Stacey Couch celebrates Wild Gratitude's 10th Anniversary

Celebrating Wild Gratitude’s 10th Anniversary!

Time to Celebrate! TEN Years of Wild Gratitude!

Big milestones! Ten years ago on November 1st, I officially registered Wild Gratitude LLC as a business, AND ten years ago on November 3rd, my memoir Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks was published.

Let me catch you up… in that time I’ve:

  • Built a part-time practice into a full-time business encompassing spirituality, archetypes, and shamanism.
  • Worked with clients in over 30 countries worldwide and 48 states in the US
  • Helped connect 1000s of readers, clients, and students to the Divine and nature in a deeper way through writing, services, and workshops
  • Conducted over 60 talks, radio and podcast interviews
  • Written over 170 articles for my blog
  • Sold over 1,400 copies and counting of my book
  • And this is just the short list!

It’s been a long, tiring and wild ride of highs and lows with gobs of uncertainty, no shortage of stress, and some tough lessons learned. 

And it’s all been TOTALLY worth it! I love this business, this work, and the people I get to work with more every day. I am excited to continue on and see what the next decade has in store.

For starters, there are FOUR big changes in the works:

  1. Logo Makeover – Check out below to see the old and new colors for my logo. The new logo will start popping up everywhere I am.
  2. New Professional Portraits – A couple are included in this newsletter. Watch for more on my website and social media.
  3. Totally New Website – Tentatively set for launch in December 2023. With a whole new feel and faster functionality.
  4. New Newsletter – A subscription based service to support my writing is set to launch by January 2024.

Thank you, as always, for all of your feedback and support over the years. I’m so grateful to be a part of this beautiful, global community.

With Gratitude,

stacey couch spiritual advisor

new and old wild gratitude spiritual advisor services logo

Introducing… My New Logo!

Did you know that I designed my original logo with paper, a ruler, and permanent markers (see below)? I’ve always loved the digital translation of that original idea, and the colors were a quick pick based on the permanent marker colors I had at the time. With the new website on the way, I figured I might as well play with the color palate of the logo and get more intentional.

The deep red color of the new logo (see above) speaks of the Philosopher’s Stone in alchemy, the vital, multiplying life force that delights in the beauty of the world. This color is also of the earth, bringing grounding.The red and fuchsia feather are a nod to our feathered friends, especially the Northern Flicker woodpecker. The light blue star and whirls speak to the air element and Spirit. The turquoise flame / leaf speaks to the connection to both fire and nature.

And here is the original sketch I drew of my logo…

wild gratitude original logo sketch

gracious wild book

Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawk’s Birthday!

My memoir, Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks was written between 2006-2007. It wasn’t until 2013 that I found a publisher and got to see it in print in autumn of that year. Some projects take a very long time and a lot of patience. Now that the book is out there, it’s had great staying power and a steady readership for ten years. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s available at all major booksellers.


Buy Gracious Wild


Want to celebrate with me and share your appreciation for Wild Gratitude and what it’s brought to your life? Your gifts will help support Wild Gratitude make this big transition into the next phase and decade of service.

You can mail a physical card or gift to: Wild Gratitude, Attn: Stacey Couch, P.O. Box 2919, Pagosa Springs, CO 81147, USA
Monetary gifts can go to…
Venmo – @wildgratitude 
Paypal –

Thank you for all of the ways, big and small, you’ve supported Wild Gratitude over the years.



Healing from the epidemic of loneliness with small group workshops.

Healing the Loneliness Epidemic: Small Group Workshops for Social Connection

The Loneliness Epidemic

This year, Dr. Vivek Murthy, the United States Surgeon General, made a public advisory about an “Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation”. He states that “approximately half of U.S. adults reported experiencing measurable levels of loneliness.”

Seen as an urgent, widespread health crisis that “has profound consequences for our individual and collective health and well-being”, this announcement about the epidemic of loneliness made headlines across all major networks. The surgeon general has created a National Strategy to Advance Social Connection, which says that healing will come through social connection. 

Recognition of a Problematic Issue

Isn’t it amazing that rather than a focus on war or combat, money or budgets, the U.S. government is talking about true human connection for once? Wild.

And, I think we’re all pretty clear that this epidemic is not just an American problem.

It is scary and stunning at once to see loneliness and isolation recognized at such a broad level, and yet… I have known about this for years. Unfortunately, this is a story I hear all too often from many of you.

Since the formal inception of my business ten years ago, my focus has been on developing, implementing and refining my own organizational strategy for advancing social connection.

My heart aches with yours. 

Social connection and belonging are key values for what I do at Wild Gratitude. 

However, in watching the evolution of spirituality services, courses, and classes (and the greater field of coaching), I’ve seen a worrisome trend. 

A Movement to Mass Lectures

I myself, probably like you, have attended countless live, online mass lectures. While the information in these lectures can be valuable, the learning environment is not ideal. Research shows that students retain less information in a lecture setting and are less likely to use the content in their daily life.  

How many live, online mass lectures with teachers speaking to hundreds (or thousands) of attendees have you signed up for? Of those, how many did you attend live? Of those, how many did you feel like you were able to ask questions and receive a valuable response?

In these mass lectures, teachers are either totally inaccessible or insulated by a moderator that fields questions. A few attendees may be hand picked to ask questions, but must speak quickly and be on stage in front of a large audience (a daunting prospect for us thoughtful introverts). 

Dialogue between attendees is relegated to distracting chat boxes. Infrequent and too brief break-out groups lack the safety of a facilitator. Post lecture interaction is a sea of disjointed comments.

The stereotype of virtual communication as isolating and impersonal is reinforced. 

With teachers out of reach and communication with other students turned into comment threads, these mass lectures are contributing to the epidemic of loneliness. 

I agree with Dr. Vivek Murthy when he says, “We must critically evaluate our relationship with technology and ensure that how we interact digitally does not detract from meaningful and healing connection with others.” 

Online learning in spirituality doesn’t have to be this way.

In teaching dozens of small group workshops ONLINE over the years, I’ve experienced intimacy and community that easily rivals in person meetings and definitely outpaces mass lectures in a number of areas.

My Start in Small Group Workshops

My initial plan was to start with small online classes and grow them. I began teaching live, online classes to small groups of 5-10 people in 2015. Mind you, this was well before the advent of Zoom and the mass migration to virtual meetings due to the pandemic.

In the beginning, my online classes were small because my audience was small. Most people weren’t used to taking online classes in spirituality. They were accustomed to meeting in person, which I still had to do a lot of to make a living.

Over the years my global audience has grown and people are way more comfortable learning online. All of the work I do now is virtual.

“Online classes” in spirituality have become commonplace. I could easily follow the herd (and my plan), host mass lectures, keep prices low, and strive to attract as many attendees as possible. My original plan was to go big (thus why I originally called them online classes instead of workshops), but instead I am going the other direction. 

Now I’m going for small and valuing something more, intimacy and connection.


Join Me in Advancing Social Connection
Go here to: Learn more and register for a Small Group Online Workshop


Why Small Group Workshops?

These intimate gatherings of 5-10 people offer a multitude of benefits that contribute to social connection, spiritual growth, strong communities, and enriched learning experiences. 

I teach small group workshops because they serve my values of social connection and belonging. Not only am I able to make a difference with the content I share, I’m able to foster healing through the environment and community the workshops foster.

Spiritual teachings are so much more than a collection of ideas. They are lived wisdom that needs real connection. We can’t feel connected to Spirit if we’re not connected with each other.

Here’s what participation in small group workshops brings:

Belonging and Connection

In a small group, students form profound connections with one another. Sharing personal experiences, doubts, and synchronicities in a safe and supportive environment builds trust and authenticity.

Small groups serve as sources of guidance and support during challenging times. Members lean on one another for encouragement, prayer, and practical assistance, creating a network of care within the community.

These bonds regularly extend beyond the group’s meetings, fostering meaningful friendships and a deep sense of belonging. Many long-term, long-distance friendships have formed among students in my workshops. These friends are there for each other on the spiritual path. Many of them didn’t have spiritual companions before this. How wild and amazing this is given that these women have never met in person and often live in different parts of the world!

Candid, Real Sharing

In mass online lectures/classes, some students are hesitant to contribute due to the fear of being overlooked or judged. Small group workshops provide a sacred space for everyone to safely and actively participate, express their thoughts, and engage in discussions. This inclusivity leads to a richer exchange of ideas and perspectives.

Small group workshops bring together students from various backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints. This diversity enriches discussions, broadens perspectives, and encourages us to consider alternative viewpoints.

Customized, Liberated Learning

Small group workshops facilitate customized learning experiences. Students delve into topics of mutual interest in greater detail, ask questions, and engage in thoughtful conversations. I have the freedom to customize the curriculum to fit the group’s needs, adjusting the pacing and direction of the material. 

This liberty encourages critical thinking which is crucial to learning. Without the ability to ask questions, express doubt, and receive personalized answers, students don’t acquire the knowledge for themselves. 

