Category Archives: Cynthia Greb

An Unexpectedly Sacred Night

One Christmas Eve about eight years ago, the man I’d been dating for almost two years did not invite me to join his family for holiday festivities.

I was surprised.  I certainly wasn’t expecting it.  And I confess I was a bit hurt.  But at the same time it wasn’t unprecedented.  I knew that he was close to his family.  He’d remained close to his ex-wife.   At least once a week they hung out together with their grandkids.  They were close to their kids as well.  They had created a great family and a little thing like divorce had not prevented them from continuing to enjoy that family together.

I knew he was no longer in love with her, so that helped.  I also knew they still basically respected each other, and I really respected that.  Their relationship was very civilized.  They had, after all, lived in Berkeley for quite a while.   As a matter of fact, she still lived there in the family home.   I actually thought it was great that they were still friends.  (That’s not to say there weren’t still “issues” at times.)

I actually understood why it complicated things to include me.  I’d been to some of their family gatherings and generally, everyone was pretty nice to me, but I think his ex had trouble with me being there.  I knew she still loved him.  I knew that even though she and I had become tentative friends (we were in a spiritual group together), there was still a modicum of jealousy.  And so there would always be this small undercurrent of tension.  So it made sense to me that, once in a while, they’d want to get together as a family without me there.  (Maybe she’d requested that I not come.  I never asked and he never told.)

So anyway, I found myself all alone on Christmas Eve.  I guess I neglected to mention that I was in California at that time – a whole continent away from the rest of my family.  I had never, ever imagined myself spending Christmas Eve alone.  Christmas Eve had actually always been even more special to me than Christmas.  Christmas Eve was when our family had a big turkey dinner and then got dressed up to go to the beautiful candlelight service at our church.  It was my favorite service of the whole year.  There was no big sermon. Instead the Christmas story was read and many Christmas hymns were sung.  (And I love to sing.)  And it was very beautiful with lots of poinsettias around the altar and low lighting.  Then those lights were extinguished as we each lit one another’s candles.  By the glow of these small white candles, we sang the final hymn, Silent Night.

Well, clearly I wouldn’t be doing any of that.  No family, no dinner, no church, no boyfriend.  I was sitting alone in his apartment after he left.  What was I going to do?  I decided to light some candles at least.  (There were no decorations in his apartment.  It was very un-Christmas-y.)  And then I found myself singing Christmas carols.  In the glow of a few candles, in a dark room by myself, I sang and sang and sang.  One after the other.  Hark the Herald.  O Come All You Faithful.  We Three Kings.  God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.  O Holy Night.  What Child Is This?  O Little Town of Bethlehem.  Silent Night.

As I sang my heart out, feeling the beauty in the words, I soon realized this was the holiest Christmas Eve I’d ever experienced.  There were no distractions.  No crowds, no mindless conversations, no snacks or desserts.  Just me, some candlelight, some songs, and God.  It felt so worshipful, so heartfelt, so sacred.

I share this story because if you happen to find yourself in an unusual or unhappy situation this holiday, I want you to realize you always have the opportunity to create a new ritual.  You can always pull away from the crowd and the chaos and the drama and spend a little peaceful, sacred time with you and your God.

A blessed, holy night to one and all.


Winter’s Solstice, Winter’s Rest

November 2014 127

Today is the Solstice.  Tonight is the longest night of the year.

Do you like the nighttime?  Do you enjoy sleeping and dreaming?  Or do you resist it?  Do you like to spend time musing, daydreaming, reflecting, conjuring ideas, mulling things over?

I suspect if you grew up in any of the industrialized countries of this world, even reading the list “musing, daydreaming…” stirred up feelings of guilt or discomfort or maybe even disgust.  We certainly don’t seem to value these ways of using our time.

Who among us does not recall a teacher scolding a student for daydreaming, for being distracted?  Have any of us had parents who encouraged us to lie in bed or lollygag in a field and simply think, watch clouds, dream?  The very idea is almost laughable.

By and large we live in a yang world.  Yang to the max.  We respect the energies associated with the masculine, with the left brain, with the mind.  We do not honor the feminine, the more inward processes, the heart, the intuition, the creative juices associated with art, music, storytelling.  No, we teach people – both overtly and covertly – to achieve, to go go go, to think rationally, to DO.

