listening for the voice of Love

I woke this morning, listening. Initially, sometime shortly after 5, the ears of my heart were tuned to the cacophony of birdsong, breaking open the dawn. A full month since I last wrote about their riotous welcome to the day, as the dawn has inched its way ever closer to the coming stillness of the solstice, the chorus has grown, even as the window over my head has been flung wide open. Again, this morning, the dawn was drenched with rain, a steady beat that had accompanied my dreams throughout the night, as it was now accompanying my waking, the song, the earth. Quenching it all. Washing the last of spring’s pollen from the treetops, bathing newly born seedlings. At least, that is what I heard.

Now the cardinal remains. The woodthrush. One noisy robin. The drip-dripping from saturated limbs.

Perhaps I could say I have been listening to the earth here, close to home, in a new way this season. Confinement has made me more intimate with her, and there have been moments of delight in what has been discovered, some of it hidden in plain view – the young dogwood that has been growing in the cohosh patch, at the base of the bird feeder, likely deposited there by those hungry songsters, now as tall as my shoulder. How could it be I’d not noticed her until now?  Then there has been that which has been uncovered, buried beneath mats of invasive species, waiting for the light—Canada mayflowers, the heart shaped leaves of common violets, a tiny sprig of holly.  Is this also a kind of listening? This uncovering of what lies beneath, awaiting attention.

Attention is everything. Nothing else is needed. I am trying to trust that. Again.

Two nights ago, I tuned in to a conversation on the topic of listening. And as I listened, what was uncovered in me, which has perhaps been covered over by my own creeping mat of time, was the exquisite sacredness of the Unknown and Unknowable. Framed in the language of mystery, I was reminded that the depths of life are always unknowable— the depths of myself, the depths of another, the depths of this experience, the depths of the sacred, the depths of the meaning of it all—all of it a mystery that I can never fully know, or name, or understand, or begin to control.  

Alongside, wedded if you will to, those blessed reminders of the profound sacredness of life, stood the reality of my humanity. Human, of the earth. Humble.. tangible…palpable…visible…and somehow mysteriously growing, right here where my feet are planted in the earth of life. I was reminded that to be human is to be humble, and that this humility of knowing must also, always, walk with me to those whom I love (and even, especially perhaps, to those whom I struggle to love). I was reminded that I cannot possibly know –indeed it is hubris to assume so– or name or control or judge the mystery that is unfolding within the other and their experience of life. I cannot know what is right for them, what they should think or feel, how they should live or move or have their being.

There is nothing to fix.

I know sometimes I have acted as if ‘fixing’ is an aspect of love.  Fixing is not the same thing as healing, though. Fixing assumes something is broken. Healing assumes something is intact. Perhaps- only perhaps- healing might require an uncovering of that innate wholeness, that self-integrity, a restoring of that which is buried.  Perhaps at times we can help pull away the mat of self-denial and self-loathing that has been laid upon another (or, more appropriately, our own selves) by human hands or by life itself.  But perhaps it also is hubris to think we know what help is needed. Would not the earth outside my window find a way to thrive without my hands? And who am I to decide how she should look? Or be. To name what is beauty and what is scourge.

But if I listen, rather than do. Receive the other, rather than give (advice, help, etc), trusting that to receive the other—to receive them as whole and wise and sacred and gifted and utterly unknowable— is to give them the gift of themselves. It is to honor the innate sacredness of their life.

And so, I woke this morning listening. Listening to my worry, listening to my fear, in that cacophony that woke me from my sleep. Worried about a loved one.  I wondered if my love too often is misguided, my longing for the other’s wholeness too often stripping them of their own integrity. I wanted to fall beneath that anxiety into the arms of trust, into the arms of the Unknowable, to let myself be small in the arms of that great mystery. Break the pattern of covering over the blessedness of the other’s mysterious beauty with my ‘fixes’.  

And so I listened.

Not for a solution. Not to the current unraveling experience. But to my own fear, seeking the gentler truth that lay beneath it, that is empathy, that is communion, that is Love. And agreeing to let go, again, of doing— something to alleviate the fear in me, or to pacify the other (is that pacification actually a silencing? The opposite of truly listening?) — choosing instead to ‘simply’ Be With. And to Let it also simply Be.