In small group workshops, we share our questions and consider possibilities. There is no doctrine, no right answer, and no one person smarter or wiser than the other. We all bring our own life experience and wisdom. In this space it is okay to not have the answers. In fact, that is the gentlest position. Rather than try to answer all of each other’s questions, we explore ideas and sit in wonder, wondering what is and sharing the little glimpses we each have the privilege to know.

Small group workshops allow for the sharing of resources, whether it’s books, articles, videos, or personal experiences. This collaborative approach expands students’ knowledge base and provides access to information they would not encounter otherwise.

Clarity Through Expression

Regular participation in small group discussions hones communication skills. This is especially important with spirituality, where many of the topics are hard to put to words. Mystical experiences are inherently hard to explain and spiritual concepts can be ambiguous. Practice discussing spirituality makes it more accessible.

Sharing ideas (even if unclearly at times), actively listening to others, and responding thoughtfully contributes to improved interpersonal communication abilities that go beyond the workshop. The communication skills learned in small group workshops carry over into other daily relationships. Many students are able to talk about their spiritual life with friends and family (when they weren’t able to before) after engaging in small group workshops.


Start Healing the Loneliness Epidemic
Go here to: Learn more and register for a Small Group Online Workshop


In Dr. Vivek Murthy’s words, “We are called to build a movement to mend the social fabric of our nation. It will take all of us—individuals and families, schools and workplaces, health care and public health systems, technology companies, governments, faith organizations, and communities—working together to destigmatize loneliness and change our cultural and policy response to it. It will require reimagining the structures, policies, and programs that shape a community to best support the development of healthy relationships.

Read the U.S. Surgeon General Advisory – May 3, 2023: “New Surgeon General Advisory Raises Alarm about the Devastating Impact of the Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation in the United States” 


Stacey Couch at home with her son as part of her sharing her story about having the chronic illness, ME/CFS.

Chronic Illness: The Stamina to Keep Caring

World ME/CFS Awareness Day is May 12th. This time three years ago, I shared about having ME/CFS and how I make meaning in it. The reality is that this is a chronic illness and there is no cure. I feel it’s important to post occasional updates to be real about my long-term residency in the kingdom of the sick.

What is it like to make a home here? Those of you with your own residency cards know what I speak of, the day in and day out of the same daunting reality. This is not a hero’s journey. The cultural narrative of get sick, get diagnosis, get treatment, get well, and get back to normal life does not apply to us.

Exertion of any kind (physical, mental, social, emotional) makes my pain and fatigue vastly worse. I have a limited body with energetic resources that are half of a healthy person my age, but my heart and soul are limitless. I do not stop longing and dreaming.

Longing to Share Wonder

I love sharing wonder in the natural world with my four year-old son. I long to meander for hours, losing track of time as we search for wildflowers, feathers, and other nature charms on our ranch. Instead I must rest inside while family members take him out adventuring. I would like to be able to hold his hand walking through the nature museum instead of trailing behind in my wheelchair.

There was that time last year when my son went picking blackberries from a wall of brambles in a Seattle suburb on a beautiful, summer day with his cousins. I got to see sun streaked pictures and enjoy the still warm berries when they returned back to the house. An incomplete memory I wish I shared all of with him.

Dreams of Freedom of Movement

I dream of experiencing freedom of movement, especially going on walks and hikes. I’ve lost touch with friends I used to travel the riverwalk with. Stories we might share as we trace the river’s course go untold. There is an intimacy in walking I never knew I could crave. Walking brings a unique companionship with the land I miss. The satisfaction of exerting myself up a rocky trail – that kind of purification is beyond my grasp.

I dream of going horseback riding again. When I could no longer go on trail rides, I lost my horse friends. I miss play sessions with my mares in the pasture. We once danced and lost all cares in the world. Instead another day passes that I have to exchange going to the barn for rest to relieve pain. I miss contributing to life on our ranch with the labor of repairing fences, watering the garden, and collecting firewood. Watching others do the work for me places me on the fringe, an outsider where I desire belonging.

This week, I postponed invitations to lunch and tea with my friends once again. Another week passes where I need to stay home. Rest and more rest. More often than not I need more rest.

Adapting to Chronic Illness

I see where I can fit in to the healthy lives of those around me. Sometimes I eek out a place in the kingdom of the well for a moment, an hour, or even half a day. Mostly I excel at equipping and decorating my room in the castle of the kingdom of the sick.

My creativity saves me from doldrums and despair. Writing, reading, and researching are a refuge when I can think well. In the last year, watercolor painting and colored pencil drawing emerged as saviors. My bed is an office and art studio. 

Stacey Couch art studio. Brushes, watercolor paints, and water jar in bed because of chronic illness.

Since I wrote three years ago, some things have improved. I am better at pacing myself. With the help of my care team, my regime of supplements and treatments provides a tad more relief. With careful measures I am able to travel a couple of times a year and attend a few larger social events, but always within limits. Mentally and emotionally I cope better with the pain and fatigue. I continue to court acceptance. A new relationship with hope slowly evolves.

Keep Caring

What would I like you to know now about what it’s like to have ME/CFS?  

The healthcare system has failed to care too many times. Doctors don’t know or understand this illness. In the ten years of being sick, only two doctors (out of dozens) believed I was sick, knew what this illness is, and had ideas for treating me. I’ve been told, “I can’t help you” too many times. 

It’s important to keep caring.

I am fortunate to have a few alternative healthcare professionals that exhibit a generous amount of stamina caring for me. They refuse to give up. Their care helps me continue to seek relief and risk trying new treatments. Their commitment is the reason why I give up multiple days a month to have family drive me 3.5 hours for appointments. 

This illness costs a lot of time, energy, and financial resources. Insurance doesn’t cover a large majority of the expenses. I am only able to work part-time. I’ve lost countless memories and experiences I won’t be able to recover. There are a lot of reasons to stop caring, but I continue.

Family, friends, clients, and students continue to care too, and that makes a world of difference. Thank you everyone who asks, listens, and shows concern. I know it’s not easy to hear the same story of pain and struggle over and over again.

My sincere gratitude for your stamina to keep caring. 

I make meaning in this illness by seeing all the ways I receive ongoing care from others. This care makes it infinitely more natural for me to offer deep compassion to other people who are unwell, especially chronically so. My life has meaning as I stand in a circle of caring.

Systemic Change is Needed

I love that we provide care to each other in a grassroots and communal way and… we shouldn’t have to do this alone. Change needs to happen at a national and international level. We (both patients and caregivers) deserve the help of professionals and leaders. It is well beyond time that doctors, researchers, and legislators dedicate the attention and funding needed to treat and cure this debilitating disease.

I read from #MEAction that the number of people with ME/CFS has likely quadrupled as a result of the COVID pandemic. Millions of people with Long COVID now meet the criteria for ME/CFS. There are millions of us missing from our healthy lives. I long for our liberation.

ME/CFS Advocacy

To help make a difference, here are links to three of the best advocacy and research organizations the ME/CFS community has. There is information about lobbying, spreading the word, and donating. If you have care to give right now, I ask that you participate in some way in ME/CFS advocacy. 

Solve M.E. –

#MEAction Network –

Open Medicine Foundation –

To help closer to home, call or text a friend with a chronic illness to let them know you have the stamina to keep caring. If you have a chronic illness, remember that by caring for yourself you belong in the greater circle of care. We are in this together.

Illness is the night side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.” ― Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor

Here are three excellent books I’ve read in the last couple of years that have helped me develop a deeper level of self-compassion while navigating through ME/CFS and chronic illness in general.

Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad

The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness by Meghan O’Rourke

No Cure for Being Human (and Other Truths I Need to Hear) by Kate Bowler


(Photo above is of me, Stacey Couch, and my son at home resting on one of many sick days for us over the last winter.)


Little Briar Rose asleep on a bed of roses with a spindle propped against her head waking to be woken from her creative sleep.

Cycles of Creativity: Little Brier Rose

Little Brier Rose – Cycles of Creativity

Link to the story of Little Brier Rose and others of this tale type:

Meaning of the Spindle

The spindle is a symbol of lengthy and monotonous hard work.

A recurring symbol in European folktales, the spindle is long rod with a pointed end and made of wood or metal. A ball of wool (or flax) is spun into yarn around the spindle by hand. This is simple technology, but ridiculously time and energy consuming. It is easiest to understand by watching. Here is a good demonstration:

In fairy tales, old women appear with giant hands overworked from decades of spinning. A spinster is a woman who has worked her way through life and hasn’t been provided for through marriage.

The spindle and spinster are metaphors for valuing oneself only through one’s work.

The spindle literally spins in place. The curse is that the work is endless. You’re just spinning in circles. The spindle also represents spinning off in your mind, never getting anywhere with your creative ideas.