But this is not a yang time of year.  Winter is a time for going within.  Where I live in Colorado, there are more than fourteen hours of darkness today.  This amount of nighttime invites us to sleep longer, to nestle into warm blankets, to turn off alarms and sink deeper into our dreams.

Of course many of us have jobs that don’t allow for that kind of indulgence.  But what if our world did allow us to hibernate more in the winter?  What if we all had shorter work hours in the winter?  What if, like our ancestors, we realized the harvest was in and it was not yet time for planting?  What if we gave ourselves permission to rest more during the winter?  Do you recognize how valuable that could be?

Here is what I see happening if we structured our world in such a way that we allowed more rest in the winter:

  • We’d feel less stress.
  • Both our bodies and our minds would have time to restore themselves.
  • We’d have more time to reflect on our lives and our world.  Are we happy with the direction we’re going in?  Do we like our lives?  What about this world we live in?  Is it acceptable the way it is?  What would we do differently if we could?
  • There would be less chance of us catapulting into a direction that was unwise.   If our go, go, go energy were allowed to shift into a rest, rest, rest energy, there would be time to evaluate whether or not the actions we were taking during the rest of the year were wise.
  • During this time of darkness and dreaming, new ideas would be born.
  • There would be a natural rising of energy as the daylight hours increased.  We might not have to force ourselves to become energized with caffeine or alarm clocks or whatever.  With the natural shifting of seasons, our bodies would naturally respond differently.  When the sun would start to rise earlier in the day, our bodies would be more eager to be awake.  (This would be true only if we truly allowed them more rest in the winter, of course.)

Does reading about this cause you to sigh with a feeling of wistfulness?  Oh, if only….  If only we had a saner schedule like this.  Can’t you see the world become a bit saner if we simply gave ourselves permission to dial back a little for a few months out of the year?

Maybe your boss will not be receptive to you cutting back your workday, but can you at least consider going to bed earlier?  Let your body get more rest.  For goodness sake (and for your health’s sake) don’t wait until the 11:00 news or the David Letterman Show to go to bed.  Can you recognize that perhaps you are tired earlier than that?  At the first hint of tiredness, tuck yourself in.  See what happens when you allow yourself more sleep, more dreaming, more rest.

It just may change your world.

Listening to Your Intuition

We live in a culture that, by and large, values the rationality of the mind over the less easily explained abilities of our intuition. But those who begin to honor those little nudges, gut feelings, and subtle inner promptings often find, over and over again, how wise their intuition can be.
I have learned that I ignore my intuition at my peril. Sometimes, I lose money when I don’t listen to my intuition. Other times, more serious things may occur. Always, it seems, my intuition knows what is best.

A week ago, I needed to find transportation from Denver to my hometown four hours away. I had put out the word through a local Facebook group that I was looking for a ride if anyone was going my way.  I had had a couple leads but the timing was off – they were either passing through Denver just before or several days after I needed to return. So my last option was the bus.
Now this is a perfectly good bus, but with my luggage, it would cost me $52 and money was tight as I’d gone through my minimal savings on a trip home to see my mother. But when my day of departure became imminent, I had to face the fact that I would probably need to just bite the bullet and order the darn bus ticket. But something was holding me back. I had the smallest niggling thought that I should wait. And I did, in fact, wait an hour or two. But then my mind started nagging me. “What are you waiting for?” it said. “Surely you’re not going to miraculously get a ride at this late stage of the game!”
If I had been wise, I would have argued with my mind. I would have said, “Actually, miracles do happen, you know. And so do ‘happy coincidences.’ And so do last minute rides. It won’t hurt to simply wait a few more hours.”
But I was silly and I listened to my mind and bought the ticket.
Not one hour later, I got a call from the person who had been planning on driving to my hometown several days into the future. Apparently circumstances had changed and he was going tomorrow. Did I still want to come along?
Yes, I certainly did. But damn it! Why did I buy that darn ticket?!!!

