JOYM Boy who stirs chocoIt was a toasty-warm Arizona day in June when my husband and I took a trip up to the little old mining town of Jerome. After wandering through the various art and antique shops along the narrow winding streets, we suddenly became aware of the sumptuous aroma of chocolate wafting through the warm summer air.

Following the scent, we wound up in a small shop devoted to making fudge. The main source of the aroma was coming from a hug vat of warm chocolate being stirred by a young teenage boy.

 The boy was gazing down into the large copper vat, with a very bored look on his face. Round and round he stirred the thick dark simmering chocolate without ever looking up at any of the customers.

 After sampling tidbits of the shop’s luscious offerings and purchasing a piece of their pecan dark chocolate fudge, I couldn’t help but be drawn back to the boy.

 “I think you have the best job in town,” I said to him. The boy looked up as if awakened from a deep sleep. I continued.  “You stir chocolate.  People come into this shop because of that wonderful aroma you are creating.  Once entering through the doorway and sampling “a little chunk of heaven,” it’s a sure thing they will purchase some fudge to take home.  In a way, you are like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Yes, as I think about it, you truly have the most important job in town… stirring chocolate and bringing smiles to the faces of all who enter this shop.”

 “As you grow older and perhaps wonder about your life’s purpose, always remember this job of making fudge and take some time for yourself to smell the chocolate.”

 The boy’s affect clearly changed. His eyes brightened, his stance was upright, and he was grinning from ear to ear.

 Yes, as I think about it, we all have times in our lives when we feel bored, unappreciated, and invisible. Perhaps remembering this little story could remind us all to “stir chocolate” as a way to reconnect to a deeper purpose and self appreciation. So dear friends, go get yourselves a big chuck of rich, yummy chocolate, melt it down, and stir it – all the while smelling the sumptuous aroma.  Make fudge, and enjoy the deliciousness of life!

By Joyce C. Mills, Ph.D. © 2008 All Rights Reserved


By Joyce C. Mills, Ph.D.

My mother’s name was Rose; she was a woman of gentle strength, courage, and elegant beauty. Like a rose, that blossoms stronger when pruned or encounters nature’s challenges, my mother grew stronger with every challenge life placed before her. She believed everything happened for a reason and always took the positive point of view, no matter what was happening.

When I was three years old my mother and father got divorced. My father was an alcoholic who was unable to receive help. As my mother would tell me when I was old enough to understand, “You’re father was not a bad person, he was sick. If he got help, I would have stayed. But he refused.” In my mother’s wisdom, she knew it was an unhealthy choice to stay and raise me in such an environment, so she made a difficult, but healthy decision. This was in 1947 when divorce was rare and society encouraged women to stick it out no matter how difficult or abusive the marriage.

My mother and I moved from my father’s home in Norfolk Virginia into my Bubbie’s (Yiddish for grandmother) one bedroom apartment in a five-floor walk up building in the Bronx, New York. My mother never got alimony and was my sole support. Eventually, she got a job working in a Manhattan factory as a milliner.

When I was about six years old I started dancing lessons at Miss LaRosa’s Dance Studio. The photo at the right is of the realization of every little girl’s dream – dancing on stage at Carnegie Hall. However, more happy Joyce Mills, Carnegie Hallmemories were created in that each Saturday we would ride the subway downtown after my dancing lessons. My mother always planned something special for us to do; we would go to a children’s ballet or a movie, and stop by the factory to say “hello.” to the women with whom she worked.

This was always my favorite part… the women would welcome me into the fold by clearing a place at their long wooden work table. They’d spread out mounds of brightly colored silk flowers, ribbons, rhinestones, buttons, and other decorations that were used to adorn the hats. My mother and the women would show me how to sew the flowers onto various materials, making beautiful designs, ultimately to be sewn onto the hats themselves. Of course, I tried on all of the finished hats I was allowed to play with – pretending I was an elegant lady, a queen, cover girl or whomever my imagination could dream up.