The Avoidant Artist

Little Brier Rose falls asleep as a result of the spindle’s tip piercing her. Like her, we can fall into inaction when contacting a tool of creativity (the spindle). We freeze, not knowing what to do with our creativity. We fear criticism and failure, so we put our inner artist to sleep. This tale shows that protecting our ideas from the outside world in a hedge of thorns renders them useless.

We believe we can’t create, we won’t know what to do, so we don’t even start. This is the tale of the avoidant artist archetype, the artist’s shadow.

The story of Little Brier Rose can be the story of the woman who spins ideas ceaselessly but never manifests them. She is the aspect of ourselves that refuses to bring our creativity into the world.

Instead we resort to spinning creative ideas in our head in a hidden room. We don’t make anything of our creative potential. In this case, the “sleep” is an isolation, a tucking away, of our creativity. When someone says, “I don’t have a creative bone in my body,” they are under the sleeping spell of Little Brier Rose.

We need to experience the curse of Little Brier Rose to understand the dangers of stifling the creative life. 

The Trance of Work

When pricked by the pointed spindle, we can see Little Brier Rose as being “bitten” by the work bug. This is an intoxication by the drive to achieve and succeed. This is the trance of productivity that never ends, the curse of the adult life. When we come of age, cultural conditioning tells us that we need to monetize our talent and make a living. Our creativity needs to be marketable.

Little Brier Rose is not made awake to the world, but put asleep to it. In the same way, we “grow up”, fall into the daily grind, and become numb to who we are. We become unconscious and lose access to our authentic selves and our creativity. At just the moment when Little Brier Rose should be going out to experience the world, she’s drawn inward. Right when she is becoming a woman, her fertility is locked in.

The experience of being cursed into the trance of productivity produces a deep wound, a sense of unfairness. This is both the prick of the spindle and the digging in of the thorns, but we’ll talk more about those in a moment.

This is the story of the woman who puts her creative dreams for herself to sleep in exchange for the endless work of caring for her family and/or friends. It can also be the story of the career woman, who puts her playful, creative self to sleep so she can engage in the endless game of climbing the corporate ladder and amassing prestige and wealth.

Sleep as a Death

Sleep can be about going unconscious, becoming complacent. Despite the warning that the curse will happen and making every effort to prevent it, the curse is inevitable. The parents forget the danger and leave Little Brier Rose alone on her birthday.

The same happens to us when our own worlds and preoccupations entrance us. We forget our inner life. We become unconscious to unhealthy patterns that run us. Our shadow gets ahold of us.

In fairy tales, sleep symbolizes death. Most often, sleep is a metaphor for the death of innocence. The harshness and evil in the world (like Snow White and the witch with the poisoned apple) confronts the child and she dies to her naive, carefree nature. In addition to the death of innocence, we see the death of the ego self. Little Brier Rose’s story reflects all of the ways we die to ourselves. 

Gift of the Deep Sleep

The curse of unconsciousness is a curse of stagnation that happens many times in our life. This when we feel stuck. 

The ego may think it’s time to go out into the world, but the soul knows otherwise. Little Brier Rose gives in to the urge to wander the castle, which stands for her interior. She opens doors in a tower she’s never been to. This desire is a soulful one, drawing us into our mysterious inner landscape.

Joseph Campbell speaks about Little Brier Rose’s sleep as a refusal of the call to adventure. From the perspective of the avoidant artist this is true. However, her sleep is also answering a call – the call to soulfulness.

Little Brier Rose’s sleep may look like a curse, but it holds great gifts for the soul. Sleep is her initiation into the unconscious and  a deep dive into the unknown. I always wonder, “What did she dream during that time?”

For us, a time of being stuck or spinning one’s wheels may feel like a curse, but it is actually a part of the soul’s natural cycle. Rather than be angry about your inability to get your life in gear, consider the following gifts of sleep.

Sleep is a metaphor for gestation. In the dreamtime, our psyche evolves by working out issues in the subconscious. Like a baby in the womb, our creative ideas need time to develop in darkness and silence. The self needs to form her identity away from the world, uncorrupted by outside opinions. The same is true of our creativity and our creative projects.


Watch Stacey’s discussion with Naven Lizon about the story of Little Brier Rose and how fairytales can guide us to soul wisdom:


Waiting for Right Timing

Sleep is a metaphor for hibernation in winter and the dormancy of the seed.

We see this in a variation of Little Brier Rose from France called “Sun, Pearl and Anna” from author Giuseppe Pitre. To shelter her from the curse, the girl, Anna, is raised in an underground house. Anna is the seed under dark soil. When she falls into a deep sleep, her father seals her in a beautiful coffin in a locked cottage in the woods. We see here that layers of sleep and dormancy can occur too, one right after the next. Sometimes it takes a long while to wake up. Multiple layers of protective insulation help growth to occur – wilderness, cabin, coffin, and sleep.

Waiting can bring the frustrating feeling that we’re biding or wasting our time.

On the other hand, waiting can a state of availability and openness to what might come at the right time. There is something about sharing a project with the world that involves right timing. How many times have you tried to get a new idea off the ground only to find that it wasn’t the right time? The dormant seed waits for the ideal moment to sprout.

Valuing Rest

Nature knows that stillness must happen before emergence. Our souls and creativity need time for rest and latency. Things need to soak and recharge. We need to oscillate between sleep and wakefulness. It’s unhealthy to be alert and busy all the time.

Our cycles of sleep can literally be times of lassitude, laying around on the couch getting nothing done. Our sleep can also take the form of non-doing. The practice of being, such as meditation and contemplation, serve the soul with rest. We may literally need to isolate ourselves from the world by going on retreat or, at least, turning off our phones. Embracing the natural call of the soul to sleep allows for creative engagement with it.

Hedge of Thorns 

The hedge of thorns represents the ways we protect ourselves when resting and incubating a new idea. However, the thorny hedge can also be an unhealthy defense mechanism. Seen as a shadow aspect, the hedge is a symbol of the ways we protect our heart and won’t let anyone in.

Thorns are a symbol of pain and shame, the belief in our own sinfulness. Jesus’s crown of thorns was a tool of humiliation. We speak of a “thorn in my side” as in an irritation or problem that won’t go away.

The messaging of our own unworthiness builds up around us. This walls us out of intimacy and causes a constant feeling of wrongness. Puberty is when we develop self-consciousness and worry what others think. All of this shame covers our being like a hedge of thorns.

Rose Symbolism

The eruption of roses upon the conclusion of story shows that the deep sleep is a spiritual phenomenon and brings the blossoming of spiritual presence. Throughout history, the scent and appearance of roses has indicated the presence of the Divine, especially in relation to goddesses like the Virgen de Guadalupe and Aphrodite.

Roses are also symbolic of love, of course, but this goes beyond romantic love expanding to self- and Divine love. When embracing the wisdom of Little Brier Rose, consider how you can open up to love in all of its forms. For more ideas, see my article on the lover archetype.

Waking Up Creativity 

In two variations of this fairy tale, called “Maruzzedda” and “Sun, Pearl and Anna”, the prince finds the sleeping girl while hunting in the woods. This is a reminder of the value of our own inner hunter. This is the seeker archetype in us that hunts for who we really are and what we’re meant to create. 

The struggle to breach the hedge is our attempts to truly express ourselves, not in a superficial but an authentic way. In the Brothers Grimm version of Little Brier Rose, princes try to enter the hedge and are strangled to death by the thorns. Remember, that the princes are aspects of our inner selves. We are both the slumbering princess and the bumbling prince. We try and we fail, and we keep trying for as long as it takes.

The impulse to create is persistent and eternal. Eventually, no matter what, we ripen within and blossom. We are able to let self-love in and wake up to our creative potential. 


Looking for the Meaning of Stories
and Symbols in Your Own Life?
Schedule a Spiritual Direction Session with Stacey


seven ravens initiation into mystery wisdom for the soul

The Seven Ravens: Integrating the Spiritual Life

Original artwork by Stacey Couch © 2022


The wisdom for the spiritual life that the fairytale “The Seven Ravens” teaches is:

  1. How to integrate your spiritual life into your daily life. It involves bringing the masculine and feminine into balance and experiencing all the sides of yourself and your life, including the hard parts. We all experience the pain of illness and loss. Suffering continues with burying the pain of loss.
  2. Entering into the mystery (raven symbolism) and unveiling this hidden pain brings healing. Entering into the fragility of life (the glass mountain) helps you find resilience and union. “The Seven Ravens” shows how you can set down the busyness of daily life, enter into the peace of the inner spiritual life, and then blend the two.

Watch Stacey Couch tell the story of “The Seven Ravens” here…


When We Get Too Busy for a Spiritual Life

In this tale we have a couple that has the blessing of not a few, but seven sons. Patriarchy values sons above all else. So why would these two seemingly humble parents bemoan the bounty of sons and wish for just one little girl? And what does this tell us about ourselves?

First of all, the sons represent the masculine principle, the yang force in the world. The masculine principle is associated with life outside the home, and the busyness of doing. It represents activity, productivity, and drive.