Some lessons cost more than money. Several years ago I had a small job driving this absolutely delightful older woman to the hospital to get blood transfusions. I would pick her up at her assisted living apartment, drive her and her wheelchair to the hospital, help her from the car and wheel her to the appropriate department, keep her company and attend to her needs while she was getting transfused, and then drive her home. I truly enjoyed this job as I truly enjoyed this woman. She was smart and funny and had fascinating life stories.
Well, the transfusions were occurring about every three weeks and my last time taking her had been first week or so of December. A couple weeks later, with Christmas approaching, I found myself thinking of her. I found myself thinking how nice it would be if I dropped in on her to say hi, maybe bringing a gift with me. I kept thinking how nice it would be for her to know that I truly cared about her as a person, not just someone who paid me to do a job. But I “got busy,” as we are wont to do, and I never went.
Around the beginning of January, I got the news that she had died.
That was a sad, sad lesson in what can happen when we don’t listen to our intuition.

A month or two after this woman had passed, I began to get calls from various family members which began raising little red flags in my mind. My Mom’s health was deteriorating a bit, Dad’s memory was starting to fail, and both my brother and my sister were having issues with either their health or their significant other. I began to get a strong sense that I was needed at home.
Now, financial instability happens to be a recurring theme in my life. Sometimes I am a bit flush and sometimes I can barely feed myself. At this particular time, another regular client had died and money was scarce. Buying a round-trip ticket home was not a possibility at that time. But thanks to the painful lesson I learned with Nan, I decided to find a way.
So I made an announcement at the spiritual gathering I went to on Sunday mornings. I told them about my client who had passed away before I’d taken the time to go see her, and I told them about the nagging feeling that I needed to get home for a visit because I was worried about my family. And bless their generous hearts, someone gave me their frequent flyer miles and a few others donated some money for the trip. I quickly booked a flight, arrived home, and just a few short days later, Mom had a serious heart attack followed by a small stroke. I ended up staying to help with her rehabilitation and care, and I tried to be there for the rest of my family as well. In fact, I ended up staying home four years.

Lesson learned! A+ in Listening to My Intuition!
But I don’t always make the grade. I’m currently about 50/50 in listening to my intuition. You would think I’d be wiser by now, but sometimes I still rationalize away that tiny inner voice. My goal is listen more carefully and follow more faithfully. My intuition is a wise guide!

So, friends, please practice the art of listening to that still small voice. It’s very smart and it definitely has your best interest at heart.

Morning Grace

Within the last several months, I’ve settled upon a spiritual practice that feels very good to me. I rise before the sun peeks over the mountain and I take rattle or drum outside with me and I greet the Sun, the Mountains, the Sky, the Earth, the Waters, and everything I can think of in that moment. I give thanks for the trees and the deer and the rocks and the flowers. I give thanks for the rain and the snow and the air and the wind.

After I give multitudinous thanks, my prayers easily shift into blessing. I ask for blessings for my family, my friends, the animals, the plants, my community, the world.

It’s a good way to start the day. I always feel better after I’ve done it. And when I’ve allowed myself to skip this morning ritual because I was especially tired or sad or maybe simply rebellious, I began to notice that my life would start to crumble. Things would not go well. I was out of the flow. I think it’s because I removed myself from this feeling of  gratitude.

So this morning as I was outside singing my prayers and using my rattle, turning slowly in a circle so that my prayers and blessings would go out in every direction, I saw that a deer had stepped from behind a tree and was looking at me. Then one of her sisters did the same. And then another. And then their mother.

Now the deer are especially tame in my community because there is no hunting. And so I often encounter them and they often look my way when they see me. But this felt extra sweet. And it reminded me of the dream I had in which thousands of deer were all looking in the window at a hundred or so of us, as we met for a workshop.

Perhaps the gaze of the deer is itself a blessing. They do not speak – at least not with words heard by human ears, but they can cast their sweet gaze upon us. I know that whenever I see deer, I smile. I think I am moved by their gentleness – such gentle herbivores, in almost constant contact with this sweet Earth which is our home.

I am grateful for the grace of this natural world. This planet is not always an easy one to live on, but when we take the time to connect with its natural rhythms and its beauty, we are blessed beyond measure. What an amazing Mother we have.

Goodbye House, Goodbye Dad

A part of me doesn’t want to write this.  I don’t want to revisit my grief.  And, I also want to write this while the memories are still somewhat fresh.

Six weeks ago I temporarily moved into the room I had lived in as a teenager.  It was the family home, although my family no longer lived there.  The kids were all grown and my parents had both recently moved into a nursing home —my father because of the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and my mother because there was no longer money for the caregivers we’d hired to assist her.

