom.”

Then a fabulous idea downloaded. I can create short videos in which I share stories and memories of my daughter each day for a week including her actual birthday and send these to her! I joyously began this process.

Two days before my daughter’s special day, Layla, the dog I had gifted both of my children seven years ago, died.

Determined to stay in the joy amidst my sorrow, I continued recording whatever bubbled up. I included thoughts about her essential character qualities, her delightful, sassy personality, things she had said-all woven in a stream of tears, smiles, laughter-a treasure trove of memories that remain on an internal love-filled DVR.

On the evening of her birthday, I received an unexpected phone call. “Mom! I had an amazing birthday!” Her exuberant joy burst my heart wide open. She excitedly shared the ways she had been loved, cherished, celebrated. She adored the videos. “Oh, I love you so much, Momma!” “Happy Birthday, Sweetheart! I love you forever and always!”

In the days that followed her birthday, waves of grief arrived at all the expected and unexpected moments. In the absence of Layla, the silence still feels deafening.

I noticed stragglers-like hidden, lonely, crinkled letters, yellowed photos, and sparkling silver charms from a bracelet, climbed on board a precarious, slippery surfboard of my sorrow. I rode the waves of loss with memories of both my parents, who died during this last year, of not knowing when I will get to be with both my adult children, the three of us together. Unresolved grief persisted in piggybacking like thick blankets layered on top of an already heaving heart.

An edgy, agitation began to build in my body. I couldn’t sit still to get any given task done from beginning to end-even simple ones. I wanted to jump outside of myself, all this loss.

While pedaling my bicycle the next day on a crisp autumn morning, I remembered a friend’s essay about finding her joy in drawing, collaging, and another friend who drew stick figures to process her emotional realities.

That evening I clicked on music I love, pulled out white sheets of paper, markers, and colored pencils. I cried, created, and colored a drawing-unremarkable, yet filled with different parts of me. The process opened me in places I didn’t even realize had been blocked. I remembered-life is messy-full of celebrations and loss. I remembered the importance of feeling everything, taking out all the thorns to heal. While drawing, I discovered a comforting place for my younger selves to mourn and celebrate, for my adult self to be uninhibited and free.

When several beloved ones die within a relatively short time frame amidst life’s joyous occasions- like the woman I heard about who has lost six family members to Covid19, we can either distract ourselves by binge drinking, eating, shopping, by stuffing it all in boxes that we carry to a dark basement, or by courageously feeling the layers and depth of loss our hearts have carried. We can engage beneficial modalities for releasing the sorrow, the love, and the joy.

Many of us are filled with emotional pain, which we can no longer numb, avoid, or suppress because we have awakened to the fact that we want to live, that our souls deserve a chance to breathe, to dance.

How important to find ways to feel…All of It. How meaningful to hear a sage voice inside say, “Welcome to living life as a human being who feels, who experiences what it means to be alive, to embody radical empathy and exude love.”

Being present moment by moment as best we can for what can seem like a deluge of heart-wrenching experiences mixed with joyous, simple ones of celebration, life continues to flow. I believe hospice and midwifery are happening simultaneously inside and outside of us.

What will be born from our sorrows, our joys, our loves, from the brave releasing of a life we no longer live?

Keeping the heart open means allowing life to flow through-to leave tiny love notes, soft, tender touches, drawings as a trail that leads us to appreciate the tears of a thousand losses. Those sorrows often become seeds that grow loving-kindness trees in the center of our vast, ever-expanding, beautiful souls.

May we remain connected in our mourning, in our joyful celebrations, and in the metamorphosis of who we are becoming individually and collectively. May as many of us as possible become alchemists for love.


Laura Staley
Laura Staley
The founder of Cherish Your World, Laura Staley passionately helps people thrive by guiding them to a holistic transformation of space, heart, mind, body, and soul. Laura knows that there’s a relationship between the conditions of our homes or workplaces and the quality of our lives. Trained and certified with the Western School of Feng Shui and seasoned by almost two decades of working with a variety of clients, Laura uses her intuition and expertise to empower her clients to produce remarkable results in their lives. Her trifecta of serving people includes speaking, writing, and compassionate listening. As a columnist, Laura writes personal essays focused on self-discovery, feng shui, emotional health, and transformations from the inside out. Laura is the published author of three books: Live Inspired, Let Go Courageously and Live with Love: Transform Your Life with Feng Shui, and the Cherish Your World Gift Book of 100 Tips to Enhance Your Home and Life. Prior to creating her company, Laura worked as a fulltime parent and an assistant professor at Ohio Wesleyan University. She earned a Ph.D. in political science from The Ohio State University. Her joys in life include laughing with loved ones, dancing, reading, meditating, running, being in nature, and listening to music she loves. She resides in Black Mountain, NC with lovable dog, Layla. Laura is a contributing author to the inspiring book Crappy to Happy: Sacred Stories of Transformational Joy

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    • Cynthia, Oh, I completely agree that “Tiny celebrations help people keep going.” Oh, yes. I appreciate that you distilled a wisdom nugget from this essay. Life is full of all kinds of experiences-some quite sad, filled with heartache, and yet, many others that keep us going forward in grace, in joy. Thank you so much for your kind words. Yes! Video making can become another skill in one’s wheelhouse-even the homemade ones!