There are times in life when we can get caught up in our lives “out there”, away from home. When we have a number of creative irons in the fire and have a lot of work projects going, we have, in essence, manifested a lot of sons. Our identities become wrapped up in what we are doing and producing. We strive to perfect external, material displays of ourselves. There is nothing wrong with this unless, of course, it is out of balance. And, well, seven sons is quite a lot.

Do you have seven or more important work and/or volunteer projects going? How many interpersonal relationships are you building? If you are feeling over-extended and in need of some introvert time, you are like the parents longing for a sweet little girl.

Longing for the Feminine

The feminine principle represents receptivity, introversion, and the inner life. It values “non-doing” and practices simply “being”. With the feminine principle, the yin force, there is nothing to prove. We simply just are. It is a place of refuge and relaxation. Motivation and drive slip away and peace takes their place. 

From this perspective it is easy to see the parent’s longing for a daughter in each of us when we say, “I need a break.” The longing for the little girl is symbolic of longing for the feminine principle, the soul’s way of telling us it’s time to slow down and turn inward.

As we ask, so we shall receive. The couple receives the blessing of a girl, but she is sickly and weak. This reminds me of the times I’m forced into rest because of an illness or injury. Sometimes a breakdown is the only way we feel okay giving ourselves permission to take a break and embrace the feminine principle of simply being.

Adopting a Spiritual Life

The number seven is a sacred number and shows up in nearly every religious tradition. There are seven chakras in Hinduism, seven sacraments in Catholicism, and seven heavens referred to in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The fact that there are seven boys turned into seven ravens points us to the fact that there’s something sacred happening in this tale.

At the baby girl’s baptism (the first of the seven Catholic sacraments), the brothers go to fetch the holy water. They want to help adopt her into the faith, but they can’t decide who should collect the water. They blunder by dropping the pitcher into the well.

The feminine principle calls for us to adopt the inner, quiet contemplative life. As we look to baptize ourselves into a spiritual life, we try to make this another thing to perfect, strive for, and “do”. We muck it up and fumble around.

Collecting holy water is symbolic of gathering spiritual guidance. This is not something we can do with our intellect and in a competitive way. There is no “right way” to connect with the Divine. This confuses the masculine principle that needs a single direction of focus. We take too long and get frustrated with ourselves for not doing rest and relaxation correctly. We become the father cursing the sons.

Symbolism of Ravens

Why does the father wish his pesky boys would turn into ravens? What wisdom does this choice of curses have for the soul?

The father’s call on the spirit of ravens is an intuitive slip of the tongue, and exactly the kind of trickster medicine that is needed. Ravens are tricksters that turn everything on its head. When the father curses his sons, he’s inverting his family. 

This happens to us when we realize how crazy busy our lives are and decide it’s out of balance. We tend to over-correct and go to the other extreme. In the draw to the interior life and the desire to be more spiritual, we become instant introverts.

While an extreme life of solitude can and does help for a time, it is not sustainable. We see this in how the little girl starts going out and listening to what other people have to say. She has a feeling there is something missing.

Initiation into the Family Shadow

In town she hears some women gossip about her having brothers. Here enters another aspect of raven spirit animal’s magic – the shadow. In this case, it’s an initiation into the family’s shadow. When we take time out for self- and life-reflection we often find secrets about ourselves that we were trying not to face. In raven’s ability to navigate the unconscious, underworld, and mystery, they can help show us what is hidden.

This leads to another sacrament – confession. The parents confess the story to their daughter and now she has a heavy conscience she must absolve. She must bring her brothers home. On a soul level, we realize that we’ve left the world for too long and neglected the call to serve and make the world a better place. The only way to fully embrace a spiritual life is to live it. We re-enter the world and seek out the brothers again.

Moving from Duality to Multiplicity

Every time I work with fairytales as sources of wisdom for the soul, I remember to look at every person, image and symbol of the story as an aspect of me. That means that I have the father, mother, daughter, sons, ravens, sun, moon, and stars in me. 

When the girl leaves home and travels first to the sun and moon for directions, she is seeking higher guidance. When we discover that our parents have limits in the problems they can solve, we seek answers from greater sources. We stop looking to our familial and cultural conditioning for answers. 

The thing is that we can cannot solve this problem from a dual mindset. Neither the masculine sun or feminine moon can help her. The stars have the multiple perspectives needed to reveal the path ahead.

This is not an either/or, good/bad scenario. A truly soulful approach goes beyond duality and accepts that there is no “right” way to integrate the inner and outer life. To live ensouled is to accept multiplicity and a world that is not so black and white. And, it presents confusing images like a chicken leg that’s a key.

Chicken Spirit Guide

Why in the world does the morning star give the girl a chicken leg? How is this the key to freeing her brothers?

I just can’t shake the feeling that the chicken leg is more than an inanimate object. In shamanic tradition, carrying a piece of an animal helps us connect with the spirit of that animal. The stars are giving her a guardian for the journey in the form of a chicken spirit animal.

Chicken symbolism contains the protection of the mother hen. She incubates her eggs and guards her clutch of chicks. Hen spirit animal is connected with creativity, brooding over creative projects, and hatching new ideas. The girl receives help in learning how to think for herself in many different ways. 

On the spiritual path, we often find a teacher, a mother hen, to follow around for a time. We rely on her ability to hatch new ideas, but eventually need to integrate the creative potential into our own being.

The Finger as Key

Chicken spirit animal can only help so long. Eventually, the girl must have her flesh in the game. She must sacrifice a part of herself. The definition of sacrifice is “an offering”. It is a way to make something sacred. By giving up a finger she consecrates her quest.

It’s important not to take this part of the story literally. We are not meant to hack off our own fingers on the spiritual path – thank goodness. Fingers symbolize dexterity in how we handle delicate situations. They allow us to grasp and point.

Sacrificing a finger is symbolic of giving up our need to manage (grasp) and know (point to) everything. On the spiritual path, we cannot solve everything with the intellect. Many things are non-rational, ungraspable. To embrace this truth is to gain entry under the mountain and grow closer to our goal.

The Glass Mountain

Now we come to the last perplexing symbol in this story. The glass mountain. I wonder. Is this a transparent, glass cone? Is it a mound of broken glass? 

There are other fairytales where the insurmountable glass mountain is the endpoint. How curious that this is a recurring theme.

Mountains loom large. They are obstacles in our path, ladders to the heavens, and keepers of great treasures at their heart. We speak of having “mountains” of work to do when overwhelm hits.

Here, the girl must gain entry into the mountain rather than passage over it. She goes inward rather than up to find the masters of the skies, the ravens.

This speaks of getting to the heart of the matter. What is the matter here? Fragility and pain. Glass shatters. Shards of broken glass cut swift and deep. Resolution for the soul comes by first looking through the glass and then going into the heart of our fragile lives. Right when everything is great and going smoothly, it all falls apart. The sons are lost and girl is alone. 

Wisdom for the soul teaches us that life is fragile and it hurts. By finding the courage to enter into our own vulnerability, we find our strength rooted deep like a mountain.

Union of Daily Life and Spiritual Life

Another repeating pattern in fairytales is that of the ring dropped into the glass. When the lost party finds the ring, the separation ends and union occurs. A cup is a vessel, a container for experience. With the journey to the glass mountain, the girl has gained the capacity to hold the fullness of her experience. Her inner vessel, inner space, has grown to hold the full spectrum of sorrow to joy. The brothers too, in their time as ravens, have grown in their capacity to hold mystery. The circle of the ring brings this all together. 

For us in the spiritual life, the fragments of our selves come together. Our inner and outer lives, still and busy selves, unite within the never-ending circle of our souls.


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You can read the The Seven Ravens by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm here:

image of full moon over water prayer for releasing emotions

Releasing Emotions that Won’t Go

Repressing Emotions is Unhealthy

A practice of releasing emotions before they build up can be helpful. Why is this? Because stuffing difficult emotions is harmful to our health. The bottled up emotions (anger, frustration, sadness, grief, fear) make their way back to the surface eventually. 

The eruption of old feelings can come in an uncontrollable torrent of expression at an inopportune time. This is harmful to the health of our relationships, jobs, and sanity.

The old feelings can also manifest as different pains or illness in our bodies. For example, a person who doesn’t speak up when something is bothering her can find herself in a chronic string of laryngitis infections, literally unable to speak.

When we repress emotions they grow until we can no longer ignore them. Psychologists call this amplification. When we ignore our feelings we may think we’re in control, but the emotions take over and control us. 

The Wisdom of Releasing Emotions

I’m guessing that this is not news to most of you. I’m guessing that most of you have discovered or are discovering the wisdom of listening to your feelings and finding healthy ways to move through them.

Journaling, exercise, breath-work, body movement, therapy, creative projects, poetry, writing, and more can help us express what we’re feeling in a way that keeps from harming ourselves and others. 

Processing our emotions helps us accept, heal, and release them. This can be done intentionally by evaluating our illusions, cultural conditioning, family history, and shadow tendencies and transforming who we are and what we believe. Questioning the harmful lifestyles, habits, and relationships that lead to uncomfortable emotions and making necessary life changes helps too.