Let the storms bring down the deadwood, crash into my shelter. Let the rains drench the exposed. Let the sap run, the pollen feed, the seeds fall, the seedlings get trampled or eaten, the weeds grow, the wildness of life do its work. Let it Be.

In this place I am/we are Held. By the deeper mystery within, which I trust can hold it all.  Unseeable, but intuited, Wisdom that knows better than I the hows and whys of Love and Life. In stillness alone, in this great undoing, can I rest. Can I behold. Can I hear the voice of Love.

Can I see the young dogwood growing strong, hidden in plain view.

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.

melt my heart

Dear Loves,

This morning I viewed a short film of the ice breaking up on a northern lake, crystals piling atop one another, pushed by the flow of the season, winds of change. A mere 73 seconds of video and I felt my heart breaking up in a way I hadn’t fully acknowledged was happening in the busy-ness of these last few weeks, my own acting ‘as if’ a way of distracting me, perhaps, from deeper feelings, keeping them submerged, if you will, beneath the ice.

“What are you afraid you would feel if you didn’t distract yourself with your busyness?” Of course, the other side of that sentiment is that sometimes acting ‘as if’, moving our bodies, moves what is stagnant and breaks open dammed up channels, allowing passion for life once again to flow.

It’s hard to justify allowing myself to feel this as a loss, when it seems so petty next to what some are experiencing, but I must acknowledge that this is a visceral part of me now, this northland that has burrowed itself into my heart so much so that it is I who feel uprooted. This morning’s video re-minded my heart of its home.

Yesterday, all the chores of dehydrating and seed planting packed away, I felt the emptiness of ‘what now?’ I spoke to the Red Cross volunteer recruiter on the phone a few days ago, trying to muster up the passion that had driven me to make contact a few weeks ago, though, if I am honest, that flare seems to have died down. Maybe if I blow on the embers a bit… alas, I fear(know?) that at this stage of my life, I am water, not fire.

My sister mentioned to me this week, as she experienced her own grief around a particular loss that has hit one of her children, that she now understood how my pain felt in her body. ( I, as you know, have also been filled with sorrow and fear around my own children’s lives.) Her words struck me and have stuck with me, the bodily way that we feel/know empathy, separate from our thinking. No matter how compassionate we are, it seems, we can keep ourselves distant by living too much in our heads— that heart/head split that I wrote about earlier this week.

I’ve also been re-minding myself this week that what I ‘know’ in my head is really so little. This is a reminder to remain humble, on one hand, to stay out of the hubris of ‘right and wrong’, either/or overthinking, needing to have all the answers, and to continue feeling on the other.

Perhaps knowledge is power, but I seriously wonder if it can also be Love. It usually doesn’t end up feeling that way to me, and when I begin to feel too much power, I wind up being brought back to my knees, where, as Etty might say, ‘someone suddenly kneels down in the corner of my being, and that someone , the one who kneels down, is myself’.

The act of kneeling in humility, in submission, in my own smallness, is suddenly a redeemed act for me. For so long in my life, it felt like being forced to my knees, humiliated. Now it feels like grace. Marrying that humility to tenderness, to sorrow, to profound love, to these feelings of being overcome with the sacredness of it all has felt redemptive. It is beyond human capability to fully take in the mystery of life while standing up. Perhaps this is also what kneeling in the canoe does for me.

And so, back to this feeling breaking through in me this morning, my heart breaking along with that ice. The longing in me for that place—and if I am honest, the feeling of utter sacredness that place evokes in my body. Is that a kind of empathy too? Is empathy with place a thing? Does that melting of the ice remind my body of all that comes alive in me when I am there? Is not one definition of spirituality, ‘that which brings you alive’?

As the moose thirsts for water…

The ice breaks, pushed by wind, currents of flow, thrust

Sheet over sheet, sharp shards

Piling up next to obstacles


The tinkling of crystals, like cubes in a glass quenching

As birdsong returns, and thawed frogs

chorus of love is erupting

Soon enough there will be flowers

seeds of hope

Dear Loves,

Still dwelling in the midst of this great unknown, I am drawn to check in with you again this morning. I find myself this morning wondering, as you look back upon this time in history, if this will be seen as a turning point in the human story, or if these days will fade into time, a blip felt only by those of us who are living it. Will this change us? If so, how? Will we grow more fearful, isolationist and protective? Or will we come to more fully understand our communion with and responsibility to one another…and the earth.