My home was in Colorado, but I was back in Pennsylvania to spend time with both of my parents and to sell, sort through, and dispose of all the remaining family possessions so that the bank could take possession of the family home.  No, it wasn’t a case of foreclosure; it was because we’d had to get a reverse mortgage to pay for my parents’ care.  And with them no longer at home, the house had to go to the bank. To say it was a time of great change for the Greb family would be an understatement.

So, I walked in the front door loaded down with my luggage.  And I gazed around in shock.  My siblings had told me about the pipe that had burst about two weeks before.  Apparently the thermostat had been set at about 50 degrees, but one particular bedroom hung over an open porch and I guess the radiator pipes couldn’t hold up to the record cold temperatures.

Large sections of hard wood floor had been pulled up.  Insulation had been ripped out.  Drywall had been torn down.  Rusty looking stains ran down the hall walls.  Wainscoting had been removed.   One closet had been completely ruined.  Furniture and other items had been moved from the damaged areas and stuffed into adjacent rooms.  There was a layer of dust everywhere from the work my brother and the clean-up crew had begun.  Several fans were going and the living room still smelled of mold and mildew.  It was a large house and it looked like a good third of it had been ruined.  And the rest of it was looking none too good either.

Stunned, I went about putting my things away and then I searched for one room of the house that was still clean enough to support an altar for my daily meditations.  I settled on the piano room.  I set up a card table and covered it with a beautiful scarf.  I placed some sacred items upon the cloth, found a candle, pulled up a chair, and lit the candle.

As I sat before the flame, breathing, I became aware of how sad I was.  I felt stunned by the devastation around me. I decided to talk out loud to the house.  What the heck; I was all alone.  Why not?

Within a few minutes my one-sided conversation had turned into a song.  I was singing to the house when a thought popped into my head.  Our house was sad.  It had burst into tears because everyone was suddenly gone and it lay empty.  Its tears had flooded the house.

My song turned into a lament.  I keened and keened, filled with sorrow for this poor house.  This dear house had been so lovingly built by my father’s own hands when his burgeoning family had outgrown the small one-story house we’d grown up in.  This house had once been filled with my parents, my three siblings, and then a fourth sibling—my youngest brother, newly born to my mother when she was forty years old and we had just moved into the house.

It had been the family home for forty years.  It had seen thousands of meals served, scores of holidays celebrated, and parties and picnics hosted.  It had heard the laughter and conversation of friends, relatives, and visitors.  There had been the pitter-patter of a dog, several cats, six grandchildren, and one great grandchild. Later, after the last of the children and one foster child had moved out, it had held a rotating roster of boarders, visiting adult children, grandchildren who needed a place to stay, children who were having temporary marital or financial problems, and eventually, caregivers who became an integral and loving part of the family system. So much life!  So much love!  So much laughter!  And suddenly, all of it was gone.

When Mom moved into the nursing home, the house was suddenly empty.  There was no more husband and wife in the home, no more visiting children or grandchildren, no more friends, no more caregivers, no more love and laughter.   And no one had said goodbye to this dear house.  No one had said thank you.  The house no longer had a purpose to serve.  It was still holding possessions, but all the life was gone from it.

I wailed.  No one was home so I could be as loud as I needed to be.  I cried and cried and cried.  I cried for the house that no longer felt like a home.  I cried for all the changes.  I cried that we would no longer have a family home to gather in.  I cried for my mother who was no longer in the home in which she had raised her five children and found her purpose for living.  And I cried especially for my father because I knew he was dying.

My poor father.  He had begged us to keep this home in the family.  He wanted it to be available for the grandchildren or for anyone in the family who would ever need a place to stay.  And now, not only could we not honor his request, but he himself was no longer here in this home.  He was in a bed, in a nursing home, asleep more than awake, barely eating, getting more and more gaunt, speaking less and less, and suffering the indignities of all elders who have to depend on others to take care of their most basic needs.  My poor, dear, wonderful father.

Dad died thirty hours later.

I hadn’t expected him to die then.  I knew he was headed in that direction, but none of us expected him to die that weekend.

Maybe my unexpected outpouring of grief helped me to release him.  Just like the house’s “tears” helped to release my own.

I have had so many blessings in my life it would be difficult to count them all.  Living in that home with a family that  loved one another was certainly a very big one.  Being raised by good parents was a huge one.  Having a father who worked so hard but so willingly, who loved so unabashedly, who laughed and played and prayed with equal abandon, is absolutely a blessing beyond compare.