Self-compassion in this work is key. Acceptance of the emotions, or at least of ourselves in the emotions, helps give way to their release.

Emotions seem to do best when allowed to flow through like water. Ephemeral yet very useful information, emotions speak the language of the soul. 

When we practice processing and releasing emotions and stop resisting or stuffing them, we experience the wisdom they have for us and find freedom from their captivity. Releasing emotions and not being defined by them is truly liberating.

When the Feelings Stick Around

But, sometimes despite our best efforts emotions seem to cling to us (or us to them). We process our shadows, analyze our stories, and strive for healing. We try to simply let it go, let bygones be bygones and move on. We let go and let God, and yet still… we wake up to the same terrible ache, the monotonous fiery rage, the wicked grief… remain. 

What do we do then?

Here in this no-man’s-land is where I meet you with the following prayer. Here where you may not be sure if you’re repressing or releasing emotions. Here where you keep trying to do what’s wise and work through, but keep finding yourself stuck. It’s okay. You’re not a bad person. You’re doing your best. Now it’s time to ask for help from the Divine and keep doing the best you can. The Beloved knows what’s in your heart and sees your effort to live in love.

A prayer for releasing emotions that won’t go…

Giver of this trouble and its reprieve, help me finish with this heartache. My goal is to stop feeling this terrible pain. But, I fear I may be repressing rather than releasing.

I know processing is healthy, but I’ve done my fair share. I really want the analysis of the story, evaluation of the root causes, and unveiling of the shadow to be done. However, this vexing painful riddle is apparently not done with me.

I know it’s healthy to practice acceptance and be mindful with the emotion and myself in this suffering. But, I have to admit that at this point I just want out. 

I say to my mind, “Let’s do something else for awhile.” I try to think about the weather or the color of my new shirt. Let my efforts affirm my movement towards light. Let me move away from the hurt and help it let go of me.

If it turns out I’m doing a terrible job and my release looks more like stuffing down, find me there in the deep burrows of my heart and dissolve the hurt there.

Great Giver never stop finding me, keep lifting this hurt from every deep chasm of my being for as long as it takes. Forgive me for my sloppiness in surrender and release. And in your mercy may I find that trying too hard was never the Path to you anyways. 


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Princess and the Pea Story: Valuing Sensitivity

Princess and the Pea Story

The Princess and the Pea story is a tale about a young woman who is too sensitive… Right? This sensitivity seems to get her in trouble. Do you cringe at the prissy princess who is easily wounded, never comfortable, and always complaining? Doesn’t this story perpetuate the misogynist myth of the feeble female who needs to be coddled and sheltered? As a child I saw the princess as a wussy, and secretly vowed to be tougher than her. I didn’t like this story. Others I speak with share the same memories.

Everything changes when we arrive at the story with soul.

Let us call on the soul’s ability to see strength where cultural conditioning reads weakness. 

The fact is that the princess proves how REAL she is by detecting a tiny object under twenty mattresses and twenty eiderdowns. For a refresher on how the story goes, you can watch my oral telling in this video…

Realness and the “Real” Princess

What does it mean to be “real”? In today’s world to be real is to be honest, authentic, candid, vulnerable. Realness is show who we really are rather than who we think everyone wants us to be. The real person is comfortable in her own skin. Realness has to do with knowing the true Self. I use a capital “S” here for self because, well, I am speaking of the Divine Self. That which is God within. Christians call this the “child of God” and Hindus name it “Atman”.

A real person finds this Self through deep, often excruciating, sometimes troubling, and always challenging self-reflection. She cultivates spiritual wisdom. She has grit. The layers of conditioning and illusions are burned away in the fire of discernment. Everything that is unreal peels away to expose what is real. 

Another important fact is that the story starts out by telling us that the prince is searching for a real princess. He won’t take your average run-of-the mill princess. No, he wants a real one and he’s willing to wait for her.

Not only is the princess in this story a real, awakened human being, but she is desired. The prince marries her the moment he learns she is authentic. The royal family embraces her and makes her one of their own.

How does it feel to read the story this way? What if instead of fearing exile upon authenticity, you could imagine belonging? Authenticity definitely grants sovereignty. 

This is the magic of bringing soul to fairytales. We see another way through.

Who Are You in the Princess and the Pea Story?

Now let’s get something straight. Reading the story from the soul is to read the symbols and archetypes of the story, and to carry them into our interior. We are the princess, prince, king and queen. 

The prince is not a literal man looking to marry a literal woman. He is an aspect of your psyche (remember the Greek word “psyche” means soul, so I’m not just talking the intellect here). The inner prince is the part of you that strives to be worthy of the throne, and that seeks sovereignty over your interior kingdom. The prince wants to reign your thoughts, emotions, and inner landscape wisely. He seeks an education in how to be authentic, thus the reason he wants a real woman for his wife.

I imagine the prince as a late-twenty something bachelor staying home way too long. You’d think his parents might be ready to kick him out of the castle if he doesn’t marry and take over the kingdom soon. However, they are patient as you can be with yourself.

Maybe in his search for the real princess, he’s also doing the important inner work of finding himself. Traveling the world and coping with failure definitely help self-actualization.

Your inner prince is the part of you that is seeking your true self. He knows there are aspects of you that are missing and he won’t stop looking for them.

Forces in Our Souls

Symbolically speaking, the prince, princess, king, and queen reside within each of us. They are forces in our souls that assist us on the path of liberation from the tyranny of the outside world. For the prince and princess to marry is to wed the masculine and feminine qualities each of us possess, to put them into right working relationship. The prince is symbolic of action out in the world and the princess symbolizes the wisdom we can bring to action. There are other ways to read them symbolically, but these are the basics.

The king and queen are the old guard, the ideas and myths we carry that are ready to step down. They assist our evolution by answering the call of the princess (old king opening the gate for her) and setting up the test (queen placing the pea under the bed). This shows us that not every shift in consciousness requires an insurrection. Here is a map for a peaceful transfer of power from the false self to the true Self. There is a seed of realness in the false self for even the old queen knows that the test is needed.

The castle is a symbol of one’s soul. It is our interior fortress and what we do to fortify ourselves. What happens in the castle of The Princess and the Pea story gives instruction for how to fortify our spiritual selves.

Symbolism of the Pea

The symbolism of the pea in The Princess and the Pea story is most intriguing. First of all, it is a seed. Symbol of birth and new beginnings, the pea as seed in this story can stand for many things. It can be the seed of a new idea, a new life, a new job or career, and so on. What new seed is lying dormant under your bed right now?

The queen could have put any number of small, round objects under the bed. Why wouldn’t a pebble, marble, or pearl do? Why a pea?

Peas are a common, lowly food. They are not rare delicacies, but functional staples. Split pea soup is mushy, green and ugly. The pea under the bed could symbolize what is uncomfortable, wrong, or unwanted – a seed of discontent in the kingdom. If that seed is disregarded it can grow into a vine that turns everything into a tangled mess. The prince and his family are trying to sweep this discontent under the rug, but the princess cannot ignore it. This is the little things our intuition picks up on. The small voice in the back of our minds that keeps nagging at us. Remember how the princess was bruised by the pea? She can’t escape its message. This is her gift.

Seeds of Change in the Princess and the Pea Story

The princess’s ability to detect such seeds is a great asset to a kingdom’s longterm health. She’ll point out where the rebellion is brewing and help serve the whole kingdom by bringing the discontent into daylight. The pea seed isn’t bad, is nearly problematic for the status quo. The pea can be symbolic of what’s new and different which is threatening to what’s comfortable and stable. These seeds of change foster beneficial growth in us when addressed and incorporated.

Pea plants are nitrogen fixers. They take nitrogen out of the air, and fix it into a form that provides fertilizer in the soil for other plants. They give back. By looking at the problem and collaborating with the seed’s growth, we enrich our environment.

We also have the flowers that grow from the pea. Sweet pea isn’t just a phrase, it’s also a plant. Women are taught to be polite. to be “sweet peas” and not make any trouble. The princess and the pea has us confront our own politeness. In the innocence of the princess’s sensitivity there is a sweetness. She is not judgmental or critical. She simply names what is.

The Value of Speaking Up

In the morning, when asked how she slept the princess gives an unexpected response. As a guest in a new castle the polite thing to do would be to lie and say she slept well. After all, the queen did go to the trouble to provide the luxurious bed. Instead, the princess complains about the pain it causes her.

Surprisingly, speaking up gets her CROWNED rather than kicked out of the castle. How does this happen? She proves her authenticity by sharing her experience. I’m not saying we should all go around rudely telling people about how terrible their hospitality is. This is a soul exploration and about our interior. We all benefit from being honest with ourselves about what makes us uncomfortable, even if it seems as small and trivial as a pea.

