speak softly love

This morning I am thinking about softness.

Tucked into the privacy of my porch, wrapped in the soft warmth of my grandmother’s afghan, surrounded by delicate reveille of early morning birdsong, (and, yes, there remains that background sound of traffic), I sit listening, unassaulted.

Reluctantly, after some time, I open the computer, read an article in the New York Times about some testing that is being done around the transmission of this disease during ordinary conversation through respiratory droplets. Much has been said about coughing and sneezing and handwashing up til now, but, in seeking a fuller understanding, new experiments and studies are being explored. The piece of the article that intrigues me is the unsurprising finding that speaking softly might actually serve to protect the one you’re with, as those potential infection bearing droplets are projected more forcefully and in greater volume when speaking loudly.

How beautiful is that. Softness as protection. Not armour or attack as defence, but meekness as shield.

Blessed are the meek…

The harshness of these days is beginning to emerge – persons angry, protesting, YELLing through bullhorns; name-CALLing; finger pointing like a gun. From where I sit, I hear it as the low-lying background noise, like that traffic sound, of a culture at war with itself. For others it is front and center every day, bludgeoning.  All that noise creates its own kind of stress, makes many want/need to further withdraw at a time when we all long for/need the blessing of a community of mutual support and comfort. We yearn for a true coming together at this time when we are being asked to remain distant.

Some of that noise has come into my house. While for some it has erupted into their homes out of the stress and irritability created when living in close quarters, without meaningful outlet (that noise coming in the form of insipient snarkiness or outright lashing at those closest– been there, done that here too), for me, this time, it has come in the form of the computer meetings that my husband engages in, and me overhearing the drama of folks trying to come to consensus about the governance of our small village. I find I have little tolerance for that drama. The lack of harmony brings out the dissonance in me. (That being said, I greatly appreciate those for whom the work of diplomacy and governance is a calling and a gift)

During Sunday evening’s restorative yoga class, we were invited to set an intention for ourselves for the week. The word that bubbled up in me, bidden by that invitation, was Gentle. I wish to be gentle, with self, with others.

I wish to remain soft.

Softness as virtue can be a rather counter cultural ideal. A soft body is perceived as a weak one, a lazy one, an unhealthy one. A soft stance – one open to change- is seen as wishy washy or feeble rather than flexible and strong . We draw ‘hard’ lines. To be receptive to others is to be vulnerable, and vulnerability must be defended at all cost.

I think of the times I have frustrated others with my soft-spoken nature, been asked to speak up, to PROJECT. I think of the times I have felt painfully awkward when needing to yell my words to an elderly loved one. (Fyi, future loved one, Please don’t yell at me when I grow hard of hearing. Leave me to my blessed quietude). Today’s words redeem something in me, something I have innately known, perhaps, or simply inherently been—that softness is also simply a (good) way to be.  Softness of speech may not be a symptom of low confidence, but of innate gentleness.  Softness is now being revealed, as it always has been, as a way to take care of one another, a way to mitigate harm and to express concern, a means to cease projecting one’s own s**t onto the other.

I have just returned from checking on the morning’s bread dough, plunging my fingers into its softness up to their last knuckles. I am testing for softness, in a way, so that what is baked will not be too dense or too hard, but will offer a nourishment that is attainable, digestible, easily chewed. Perhaps becoming soft requires patience, time, willingness to sit still in hot places, to yield to what is– without becoming complacent or deflated, but being willing to grow.

But this is simply who I am- a soft voice that has always sought to do no harm. Perhaps I am not driven, but neither am I overbearing, I hope. Softness, I hope, allows me to hear, to listen—below the noise, beneath the harsh words. Softness allows me to take care, to do no harm, to not to bludgeon another, but to proffer, to tender, and, mostly, to receive.  

Speak softly, walk humbly…. and please put down the stick.



Harlow’s monkey along with teaching us about the needs of the infant for physical touch in order to develop emotional resilience and psychological stability also taught us that the more physical interaction received during adulthood, e.g. hugging, touching, the better is one able to cope with crisis and the stresses of every day life.

Dear Loves,

I have been thinking about incarnation – what it means to be embodied. These thoughts have been simmering in me for days, like so many ideas do.  I have learned about myself through the years that I am a slow cooker. Phone conversations and texts with loved ones add meat to the broth, books and articles I read stir in vegetables, my own experiences sprinkle particular seasonsings and out of the mix comes something perhaps nourishing.