In recent days, I have found myself turning my own attention more and more inward, close to home, away from the national news and the sloothsayers, opening that window to the world for just brief moments here or there, so as to stay aware, but not obsessed nor overtaken by the odor of fear that wafts in through that opened window. Perhaps what I detect in the air is the smell of death… not literal death, though that is happening too… but the death of a culture.  I wonder what will grow from that decomposition , what future way of being – more compassionate, more careful/tender with our choices and our actions- might blossom from this, our own potential spring awakening.

I am aware that there are those who are protesting, feeling their individual rights are being stripped- their right to act freely according to their own sense of what is right or necessary to do. “Give me liberty or give me death” seems to be their motto, as if liberty to act in whatever ways we want has ever been what it means to be fully human. The truth is we have never been truly free to act with abandon in such a way, especially when our actions do harm (which, in the thorny paradox of life, they always do—something always dies so that we might live). We have only acted as if that liberty were true, been unwilling or unable to see how our choices for self so often negate anothers—human or other.  Of course, I also can see how some of these ones feel as if the government’s overarching decision to shut down is negating their own right to life—including their own basic human right to food and shelter (Although theoretically that is being provided for them during this exceptional time, is their ability to be able to do so in the future being destroyed in the process?) I realize it is always too easy for folks (myself included) who live lives of relative ease, who don’t have to worry about cash flow, to judge those who must make choices that fly in the face of our (and sometimes their own) ideals.

Life is always a dance such as this. Some may pretend it is not, for a while at least, the powerful moreso, I imagine, than the powerless. This is the universal dance of life, this dance of birth and death.  Of east and west.  Of freedom and commitment. Of individual and community. Of us AND them.  We are not separate beings, able to be rent free from one another, and the world supporting us, without consequence. We hold one another up or we fall together. How to maintain balance within that dance, grace-fully, seems to be the universal human quest of ages. How to embrace our freedom within life’s constrictions.

Again, mostly, as I mentioned, I have been choosing to focus my attention up close. I’ve noticed that if I broaden that gaze too widely –at world leaders’ decisions or media rantings about those decisions or apocalyptic forecasts– I begin to feel lost, anxious, even helpless. It feels like focusing too much upon fear and death. Perhaps in narrowing my focus I can grasp onto some sense of hope? Perhaps I am ‘choosing life’. Or perhaps this is merely acceptance — of my smallness, knowing that I cannot truly change, control, or even have much impact at all on something so large as a nation. It’s rather like accepting one’s smallness in the face of the universe, or the laws of nature, or of God, if you will. The alternate, to rail against it,  seems an exercise in futile despair. My only choice seems to be, in this case, to Live and to Be Love up close… and to trust that this kind of Love spreads exponentially too, like the proverbial ripples in the pond, like Ghandi’s Be the Change.

I have been thinking a lot about ‘facts’ too, a word that is being bantered about these days, often alongside the words, ‘false’ and ‘fake’. As if, if we had the absolute true facts, we would know what to do, how to think, what to believe, how to feel. Yet, I know that basing one’s actions upon facts can justify any ideal, any belief, any action or feeling. Facts contradict—even true ones. It is a fact that people are dying from this disease. It is also a fact that people are losing their livelihoods, unable to feed their families. It was a ‘fact’ that purity of race was being degraded a century ago, too. It is a fact that farming degrades the earth. It is also a fact that it nurtures us. To live one’s life based upon facts alone sets up a false rationalism, stresses a dichotomy between the head and the heart. Perhaps we need less to ‘check’ our facts, and more to ‘check’ our hearts. How do we ‘use’ the information taken in to our heads and apply our humanity—our wisdom and compassion- to that understanding. This is also a perennial challenge.

I wonder how you are balancing these in the future, my child. Have you figured it out? Have you grown into your humanity—grown deeper your roots, been less concerned about the growth of your crown, perhaps?