The fact that the discovery of the pea happens in the bedroom speaks to the need for time alone, for privacy. In those quiet moments we have the chance to listen to that which is nagging us before bringing it out into daylight.

The ridiculous amount of mattresses can be seen as symbolic of “fleecing” of our interior – All the ways we try to dampen or soften a problem with material comforts and distraction. The princess’s inability to sleep speaks to her staying awake to the unconscious messages she receives. Although, for her sake I do hope she gets many nights of good rest in her “happily ever after”. 

Final Thoughts on Sensitivity

Many people see the princess on the pea as sort of mascot for empaths and highly sensitive people (HSP). Her sensitivity makes her a good fit for this roll. She is not the weakling many make her out to be and this can help people who see their sensitivity as a curse.

The princess shows up in the middle of the night soaking wet with water running out of her shoes. Clearly she lost her royal entourage and managed to make her way in the dark and through a nasty storm to the castle gates. This speaks of the ability to navigate the wilderness of the unconscious alone. That takes enormous strength, courage, and wits. As I explained before, the spiritual path to being a “real”, authentic person is not for the faint of heart. All of these insights to the princess’s character can help empaths and HSP develop a profound level of self-respect.

In addition, the real princess speaks to those of us with chronic illnesses that cause hypersensitivity. I have ME/CFS, a neuro-immune disease that causes me to be hypersensitive to sound, visual stimulus, smells, and foods. I feel like I’m always telling my husband to turn the music down or make the food less spicy. This hypersensitivity could be seen as a vulnerability, but I’ve come to embrace it as a testament to my strength. Listening to my body when it says something is too much is authentic. Speaking up for self-care without shame is part of accepting and loving the body I have.

Everyone is Intuitive

And… the princess is a beacon for us all regardless of how we rate or realize our own sensitivity. Everyone is intuitive and has an interior life. Inner growth and the spiritual path call us all in different ways. By following the lead not only of the princess, but also the royal family who knows her necessity, we all have a chance to listen better to the Divine Self within and find wholeness. With The Princess and The Pea story we learn that we are sensitive AND strong, and that by marrying the two we progress on the spiritual path.

Read the original story written by Hans Christian Andersen:

Read other stories from around the world about the search for a sensitive wife: 


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symbols and stories that touch your soul?
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Finding Accessibility

Seeking Accessibility

Yes, that’s me … in a wheelchair. I’m still getting used to the idea. I came to a point of no longer being able to leave the house. Being on my feet more than 10 minutes at a time and walking any distance at all became impossible. I can manage a trip to the grocery store once a week if I can be dropped off at the door and I am able to rest the remainder of the day. Outings with friends are only possible if I can park my car close and sit with my feet propped the whole time. Then I need a day to recover.

When lockdown and travel restrictions eased, conversations about traveling to see family began. I knew I would not be able to navigate an airport – think of long lines at security and mad dashes to the airplane gate. To manage my symptoms I have to walk very slowly and sit or lay down often.

I knew I couldn’t stroll through an aquarium or take a walk on the beach. So many things I wanted to do with my family were off limits to my hopelessly energy deficient system. It was heartbreaking to consider staying home. I couldn’t imagine making everyone wait as I stop to rest every ten steps, or, even worse, cutting outings short because I could not go on further. I was afraid of overdoing it and making myself permanently worse. My doctor and I agreed a wheelchair would be a game changer. 

Free Wheeling

It took me six months to warm up to the idea, but I knew it was the right decision.

The wheelchair arrived last month. Despite the shocking reality check of the unmistakeable symbol of my illness, I kept faith that it would give me much needed freedom. I’m so glad I stayed with it. My chariot carried me through the airport, made catching a plane in a short layover possible, allowed me to enjoy views of Puget Sound from the deck of a ferry, facilitated long strolls through the Seattle Aquarium and along the waterfront, and, most importantly, made it possible for me to explore new things with my two year old son.

I am beyond grateful for the assistance of this mobility aid. I came home feeling better than when I left! It made all the difference. Almost everywhere I went was accessible. I was concerned about discrimination, but didn’t experience it thankfully. I know it has not always been this way. I’m indebted to the countless disability advocates that have paved the way.

Most people wouldn’t guess that I have been a part of the disabled community for a while. My limited work hours and extensive rest are unseen because I work from home and for myself. I pace myself so that best cognitive function to coincide with my work hours. I stagger personal hygiene and housework activities to limit exhaustion before my workdays. 

Defining Disability

The Americans with Disabilities Act “defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. ” My physical illness substantially limits at least five major life activities.

The group Diversability says that, “An individual with a visible or invisible disability is defined as someone who has, or considers themselves to have, a long-term, or recurring, issue that impacts one or more major activities that others may consider to be a daily function.”

My illness impairs the way I eat, the way I take care of personal hygiene such as bathing and dressing, my ability to work, how I engage in social activities, my ability to exercise, and my ability to do housework among countless other things. The wheelchair makes all this difficulty more visible while paradoxically making my life easier.

I am not “wheelchair-bound”, I am a “person who uses a wheelchair” and their are countless others like me. For many different reasons, people who can walk short distances use a wheelchair to increase their accessibility to activities non-disabled people also enjoy. 

Disability Pride Month

The month of July is recognized by the disability community as Disability Pride Month. It celebrates the anniversary of the passing of the American Disabilities Act in July of 1990. Not yet acknowledged nationally, it is gaining attention.

This is a time to celebrate all people with disabilities, physical and mental, visible and invisible. People with disabilities are a widely diverse population who contribute generously to their communities.

One thing I was acutely reminded of while wheeling through crowds was that I couldn’t spot others like me. Not all impairments are visible and not all impaired people are able to go out. There is a lot of pressure to look healthy and normal. Being a person with a disability can be lonely. Disability Pride Month is an opportunity for people with disabilities to come together and know they are not alone. It is a chance to speak up and celebrate our differences and our struggles, and to champion change towards more acceptance.

A Gift

In honor of Disability Pride Month, I am offering a free Spiritual Direction session to one person with a disability. To apply for the free session, email me by July 31, 2021 at with the following:

  1. Short story of living as a person with a disability (1-3 paragraphs)
  2. What you hope to receive out of spiritual direction
  3. How your strength of spirit gets you through tough times

At the end of the month I’ll email the person I’ve selected for the session to arrange scheduling. Current, previous, and new clients are all welcome to apply.

In addition, this month I will donate $200 total to 501(C)3 non-profits that serve people with disabilities. If you have an organization that you’d like to nominate for the donation, please email it to me. 

Some of you may be wondering about why I identify as disabled and the details of that. I am glad to help raise awareness about that too. My diagnosis is ME/CFS. It is a neuro-immune disease that affects millions of people around the world. I wrote about it last year and you can read that article here.


ADA Disability Definition:

Diversability Definiton of Disability:

More on Disability Pride Month:


ME/CFS Awareness. Stacey Couch standing and looking at her black Friesian Percheron horse named Isabeau.

A Call to Slow Down

Photo: Stacey Couch and her horse “Isabeau”. Photo credit: Estella O’Connell

Hiding Behind the Teaching

My career began centered around a memoir. My story opened up doors to spiritual insights. I stepped through those doors to share with others. Over time, my focus shifted from sharing to listening. I embraced the role of transparent messenger. To write down “I” has become uncomfortable again. 

Spiritual correctness, which is similar to political correctness, says to drop the ego. In life and work, I practice the importance of releasing the “I” and this helps. However, it also becomes a shield to vulnerability. Conscious releasing of the self became hiding. Spiritual correctness is when we take any spiritual teaching and get dogmatic. When say the annihilation of the “I” is the only way, we lose our way.

So here I am – lost and finding my way back to you. There is one story I have been hiding for seven years. They call it an invisible illness, so my work of staying undetected is easy. Family doctors can’t see it. Friends and family don’t know what’s going on. Researchers are just beginning to find scientific indicators of the disease.

I can’t tell you how many people have said to me, “Oh, isn’t that what doctors diagnose you with when they can’t figure out what’s going on?” As if my experience is something thrown in the discard basket. I’m with the leftovers right next to the unmatched sock in the lost and found. Maybe someday someone will get around to doing something with me. 

I have ME/CFS

I have ME/CFS. Not familiar with the name? Most people know it as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Syndrome means a “concurrence of symptoms,” which this disease has, but the chronic fatigue portion of the name hasn’t garnered much respect. “ME”  is the newer nomenclature and more telling of the severity of the disease. It is myalgic encephalomyelitis, which roughly means muscle pain (myalgia) with neurologic system inflammation (encephalo- (relating to the brain) myelitis (inflammation)). 

My aim is not to educate you about the disease. Let the researchers at Harvard, Cornell, Stanford, and Oxford University do that. I put links at the bottom of this article if you want to learn more. I am not happy about much about this disease, but I am glad for all the great minds solving this puzzle. My aim is to help raise awareness about its impact and prevalence. 

It may seem extreme to talk about my condition as suffering. There is a risk of appearing like I’m playing the victim. All I can say is, “This is serious. I’m not playing.” 