    • Thank you so much, Darlene. I’m incredibly grateful for your kindness, your support. I appreciate you so very much. I am no longer depriving the world of this heart-neither are you. Grateful for your example!

  1. Laura, you are a benfactress to many whose cause is love. You love fiercely but not forcefully, you embrace without suffocating and you celebrate purely without embellishment. To allow our humanity requires allowing our very human emotions to flow while knowing the impermanence of all. Honored by the dedication and mostly honored to call you friend who us forever engraved on my heart.

    • Oh, Shelley, thank you for the example you are (I even think I may do a Linked Out for a bit-am considering this because I feel so overwhelmed right now-working to get sea legs up underneath me…to stay focused on what’s most important and then I take a breath and weep-or still want to jump out of my own skin…) Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for all your kind words. Being, feeling, breathing, loving…keeping the heart open as wide as possible…You are a treasure and forever in my heart.

  2. Thank you so much, Laura, for your kind thoughts and meaningful reflections/insights. I hope this doesn’t sound odd, but I think in some ways sorrow-grieving/loving seems “easier” than living terrified. Like I am finally safe enough, brave enough to allow myself to grieve and love which is a very different than hyper vigilance. Being swept up in fear/anger can distance us from grief, love, and joy.
    The last six years-and especially the last two years here in the mountains I finally feel safe inside and out. In this space many losses, sorrows continue to come tumbling out of me. The catalysts of my dad’s death last August, followed by my mother’s departure this past March, then Layla–just kept pinging that part of me that Had to Grieve. Yes, we do keep going because life is so precious-there’s much to live For and to look forward to-even on foggy days when we can only see a few feet in front of us. I appreciate you so very much, Laura. Thank you for taking time to read this essay and offer your heartfelt, valuable insights.

  3. Hi Laura,
    Thank you for this beautiful and hearttouching essay. Sorry for your precious losses, my sincere condoleances.
    It’s remarkable how joy and deep sorrow in our lives, makes us to peel of layer by layer to remove what’s blocking and becoming more and more our truthful self.
    Many years ago when I started painting and drawing, I didn’t know how it would awaken me, on so much deeper levels of me.
    It’s such a beautiful process.
    The lady who had 6 losses due Covid19 moved me, as I can resonate with her grief, with something resembling, not Covid19. The moment when 5 loved one’s, including my niece and nephew in the age of 5 and 8, where ripped out of our lives within seconds years ago. There is no better school than life itself.

    We can not go back to the past exept in precious memories. In the present, in every deepening process we make progress for our future. Knowing when sorrow occours, It’s here to serve us in our growth.

    May every process bring you the healing you’ve wished for.
    Wish you a beautiful joyfull journey with your Loving daughter.

    • Thank you so much for your heartfelt condolences and good wishes for my daughter and I, for all you have shared and offered. And I am so very sorry for all the losses you and your family have faced and endured. I don’t know about you-in the space of all the sorrows and many joys- did you find you didn’t have much time or energy for anger-or maybe you were angry at how abruptly, quickly life ended for many people you loved. I’ve noticed that in the last six years I simply drop deeply into the feelings of grieflove, compassion, care, and gratitude with only sprinkled tweaks of agitation-like I just refuse to “sweat the small stuff” or get my panties in a wad about things out of my control. When you realize how short life can be-the loss of your niece and nephew at 5 and 8 years old and three other loved ones-so traumatic, utterly tragic. I would imagine you find yourself savoring life–from that abrupt awakening-the access you gained to deeper levels of yourself as you began to paint and draw. I really appreciate all you’ve shared here. And I completely agree “There is no better school than life itself.” Oh, yes, indeed. You have a depth and breadth of understanding and perspective that some people may not gain in a lifetime. I wish you continued growth, joy, beauty, light, and goodness, Ineke. Thank you for being you, for sharing your heart and insights. I’m so very grateful.

  4. Laura,
    I always love reading your essays. I connect with them, and you transport me to new places and familiar places. It is clear that you grow in each space that you live, and I think it is such a testament to living life and being present. I appreciate your perspective and the way you find joy – even when grief and mourning are part of you. I suppose it is part of what keeps us going, isn’t it? A will to put one foot in front of the other and move forward.

    This year has brought so much to the forefront and presented many challenges. Yet, despite all of it, we keep going. Somedays I wonder how, and then I remember that it’s something inside of us that propels us forward – even on those dark and stormy days. Thank you for sharing your heart and soul with us, Laura and for the inspiration you radiate. It makes me smile and warms my heart.