My own feelings of disconnection, or altered ones at most, have left me feeling somewhat disoriented, a vague sense of malaise making me feel as if I’m walking through a fog. My brain literally hurts from too much screen time—cell phone calls, texts, zoom meetings and classes, webinars, Netflix, Youtube, Facebook– like the pathways of neurons inside of it are being crossed and rewired as they reorient to this reality. And though sometimes it really does feel connective and healing, lifesaving even, it is the paradox of our times that the ‘social’ technology that has been developed in recent decades to keep us connected, and which is now seemingly vital, leaves us feeling strangely disconnected. It has grown too much out of proportion to our humanity, perhaps. I suspect that the low level dis-ease that it has been fostering for some years is now being more fully revealed and expressed, like a cancer that has been growing unnoticed and is suddenly causing pain.

Personally, I find myself needing more and more tangible physicality—whether it be with the earth—the planting of flowers, long hikes, or visiting the pond–  or face to face with a real human being. My son and his wife stopped by to dig out some ferns for their beds on Sunday. We sat 6 feet apart on the back patio afterwards. I felt human and whole for those few minutes. Laughter helps to, as if it stirs something stagnant inside my belly and clears it away.    

Don and I got out of our wooded village for a drive over the weekend.  The spaciousness of the sky always helps- feeling that bright openness on my face. He and I played some gin rummy that day too, with actual playing cards, rather than the computerized version we’ve been playing with our friends. I picked up a real book – I’ve been ‘reading’ the virtual ones on Kindle or listening to audio ones on my cellphone. All of these helped me to feel real, I suppose, embodied rather than a walking head.

Of course, I’ve been thinking about Algonquin– I would be there this month—missing it, and appreciating more and more how much it brings me alive, precisely because it gets me more fully into my body and out of my head, I suspect. I’ve known for so long that the feeling of pure embodied presense that I experience there makes me feel whole, intact. These days, I know more fully how the polar opposite of that experience makes me feel.

I need to get out of my head.

But I have been thinking –about incarnation, how little we honor or even understand ourselves as embodied beings. I have been thinking about Harlow’s psychological experiments with infant monkeys, the way in which those socially isolated and deprived creatures craved the physical comfort of the warm overstuffed ‘mothers’, running to them for comfort, even when the wired facsimiles provided food. What might that tell us about today’s enforced social isolation? We turn to the wired technology for necessary food, but we are starved by it at the same time?

Of course, these experiments apply not only to monkeys, or even to children, no matter how much we like to believe (inside our big brains) that as adult humans we are immune. I am aware that some children in cities (friends of mine) who cannot get outside or engage in play with other children are exhibiting signs of stress—biting themselves, for example. These examples should help us to more readily see and appreciate the stress that all of us are experiencing, despite the illusion that in our ‘adulthood’ we have developed ways to cope, perhaps, or to cover, or, more often for some of us, to blame ourselves for feeling the way that we do rather than recognizing that the environment we have been thrust into is unhealthy for us.

The body knows.

I’m recalling my last pregnancy, now 30 years ago, in which I was being monitored daily with a uterine contraction detector, how it was that one morning I needed to drive to the elementary school a mile away to deliver a forgotten musical instrument. How that uterine monitor registered the stress in my body of an ‘ordinary’ daily task in our modern world. That experience has continued to inform me through the intervening years of the hidden stressors in our world, things a human body (and soul?) is not designed to endure, at least healthfully. (In this case, perhaps we are not meant to move at such speeds? There is a dissonance between what the body knows should be and what the senses are bringing into the mind. I have read that folks who experience car-sickness are victims of this evolutionary/biological conflict).

My hope is that we learn from this time. I dearly hope the lesson is not that we can get by without human contact—as many businesses are figuring out how to survive—or that we can ‘adapt’. I dearly hope that the lesson assumed is not that social isolation will keep us safe. I hope that when this is over, we will throw off these chains and see them as chains. I hope that we feel in our bodies the relief, the joy of reconnection, and understand our human need for actual, physical, connection in a deeper way. For embodied living with one another and with the earth. For touch. For intimacy. For the real.

And for smallness. Yes, smallness. Perhaps those links on the World Wide Web are not what we need nearly so much as staying linked to the human being whom we can touch. Perhaps the global economy is not nearly so necessary as the economy of the body. Perhaps small communities of actual caring might be birthed in this time, out of our desire for true intimacy.