May 12th is International ME/CFS Awareness Day. I hope to contribute to awareness through sharing my story. 

Pain is My Companion

Not a day goes by that I don’t hurt. I used to be able to spend hours on my feet fixing fences or gathering firewood. I could walk around my pasture for hours playing with my horses. Hikes were easy. I could eat whatever was served. It felt good to exert myself and get my heart pumping. I slept like a log – every night. When I sat to meditate, it was quiet. I spent many hours a day writing and creating. I recorded videos, wrote blog posts and produced online classes. In my free time, I drew, gardened, and cooked. I was a vast vessel into which life poured and from which I poured life.

Then I got a common cold like I’d had dozens of times before, but I never got better. Weeks turned into months. Symptoms started to stack up. What was this ringing in my ears that wouldn’t cease? How come my throat is still sore? What’s the deal with all these stomach aches? Am I getting sick again? Where is my energy going? I seem to ache a lot. Why do I wake up in the middle of the night on fire? I can’t think straight. Something’s wrong.

Next came the many year’s search for reason why I was sick. I dug through my past – ten times. I cleared out all my interior closets and made amends. Addressing possible psychological and spiritual causes of the illness didn’t work. I took homeopathics and spent thousands of dollars on herbs and supplements. Neither traditional or alternative doctors or healers were able to help much.

My menu shrank – no yeast, no gluten, no corn, no sulfites, and on and on. My family grew tired of not being able to share meals with me. I gave up alcohol and caffeine years ago.

It Gets Worse

I am not writing to tell you how I healed myself, so I can lead the way to wellness. Hang in there. It gets worse.

Today, I can’t go up a flight of stairs without stopping once or twice to catch my breath. If I am lucky, I might sleep through the night once a month. I can’t ride my horse for ten minutes once a week without getting wiped out. I have to sit down to recover after changing my son’s diaper. The creative projects that used to take me a few hours, I now patch together over the course of weeks. The pain is debilitating and relentless. The sheer exhaustion is a close second. 

This is not a cry for advise or help. I don’t need you to fix my problem. This is a call to awareness. Millions of people are sick all over the world with ME/CFS. There is no proven treatment to lessen symptoms. No cure is in sight. I read the other day that only six percent of people go into remission. Those odds suck. 

Research into ME/CFS is severely underfunded. Sick people don’t receive nearly enough support. Some people are bedridden and others are housebound. Many are not able to work. This is one of the few diseases that gets worse with exercise. Both physical and mental exertion take a ridiculous toll on the body. I have had to limit my office hours and greatly reduce activities. I am operating at around forty to sixty percent of my former capacity.

A Blessed Life

Working in the spirituality field is a blessing for me in this illness. I have so many touch points of grace to get me through the day. I live an inspired life. This work allows me a freedom of creativity unmatched in any other time in my life. My interactions are filled with radiant people in sacred practice. It is stunning really, to be in the circle of such love. I love what I do. 

This work and this illness have come together to reveal something fundamental about the human experience. Everyone is suffering in ways big and small. You could have told me that before all this began and I would have believed you. However, there is a huge difference between knowing and living a thing.

Being on the receiving end of invisible pain, I know what it feels like to suffer in private. People expect me to simply pick up my child and carry him across the room, and I can’t without crashing for hours. Family members think I will get my own dinner until I say I can’t bear another moment on my feet. Clients expect I’ll be able to get them on my schedule when they need. Friends assume I can sit and talk for hours. 

It’s not because people don’t care. It’s because they can’t see. 

In every conversation, I remember that the person I am talking to could be suffering and I don’t know. This goes for grocery clerks as well as friends and clients at the same time as postal workers. My weary heart sees them all.

There’s No Reason For It

Working in the spirituality field is a curse for me in this illness. There is a subversive myth that spiritual guides have life pretty well sorted out. The story goes that a spiritual teacher spends years working on herself to get better before she goes to minister to others. This story of perfectionism has to go. It is holding our teachers and ourselves to an unrealistic expectation. It equates physical health with spiritual health. 

Some of the most spiritually well people I know are gravely ill. There are emotional, mental and spiritual roots to physical illnesses, but not always. There doesn’t have to be an untended trauma or deep-seated anger to trigger disease. Depravity of spirit absolutely leads to a physical health crisis, but not every time. Sure, your family history, past lives, and karmic debt can make you sick. These broken states can cause a body to break down, but we can’t always find a pathology.

In this field, seekers try to find a good reason for being sick. I don’t think there’s any good reason for suffering. It’s not reasonable that people should hurt.

A Heart Too Soft to Try

For years, I’ve allowed my illness to hide because I feared judgement. I was afraid that people would automatically assume I was unconscious (a curse in this business for sure). There is a good chance that some of you reading this will blame me for being sick. You may decide I haven’t truly done my work. You could believe that I won’t face my own shadow or that I feed off of the pity. 

From your perspective, it could be that I haven’t tried everything. You may think you have the answer. Keep going. I’m sure there’s twenty thousand ways to guess how I created this, but if you truly understand the nature of pain, your heart is too soft to try.

I write to those of you whose hearts are broken open to suffering. I ask not for pity but for compassion. Not for me but for others. Sure pray for me. I’ve learned not to turn away a good prayer, but while you’re at it, pray for the millions of people around the world with this disease.

A Call to Slow Down

It’s time to wake up to how much we, as a collective, push ourselves. I see a parallel between the energy crisis in patients like me and the energy crisis on the planet. We are running out of resources like oil, food, and water. Mothers are at the brink of exhaustion. Service staff have dark circles under their eyes. Some of you are working hard to get by and others of you are working hard on yourselves. How many times do you say you’re running on fumes? Our planet is fatigued and so are we.

Symbolically, I see people with ME/CFS as the canaries in the coal mine. At the leading edge of the climate crisis, we are heating up. Inflammation of the nervous system is big in this disease. Patients get brain fog and can’t think straight. Humanity overwhelms their inner circuitry with too much internet data and is over stimulated by screens. ME/CFS sufferers have to wear ear plugs and eye masks to sleep. Humanity is attacking the planet with toxins and bulldozers. People with ME/CFS have an immune system on high alert, trying to clear out an invisible intruder.

Maybe I will write a future post about the archetypes involved in ME/CFS. It’s a side project of mine in slow development. My point here is this – what we do to the planet and to ourselves, we do to the whole. Your furious pace has consequences. Hear the call to slow down. It helps more than you know.

One Purpose of ME/CFS

I believe that bringing a slow pace is part of the purpose of patients of ME/CFS. We are not doing it by choice, but we’re doing it regardless. We provide a balancing force to the rigorous busyness of the world. Our forced sluggishness brings back what is essential. The extreme ascetic lifestyle that comes with ME/CFS is purifying. I no longer identify with what I eat or how much I produce. I don’t like that I have to pace myself so strictly and say “no” to so many things. However, I also know my lower consumption is reducing my impact on the earth. 

There is a lot of talk in the spiritual community about getting “back to the earth,” but we can’t do this at breakneck speed. We have to pause, rest and listen. You may have a friend with ME/CFS that can teach you a thing or two about ease. She’s come by this practice the hard way, but I bet she knows it better than anyone. People with ME/CFS often think they don’t have anything to offer the world because they are stuck at home unable to produce. I disagree.

There is deep meaning in the forced call to slow down for ME/CFS patients. The world can learn a lot from the wisdom of these stillness practitioners. These gurus of pacing are masters of energy and body awareness. There is immense value to the act of simply being. The ME/CFS community knows this better than anyone. For being still means finding some relief.

The ME/CFS community is bringing back a much needed way of life, the gentle way of non-doing. “Being with” is the feminine way. It’s no accident that women disproportionately get this disease. The more of us with this illness that can come to embrace the intrinsic value of being, the more we contribute to the healing of the whole. Let’s pray that this healing becomes ours too.

Consider Donating to ME/CFS Research

These organizations are doing worldwide, in-depth research into diagnosis, treatment and cures. They also help raise ME/CFS awareness.

Open Medicine Foundation:

Solve ME/CFS Initiative:

#MEAction Network:

Links to ME/CFS Resources


cherokee mustang in memory

In Memory, Cherokee the Mustang

In Memory, Cherokee the Mustang

Eleven years ago, when I first met Cherokee I went to touch her. She turned and walked away. Weeks later, my husband asked about the big and powerful brown horse out in the herd.

I said, “Her? Yeah that’s Cherokee the mustang. She won’t let anybody catch her.” Which was the truth. She was the least tame horse on the ranch.

Weeks after that, my co-worker and friend said, “You should do some of the new horse training techniques you’re learning with Cherokee. I think you two would get along.” 

I stood in the pen the next morning with little chance of getting a hand on the coppery, stout bay mustang. But, she watched. She listened. Her skin flinched when I looked at it from fifteen feet away. She moved off the slightest pressure.