Which brings me back to the present. These roots I am nurturing in me. As I wrote about the odor wafting in the window earlier, I had to smile at myself, for last week I carried a dozen or so bags of compost in the back of my car to my son’s home, where I have begun planting a garden. (hmmm…planting these seeds in my son’s soil… that feels meaningful). The odor inside that car, windows closed against the still chilly spring air, was potent. All of that decomposing humus I was carrying with me, to lay in the new bed. Death nurturing hope— hope for new growth, for blossoms, for fruit, for nurture.

I have noticed that the act of planning a garden fulfills some need in me, the pouring over of plotplans and seed catalogues establishing a framework within which a vision for the future can unfold—in its own way and its own time. I cannot control the weather that will befall it, but I can tend it, nonetheless. I’ve also noted the similarity between this season of planning and planting with previous ones of planning and planting seeds for backcountry canoe trips. The planning of routes like the planning of beds, the planting of seeds and spreading of compost like the preparation and dehydrating of food (which I have been also pouring myself into in earnest during these weeks of living close to home, having prepared now enough meals to carry Don and myself into the backcountry for 2 months, if that possibility should ever unfold for us) Both are acts of love whose hope for fruition lies somewhere in the future. The dream of that future brings joy in the present. The imagining of that juicy ripeness, or that place of deep peace and intimacy, makes the work of the present a pleasure.

And I wonder /hope if that is what we might be doing in our world today. The opportunity is here, to plan and to plot, to plant and to tend, a dream for the future for you. I pray that we nurture it well.

harvest and hope – sharing small bounties

Dear Loves,

It is April 16 2020, about a month into this new reality the world has been thrust into, also about a month into spring. It’s been an early spring this year, after a scant winter, for us. In some ways, I wonder if it would’ve been easier to practice this self-isolation in that more appropriate season, winter, when hibernation and burrowing and curling up are a natural part of life’s cycle, although, at least with the early spring weather we are able to replenished by the hope of spring awakenings, of sun on our faces, of fresh breezes, of sprouts and buds popping, of bird and peeper song.

This is, however, the reality here for me. For others, who are trapped in their apartments in the cities, or inside of their own trauma, in external or internal landscapes devoid of such hope, that is not so, although small wonders exist everywhere if you have eyes to see them. This morning I read a poem about saving an ant in the midst of the helplessness of doing nothing.  But there are also are griefs and sufferings, big and small, stress and fear exacerbating them all, which make it too hard to see.

I have witnessed the way loved ones have less patience in one breath- a ‘shortness’ of breath perhaps -and deeper forgiveness in the next. I have witnessed wide swings from hopeless despair to wild possibility. I have noticed the digging into new projects (literally in some cases, as back yards are being turned into gardens) and I have noticed the laying aside of dreams (and the inability to get out of bed because of that).  I have witnessed falling apart and pulling together. I have heard anger and tears, and once or twice, laughter. I have read accounts of our potential stark new reality that seem to reach out from the page to pull my heart into my gut, and stories of potential reconstructions that fill me with joy.

Perhaps this is the way of undoing.

I haven’t exactly been ‘undoing’, and I accept that as part of the cycle of ‘undoing’ for me. Not right or wrong, just me. I’m trying to pay attention lightly – to both the world outside and the one inside—not to go into full denial or dissociation from reality, but also not to wallow in it. To notice gently, as in, ‘ Oh, I see you. IT’s ok’

On Easter Sunday afternoon, I drove from home to home of my children, dropping off care packages for the grandchildren, offering a small dollop of sourdough starter to the adults. As I packaged it up, I had the thought that this is the exponential growth that we might perhaps carry forth from this time of dire warnings of the exponential growth of a deadly virus. Perhaps this is also a time which will ferment in us a world that might nurture us all, a love that shares even its small bounties.

These last few days, I have been baking that bread. My first attempt was far from perfect, dense but tasty. I am learning as I go, and that is ok too. We all are learning again how to be. I’ve also experimenting with new dinner recipes and trying out new recipes for the dehydrator – coffee cherry smoothies, butternut risotto, scrambled eggs with polenta. Dozens and dozens of meal packs are stacking up in the overflowing chest freezer for that canoe trip that one day will happen. The kitchen at day’s end (and sometimes that is well after dark) is a disaster.