What an experience, spending time in an amazing make-believe heaven! My mother and I would share the stories of the day as we rode the subway home. Once reaching our apartment building, I eagerly ran up the three flights of stairs to tell my Bubbie about the day and to show her the treasures I received.

As I reflect on those memories, I am aware that the real treasures were not so much in the glittery buttons and bobbles, but instead they were in the stories and experiences shared between mother and daughter. My sweet mother died in 1997. While sitting at her bedside just an hour after her passing, my grief was so enormous I could barely breathe. Through my tears I noticed that the nurse who was telling me about the last moments of my mother’s life was gently stroking her small, blanketed feet as if she were still alive. I felt as if my mother’s spirit was being caressed by an angel. Now, I am sure that was the case.

Joyce Mills and Mother 1996

Joyce Mills and Mother 1996

My mother’s photo sits on a shelf where I do my writing. I feel her smile every day and know her legacy of wisdom and kindness guides me through the many trials of my life.We are daughters … all of us, and memories abound. Some of those memories are filled with life lessons that give us renewed strength in the face of our own challenges and joy that lifts us to a better place on a bad day. On this annual honoring of all mothers, please feel free to add to this post by adding your own beautiful memories of your own mother.

Joyce Mills

Joyce Mills, Ph.D.

Turtle Island

The Turtle Island Project

According to Native American legend, the back of a giant turtle supports the earth.   The Turtle’s slow and deliberate movement provides for changes of times and seasons.   An impenetrable fortress, when the turtle is threatened – it finds strength inside.  It makes progress only when it sticks out its neck.   The ancients called this whole world “Turtle Island.” 


I would like to share an experience that helped me fully understand this process.  Have you ever found yourself in a moment of utter frustration over some situation that seemed totally out of your control, and only when you released that “control” did something positive happen?  My awakening to this concept happened on a cool drizzly Sunday morning, about 5:30 am, when I was awakened  and someone told me to start the fire for the Sweat Lodge, which is the ceremony culminating our annual Turtle Island Project – Women’s Healing Journey retreat in Northern Arizona. 

Sisters: Women's Healing Journey

Women's Jealing Journey Sisters

Normally I am a grumpy bear when someone wakes me that early, but this morning was different. It was the first time I was asked to start the fire for our Sweat Lodge ceremony and it was an honor to be asked.  Without any words, I was handed a small, worn leather pouch filled with wooden matches.  I quickly put on my warm thermals, zipped up my quilted ski jacket, tucked the matches and another pouch containing prayer tobacco inside my deepest pocket and out the door I went.

It was one of those amazing Arizona mornings where the ridges of the mountains seem to be painted on a background of cinnamon, plum, and luminescent haze.  The cedar and pine trees were moist and fragrant.  In the solitude, I understood the kind of quiet, where even silence can be heard, was perfect for soul-searching

Walter Parent Sweatlodge

Walter Parent Sweatlodge

As I walked up the stony mountain path towards the Sweat Lodge some hundred feet away, thoughts about our quest to move to Kauai swirled through the quiet spaces of my mind. While reviewing the current status of our dream, thoughts quickly turned to worry. It had been over two years and five real-estate agents later, and in spite of working diligently to sell our home in Los Angeles in order to make this move, not one offer had been made.

To add to the worry, we had borrowed money for a down payment for a small home in Kauai, thinking our Los Angeles home would sell easily and allowing us to pay off the loan within very short period of time.  But with the crumbling real-estate market, and trying to pay two mortgages on very little income, we found ourselves with but a few months’ rent left from all of the equity we had amassed over the years.  The possibility of losing our home to foreclosure was too close for comfort. I was very frightened and I found myself wondering if these obstacles were signs telling us that we shouldn’t move; that the more prudent course of action was to abandon our dreams.

Womens Healing Journey

Huffing and puffing, I came to the top of the hill where the sweat lodge and fire-pit had already been prepared for the morning ceremony the night before.  I stood there for a long, quiet moment – taking in the majestic view from that mountain crest before kneeling down near the logs which encased the forty-some-odd lava stones that rested within its center.


