Image from unceded land of the Gumbaynggirr people, now known as Emerald Beach, NSW, Australia.
What will strike you immediately upon meeting Wendy, whether at work as a celebrant, in the class room or in the street, is her warmth, kindness and innate ability to understand and listen deeply. Despite her extraordinary skill-set she has the ability to connect with people she meets as peers and with genuine interest and curiosity, enabling honest conversations about life’s real issues – relationship and marriage, death and dying, stress, mourning and challenges; or joy and celebration.
Wendy has been a family celebrant for 25 years conducting over 1500 ceremonies – weddings, namings, community funerals, intimate home funeral ceremonies, memorials, special birthday celebrations and divorce ceremonies. Since 2003, she has also offered professional development, celebrant mentoring and resources to celebrants around the world. She is an award winning celebrant and the author of many celebrant related books and resources.
In 2006, she qualified as a Yoga Teacher and in 2015 as a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) practitioner and facilitator. Wendy attended an International Intensive Training in Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and has since studied NVC Mediation, Convergent Facilitation and other foundational programs. Wendy regularly hosts Ongo, empathy circles and mindfulness programs online. Ongo: Everyday Nonviolence program, created by Catherine Cadden and Jesse Wiens Chu, is a 12 week program combining mindfulness, nonviolent communication and somatic practices.
Wendy developed a six month program, ‘Celebrating this Precious Life, Honest Conversations about Death and Dying’ bringing together her skills in celebrancy, mindfulness and NVC.
Underlying her work and permeating into every aspect of her life is her dedication to mindfulness practices and treating all beings with respect, dignity and kindness.
By ‘deeply’ listening to others – to the stories and to the silence between the words – I create ceremonies, conversations and programs where we might laugh and cry, sometimes holding both emotions within the same breath, and opening to connect with what’s alive in the moment. Be it grief, joy, laughter – whatever’s here.
No matter where I am, I love to engage in honest and compassionate conversations, that support us to reflect upon what’s most important. Only asking questions that I have considered and learnt from, that I sense are wanting to be engaged with – revealing answers that shape the ceremonies, my work and my life.
Sometimes I’ll share my experience and, at other times, I’ll hold the silence – creating a space where we know we all belong and matter – walking together and celebrating this precious life.
In one of Mary Oliver’s poems she writes, ‘What will you do with this one wild and precious life?’ As I reflect on my life, it has been a rich blend of love, care, heartache, connection, disconnection and reconnection – offering a foundational awareness and acceptance of our shared humanity in all its colours. I feel connected to the human family; to an ‘expansive presence’ and to the earth in all its beauty and chaos. So, what will I do with this ‘one wild and precious life?’
I have a strong calling to ‘contribute from an inner stillness’ – I’m committed to my mindfulness and communication practices that support my work and play in the sacred space of ceremonies, circles and gatherings and … to celebrating this precious life.
Through a particularly difficult emotional period in my life I realised that I needed skills to help me regain a sense of quiet presence. John Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as: ‘awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally in the service of self-understanding and wisdom.’ Yet, even in that quiet space, I found that I could be easily stimulated, especially with those I love and I would often react rather than consciously respond. I yearned, for what the poet, Rumi, wrote,
‘Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing, and right-doing, there is a field. I will meet you there.’
The tools of Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication (NVC) helped create a pathway to that field of compassionate listening to myself and others. These two modalities, MBSR and NVC; and the people I have met along the way, especially the Ongo teachers, Catherine Cadden and Jesse Wiens Chu, offered me balm for healing and a real means for communicating, connecting and living authentically and compassionately.
The work I engage in, so deeply nourishes me, that I love to volunteer with other programs particularly in the area of spiritual practice, mindfulness and nonviolent communication (NVC). The people in this community are diverse, enthusiastic, honest and an absolute joy to be with and learn from.
I love my mindfulness practices that flow between my work and my play, being an integral part of who I am, how I connect with myself and others, and how I choose to live. I hear the call that poet, John O’Donohue, writes to in his ‘Blessing for Presence’,
‘May you awaken to the mystery of being here
and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence’.
When I turn off my computer and have space at home, I enjoy gardening or just sitting watching things grow. My garden is my sanctuary. It calls me in at anytime of day, in between Zoom calls, when I am dressed up ready to go out because I just cannot help myself. It a love I share with my partner and I imagine when my grandsons are older they will remember eating fresh peas straight from the vine, plucking the asparagus shoots, finding strawberries hidden in amongst the massive leaves, pulling out carrots, harvesting fresh lettuce, looking for the slugs and catching butterflies to release them outside the enclosure.
I love to pick up my soprano ukulele that I am learning to play and enjoy the resonance against my body. I’m also learning to sign Auslan – both of these I would dearly love to be proficient in; and I am happy that they are in my life.
I love climbing mountains, being out in nature, lying down on the grass or on the warm sand, swimming out in the rip, into the deep water behind the waves and then body surfing in. I value deeply the time with my friends, far and wide – a phone call, a quick message, a walk along the headland, laughing til our sides hurt or sitting quietly. I love to send random postcards by snail mail. I feel blessed with my community of support and the deep sense of belonging whether I am in regular contact or there are many months or years in-between physical or verbal connection.
Lastly, but not least, I love being with my partner. We have given each other lots of opportunities to grow and, many years later, I am still grateful to be by his side. We give each other lots of space and every day, intimacy, through reading, gardening, rolling around on the floor doing Feldenkrais together, holding each other and just being in silence together – learning, leaning and living into love, peace and gratitude.
Beautiful. Thank you Wendy. I am So grateful to know you, and to share this part of the journey with you. It is life affirming and transformational.