Goodbye, House.  Goodbye, Dad. I love  you.

Changing Woman

(Written in 2014; revised in August 2019)

A few months  ago I was blessed to participate in a sweatlodge in a small mountain community in Colorado.  I respected the people, I loved the singing, I loved the beauty of the ritual, I loved feeling connected to Spirit.  And then something happened that took me by surprise.  I overheard a young woman refer to me as an “elder.”

It was done in a very respectful way.  She was tuned into my level of comfort, and I appreciated that.  Still, I was completely taken aback.  But then looking around at the others, I was surprised to realize I was indeed one of the two oldest people there.  But I’m only 55 and I didn’t realize it was so obvious I was “an elder!”

I confess I still carry that western notion of “older” meaning unattractive and un-sought-after.  I mean, how can you not absorb that message in this culture?!  Billboards, commercials, and movies are all filled with slender, physically fit women, usually young and with large breasts.  (At least I have the breast part down right!)  Older people–most especially women–are not honored for their wisdom. Generally, the American public does not look kindly upon older people, and especially those of the female gender.  Just look at any nursing home to see what this society truly thinks of its elders.

But, out of all the word choices, “elder” at least carries the connotation of respect.  “Senior,” to me, just means “old.”  “Ma’am,” though respectful, also makes me feel old.  And “crone?”  I know many of us are trying to reclaim the word, take it back from the patriarchy and make it a badge of honor.  We are trying to reframe the image of a tiny, wizened, extremely old woman.  We are focusing instead on her ancient wisdom, not her ancient body.

To be honest, it’s a process for me.  I still struggle with the label.

Fortunately, in this instance, in the sweatlodge, the respect was obvious.  And so I decided to just settle into the fact that I was older than most of the people there and that it was nice that this particular young woman cared about me and my comfort.

Later, the one facilitating the ceremony asked me and the other “older woman” (the one with long gray hair) to offer prayers.  Without mentioning the fact that we were “elders,” we were nevertheless singled out.  I felt the honor and privilege of it.

This is a big deal for me!!!

In women’s and Goddess circles, there is the concept of the “Triple Goddess” — Maiden, Mother, Crone.

Part of the reason why I resist the title of crone is I pride myself on being a sexual being.  I don’t want to be perceived as old, wrinkled, and dried up.  One of my favorite compliments in my life was from “an older woman.” (She was probably in her 60’s at the time, and had very youthful, fun energy.)  We were a group of about fifteen people training to be therapists.  I was, I think, 38 at the time.  She said to me, “You’re as a maiden should be.  You’re juicy.”  Oh how I loved that compliment!  I loved that she saw me as a juicy maiden!  Even twenty years later, smack in the throes of menopause, I am still a little reluctant to give up my maiden-ness!  I like being juicy!!!

I know I also have mother energy.  I have never birthed a child, but I can be very comforting and nurturing.  I give wonderful hugs.  I love children, dogs, cats, and all animals.  I give great loving massages.  And so most of the time, I don’t mind being referred to as a motherly person.  However, once in a great while, someone will say I remind them of their mother.  Oy.  Even when it’s meant as a compliment, I find myself cringing whenever someone says that.

But perhaps I’m ready to change.  Perhaps I’m ready to acknowledge that I’ve lived a few more years, have a few more gray hairs, and do indeed have some things worth sharing with the world.

Or maybe I can take turns.  Maybe I don’t have to feel stuck in any one role.  Maybe sometimes I can be a “juicy maiden,” sometimes a nurturing mother, and other times a wise crone.  Or, perhaps I can be a nurturing maiden, a wise mother, or a sexy crone!  In fact I am all of these!  I can be whatever I want.  We all can.

Let’s just freakin’ discard all the labels and be whatever the heck we want.

P.S.  I took as the title of this piece the name of one of the most revered and holy of all the deities of the Navajo/Dineh nation.  My understanding at the time of writing this article was that She represented all the seasons of nature and womanhood.  I understood that She could shapeshift into whatever form She chose.  Now I realize my understanding was very limited and not necessarily correct.  She is a complex and powerful figure who was the Creatress of humanity, of the Dineh.  To learn about Her, please learn from the Dineh people.