Reaching into the tobacco pouch I took out a pinch between my fingers, held it up towards the sky and then began to say a prayer for the well-being of all who entered the Sweat Lodge, as I had been taught to do. After finishing the prayer, I placed the pinch of tobacco within a small opening, a “doorway,” that is left slightly open between the logs, and proceeded to light one of the matches I brought with me. It went out almost immediately.

I moved closer and lit another match, quickly placing it on the dry kindling.  This time there was a slight smoldering and then… nothing – it went out again.  This process of lighting match after match went on and on until I just had two matches left. Feeling frustrated and very much like a failure at being able to start a fire, I traipsed back down the road and walked upstairs where my spiritual sister was beginning to stir.

“Hey Sis, I don’t think I should be the one to light this fire.  No matter what I do, I can’t get it lit. I only have two matches left.”  Offering a slight smile of reassurance my sister chortled, “Get back out there Joyce, and light that fire with whatever you have left. Just stay with it!”  So… back up the path I walked all the while thinking to myself,  “She must know something that I surely don’t know.”

Kneeling down on the cold, moist ground once again, I lit one of the two matches I had left and placed it on the dry pocket of kindling and paper, as I had done before. Small flames began to flicker and I leaned forward and blew on them in order to keep them going.  However, no matter what I did, they seemed to have a mind of their own – continuing to quickly dwindle into nothingness.

Realizing I only had one dry match left, I moved closer to the logs and maneuvered a few pieces of the wood around and carefully struck the match on a nearby rock.  Waiting a few moments so that the fire was well lit on the end of the match, I reached inside once again and lit the dry kindling. Finally, the flames grew stronger and I breathed a sigh of relief. Unfortunately, that feeling of relief was short-lived because the flames began to steadily grow fainter until they were completely out… again!

Having no matches left and feeling very much a failure, I thought to myself, “I couldn’t even light a simple fire”. With fists clenched in frustration, and tears of desperation streaming down my cheeks, I looked up towards the Heavens and shouted at the top of my lungs, “DEAR GOD, I NEED HELP. I CAN’T DO THIS ALONE.”

Within moments, I heard a slight rustling coming from the bushes nearby, and found myself looking face to face with a sweet, dark-eyed deer. She just stood there looking at me for a few long moments, cocking her head as though to communicate some sort of understanding about my sad situation. Simultaneously, I heard a loud whooshing sound and turned to see what it was. The seemingly dead fire was suddenly blazing brilliantly within the center of the fire-pit!

What was more unbelievable to me was that, very uncharacteristic of a deer, was that it stood there – watching with me as the fire continued to blaze.  Her head still cocked with that “knowing” look, the deer slowly turned and walked down the same path she had come – conveying a silent message that I needed to hear.

I just stood there – taking this moment of magic within my being. “What had she come to tell me?” I wondered to myself.  As I began to walk back down the road to the house it began to rain. By the time I got back to the house, it was pouring. “Oh no!” I thought to myself, “After all of this and now the rain will probably put the fire out. Well, at this point it is out of my control, that’s for sure.”

When I got back into the house and dressed for the Sweat Lodge, I told the women about my morning’s adventures with the fire and the deer.  As we walked up the hill through the rain, I wondered if the fire would still be burning or had been doused by the rain. I suppose there was a part of me that wasn’t the least bit surprised by the fact that there, in front of us, the fire was still blazing.

I think what I learned from this experience is that when you believe in yourself – it takes a lot to put out a good fire. And in times when it feels like there is no more energy left to spark the flames of our desires, it is important to remember that a simple breath of faith can ignite that fire within each of us once again.

Please feel free to leave your comments about how this message impacted you – causing you to remember some similar, life transforming event.

Oh, I almost forgot, I wanted to invite you to click through to learn more about the Turtle Island Project .


Joyce C. Mills, Ph.D. LMFT LLC
Creative Solutions for Positive Change
Registered Play Therapy Supervisor
Co-director of The Phoenix Institute of Ericksonian Therapy