May it be so for you, my love. May it be so.

below the noise

Morning, May 1

Dear Loves,

The sounds of morning have been beckoning me awake these days. (Hmm, even as I write the last few words of that sentence I ask myself, to what am I being beckoned to awaken?) This morning it was the thrush, her pure toned trill piercing the dawn, pulling me up from the darkness of sleep, inviting me to rise.

I sit on the porch now, cup of hot coffee in hand, bundled in my grandmother’s afghans against a damp chill.  The steady drip of lingering rain (or is it merely a dripping from saturated trees overhead- it has poured buckets atop them in the last 18 hours or so) seems a fitting companion to my dripped brew, each of them clearing my foggy head in its own way.

The sounds of heavy equipment below disturb the morning quiet, though it is not yet even 7 am.  I have also noticed recently that local small truck traffic –delivery, tradesmen, propane, construction and the like– seems to prefer the strip of road that passes through our small village for their morning commute. Their rumble irritates the morning for me. I was called awake, I thought, to be with the percussive drip of rain and the melody of birdsong. Instead I am sitting with my awareness of noise…

Though many consider our little village to be idyllic, and it is in a way, it is not at all quiet here, really, if one pays attention. There is always the background noise of machinery, to which one simply grows numb after a time. As is so often the case, when one doesn’t attend to the background noise in one’s life until it is suddenly gone, I most often am aware of this noise in retrospect, when stepping out of the car when arriving at a truly wild place, for instance, far from the nearest roadway or town.

I wonder what low level of noise pervades my inner village, of which I am unaware until it is suddenly gone, and which hinders my ability to hear the subtler song of my life.  Anxiety, fear, neurosis, anger, negativity covering over loneliness, sorrow, grief— even joy and wonder.  I wonder how I might be invited to awaken to them too, welcome each into my awareness. And I wonder if, as I want to label these particular seemingly obtrusive morning sounds as unwelcome and not-belonging, I also label my own less-than-beautiful inner groanings as not belonging to me- some purer version of me that I imagine might be possible, if only. Might my perception be the problem—of good or bad, true or false (self), holy or profane? I could choose to be grateful for those – as clearers of debris, bringers of fuel, repairers of the broken.

It rains more steadily now, drowning, just somewhat, the noise that is still here. Oh, I really do hate the noise of the machine, let me at least be honest if I cannot be pure. The pure tones of that morning thrush are now a mere remnant fragment of dawn.

Perhaps it is a low lying depression that angers me.

Perhaps it is nothing at all wrong with me. Perhaps it is ok to be .

It rains harder now.

For a brief lapse in the noise, a bit ago, I caught the faint chorus of American toads calling in the pond below.  Yesterday morning, out walking at dawn, I stopped by their watering hole, delighting in the filling up of that throaty sac, the trilling vibration, their jumping upon one another’s backs in their own frenzy of spring awakening. A few young turtles, floating dead man style, their four limbs dangling from still bodies, their heads above water just far enough to catch a breath, were up and about there as well. That pond was bone dry a week ago. At each winter’s the property owner releases the dam, which  holds the meandering creek back,  in order to do his inspections and repairs to his swimming platforms. The stripped naked mudflat remains an eyesore  for several months. I am perennially saddened at the seeming disregard for flora and fauna his actions indicate, as if the lake is a commodity for human consumption alone.  And though that interference distresses me, it also delights me to see how quickly life returns with its filling each spring. It takes so little, really, to thrive – a muddy pond of trapped water will suffice. Perhaps they have adapted better than I. 

I recently heard Barrack Obama say that ‘If you have a community that stands behind what you stand for, you’ll have more power”, so is it a powerless thing that fills me with negativity, or a lost sense of belonging?  A yearning for a shared ethos? The need to let go?…adapt in order to thrive in this muddy pond of trapped water.

As I walked along in yesterday’s dawn, I felt as if I was inside an art film- the sounds up close, amplified by some internal microphone within me—the tinkling of a windchime like a call to prayer, the rush of wind high in the trees calling me to pause and watch the dance, the squish of mud beneath my boot rendered in slow motion as a reminder to tread softly, the sudden surprise of a deer in my path evoking a quality of hidden, yet always present and accessible, enchantment. These too are accessible to me if I listen below the noise. Perhaps there are multiple layers then. This deepest well of grief also glistening.

That walk felt profoundly healing to me to be out of my house at dawn.

This morning it rains, much too hard for a wander.

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