In the horse world we call this responsive. Then she began to follow me. I knew in an instant she was the most sensitive horse I had ever met. She was obliging my requests, but it was not because she was willing. I saw right away how wise, how clever, and how horribly wounded this mare was.

She was responsive because of fear. There was a brilliant innate sensitivity that had been corrupted by terror of humans. She carried this terror as rock solid tension in every taught muscle in her body. I could barely read her breath for how frozen in fear, ready to bolt in an instant, she was. Her self-preservation was on high alert and she was determined to survive.

The Lead Mare

In a natural setting, with her horse friends in the pasture she emanated a relaxed, powerful, palpable sphere of authority and confidence. Cherokee had real swagger. That mustang was cool as cool could be and she knew it. I don’t know if I’ll ever meet another spirit with such quiet, confident bravado.

As the lead mare in a herd of sixteen horses, her leadership was rarely questioned. She told who when to eat and in what order. She decided when it was nap time and when it was social hour. Cherokee lead with benevolence, rarely ever physically exerting her dominance. All it took was a look from her and the other horses listened. It was riveting to watch.

That morning, she followed me around the pen for five minutes and it was the most amazing feeling. She followed not because she liked me or thought me worthy. She followed because she knew that if she was behind me I couldn’t touch her. She tracked every footstep of mine. That was astounding to me. Crazy as it sounds, I fell in love. If I could get that intelligence to trust me and get that confidence to bridge to the human world, boy what a life we’d have together. 

And, what a life we did have together. She did come to trust me slowly and entirely, over the years, until I could do anything with her, anything but ride her. That part she always kept for herself. And, like I said when I committed to bring her into the family, I was okay with that. I admit that for quite awhile I wasn’t always okay with it. I exhausted myself and my resources for many years trying to convince her to be a riding horse, but in her last years I finally came to terms with how it was. My contract with Cherokee was not about riding and going places. It was about dancing and knowing lightness of feel, whispers of the heart.

She came to trust all humans, vets and farriers included, and that, ultimately was my goal. Her fear of domesticated life had put her own life in jeopardy. I wanted to know that she would be able to receive routine and emergency care if I couldn’t be there. This happened and I’m grateful.

Her transformation marveled everyone she met. I couldn’t have fully rehabilitated her without the help of an awesome, patient team of family and caregivers over the years. For them, I am grateful.

For the rest of my life, I will never take for granted a horse that lets me ride on her back, load her in a trailer, trim her feet, and any do other things a domesticated horse needs to do. I understand how much horses have to trust to override the natural instincts that a wild horse is born with.


There were a lot of synchronicities in my life with Cherokee. We didn’t know her history in the beginning, only that she was a mustang. I expressed my random hope that she’d come from a herd in New Mexico.

We met Cherokee while living at Colorado Horse Rescue. I spent a year and countless hours building a relationship with her. Then she was abruptly court ordered back to the abusive owners she’d been rescued from. I was devastated but determined. I contacted the owners and was able to buy her. After three hours of trying to get her on a trailer I’d borrowed from a friend, she got on and we brought her home. If she never would have had to go back to the owners, I never would have gotten her original paperwork. I never would have learned that she was in fact from New Mexico.

We made a pilgrimage to see Cherokee’s herd in New Mexico and visited nearby Pagosa Springs for the first time during that trip. A couple years later, we came back to Pagosa Springs for a Parelli Natural Horsemanship clinic. We fell in love with the little town. If Cherokee wouldn’t have been such a challenging horse to train, I might never have made the significant investment to attend the two week clinic with her and we might never have discovered our current home.

A few months after the clinic we bought property in Pagosa Springs and started our move. Cherokee then spent the last eight years of her life living within a couple hours of where she’d been born, in very much the same type of terrain. I swear she knew she was back home. She settled right in here. So much in her relaxed. Her swagger remained but her demeanor softened.

My First Horse

Cherokee was my first horse. Nearly everyone thought that someone as green as me shouldn’t have a horse as dangerous as her. And, well, they were right. It was probably the most foolhardy thing I’ve ever done. I’m lucky we both made it through so many blowups and wrecks unscathed.

Two weeks after we bought her, she and I were in a clinic to get the help I so sorely knew I needed. Cherokee spooked at some hanging plastic bags. In sheer panic, she bolted. She pulled the rope out of my hands, jumped a five and a half foot fence, and ran a mile off into the neighborhood. It was one of the most humiliating, terrifying and crushing experiences of my life. This horse I loved so dearly seemed so impossible to gentle.

Over the years, I hired at least ten trainers to work with her. All but one refused to ride her. He got eleven rides on her before he moved and we moved, and her transformation into riding horse never fully materialized. She bucked me off a couple times after that when I tried to ride her on my own. Then, she developed arthritis in her front hooves and needed to be retired. I’ll never doubt that we gave it our best try.

The Gentle Teacher

Either way, she put up with a lot of nonsense; pool noodles, tarps, plastic bags, jumps, barrels, balls, saddles, and ropes. You name it. She saw it. And slowly she stopped fearing every errant sound, every unfamiliar movement. Eventually she became that been there, done that kind of horse. The confidence that was the core of this lion-hearted mustang pushed its way through the layers of fear and into domesticated life.

I had my own fear to tackle in our time together. So, so much was transmuted. And to say this mustang taught me multitudes about horsemanship and horse behavior would be the grossest understatement of the century. I don’t even know how to begin to describe how much knowledge and skill I developed in the thousands of hours I spent learning while training that horse.

We completed the highest level of groundwork possible as amateurs, she performed successfully in front of a crowd in a big arena, and she worked with my clients as a wise therapy horse. Cherokee gently mentored my nieces and nephews in safe horse handling and helped my friend’s young autistic son find new avenues to self awareness. The dangerous horse became the gentle teacher.

She was brilliant at liberty work with no halters or ropes. She and I would dance together, free in the pasture. It was a dream come true.

In the end, Cherokee was the horse in my herd that came eagerly when I called her. That was the most precious gift, that she sought me out and wanted to be with me.

Mustang in the Truest Sense

Cherokee was a mustang in the truest sense of the word. When I met her I felt she was one of the strongest, fiercest, most complete and wild souls I’d ever met. I couldn’t fathom how she could be both totally intact and shattered, courageous and fearful, confident and insecure, entirely beautiful and broken yet unbreakable. In her lifetime, I never knew the full mystery of this beast.

She changed my life, but, even more so, she changed me. It seems too that, at least in part, I returned the favor. Eventually, the waves of fear subsided until the storm disappeared on the horizon. In time, the fragments found their way back to her or she found them.

The fact that she even wanted to become whole again, that she even wanted to live a content, comfortable life brings me such hope, such joy. She could have kept the walls up, but instead she was willing to become my companion, a family member, and a horse that helped humans heal. Her heart was so much more vast than I could imagine. 

The fact that she could forgive and heal gives me an undying, unyielding hope. 

So many obstacles seemed like they would prevent our becoming. Because of her unyielding spirit, none of them won. What won was love, hope, and happiness. Because of this life together, I too now know the wild and free way. I’ve, with her help, leapt over the barriers of fear and judgement and run back home. 

What it Means to Be Free

I used to think that to be wild and free meant to leave, to be isolated and detached. I now know it is to be loving and be loved, to let nothing get between me and love.

That same wild spirit that made her untouchable, allowed her and I to touch the infinite. The same wild spirit that made her untamed, allowed us to tame the impulses that barred the way to our true nature. That same wild spirit that made her unbreakable, allowed us to break open our hearts, to break open the way to patience, compassion and contentment. In the end, nothing could hold the way from us. Nothing could keep us from a peaceful, fulfilled love together.

On her last morning, she did her classic downward facing dog bow for breakfast right at my feet. It didn’t escape me that she was bowing to me, saying thank you. I bow to you sister and all that you gave and all that you are. Thank you for the grand opportunity of this life together.

Now she rests in a valley at home where she found happiness and lived out her days. She slowed down considerably in her old age and was stoic through all the pains in her weary body, but was the leader until the end. She was surrounded by her family and herd and passed in an instant, bolting in her spirit body to a new found level of freedom. Yours is the infinite now my dear.  

Miss Cherokee taught me all that I share in this writing and more. I had a friend once ask me if my next book was to be about Cherokee. This mare obviously is worthy of a whole host of tomes. I clearly could fill volumes.

Still I would never be able to say how full my heart is as a result of allowing one beautiful, bold, powerful and magnificent mustang touch, tame and break it.

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About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch

stacey couch spiritual directorStacey L. L. Couch, Certified Shamanic Practitioner, works as a publicist and journalist for Mother Nature and is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. She empowers people with the ability to explore life’s big questions by calling on nature, story and synchronicity as a source for guidance and healing. With her deeply rooted experience in the field of shamanism and passion for working with wildlife and rescue animals, Stacey has a unique blend of rational and mystical perspective that makes the world of symbolism easily accessible to others. She values mindfulness, wonder, and compassion in her daily spiritual practice. Learn More about Stacey.