Looking at my kitchen, I understand that sometimes there is nurture that comes from within disaster too. Indeed, a book that is now in the mail for me to receive, is entitled “Paradise from Hell, The Extraordinary Communities that Arise from Disaster’, by Rebecca Solnit, touted as the ‘freshest, deepest, most optimistic accounts of human nature’.  I took a call this week from the Red Cross Volunteer recruiter, following through with that intense stirring in me to be of service somehow. It seems the greatest need in my area is in disaster response. How we respond is important, being there for one another, holding hope when the other cannot.

I have been pulling invasives at home and planning the new garden at my son’s. (hmmm, now that sentence brings me pause. Is that what is happening in our world also? Have Invasive human lifestyles overrun our cultures, over-competing, wreaking havoc with the balanced ecosystem required for our innate human nature to flourish? Can we start over- plant a new garden? ). And I have been pausing each day for an hour of yoga and meditation, in an unexpected new symbiosis of mutual support that has unexpectedly developed in my desire to support my daughter, who offers these classes.

While cutting the butternut (an organic grown one I received from a local farmer) to roast for the risotto), I scooped out the seeds, laid them to dry on a towel in the warmth of the kitchen. These 2, food and seeds for the future, harvest and hope, struck me in that moment as an icon with which to pray, a prayer that is being whispered with my hands.

And now, as rambling and unedited as this morning free flowing jotting down of my thoughts might be, I’m going to leave it in chaos, not clean it up just yet—the garden is calling— trusting that it is a gift, both messy and blessed.

humble hope

Dear Loves,

Easter Sunday has arrived and I awaken thinking about hope.

In the days since I last wrote, my mood has lifted.  Perhaps that has come about simply because I have withdrawn from reading overmuch about the pandemic, which fills me with worry about the future of my children’s lives, with the what if’s of the unknown. I want to be realistic, to face the truth and not hide my head in the sand. Yet, in today’s media climate it is so difficult to sort the truth from the doomsayers. So many of our news sources, on both sides, are tilted towards  a negative bias, reporting only what is terribly wrong with the world from their point of view, that it’s become impossible to not get sucked into their soul draining vortex. Being an empathetic soul does not serve me well in that arena. I feel that negativity as despair. Perhaps despair is indeed what lies beneath their negative world view. No hope in anything.

So, I have taken a little break, peeking just for a glance each day, but not letting the onslaught barrel in through that open door to overtake my house. Still, my heart(h) does not wish to grow cold. Nor do I wish to carry on as if real suffering is not a part of this unfolding human story, but to maintain a balance.

Earlier this week, these balancing words flowed from my pen “I must exhale the hope of transformation even as I breathe in these tragic stories. I must make space for both sorrow and hope in my heart, be willing to behold both terror and beauty, to hear the wailing of death and of birth, to cry out the same from my throat’

And so, throughout this holy week I have been dehydrating camping meals. As if. As if a canoe trip this fall might be possible (the spring trips have already been aborted). As if finding that place of wholeness and healing, of beauty and belonging, of undivided love, of joy and peace, is within reach.

And I have also been sewing masks, as if we might need them for some time, while listening to books about human tragedies of the last century (of all things, these are the ones that became available on my library audible books!) One of them was set during the great dust bowl that devastated hope in the midwest of the United States during the 1930’s. The other tells the story of orphans who were taken from their unwed mothers during the 1950’s, the unadopted ones committed to asylums because the Quebec government would pay the Catholic Church to house them in mental hospitals but did not financially support orphan homes. Last night, my husband and I watched a film that told the story of Native American Residence (assimilation) ­schools in Canada through the eyes of one young boy, who suffered their abuse from 1960-1974, and its aftermath.

We have endured so much.

Yesterday, we tilled a new garden at my son’s new house. He and his wife moved into their home the 1st of February, just before things began to unravel. They both are still able to work- one from home, the other in the hospital – for now. Even as I plant the seeds, I bury in the soil of my heart the worry about their future. Will a nonprofit farmland preservation organization be part of our future economy? Will sports or schools reopen (the daughter-in-law is an athletic trainer, contracted work provided by the local hospital’s sports medicine department. Temporarily she is being used by the hospital for other types of work)

Still, I planted seeds, trusting they will grow. As if. As if the house and its land will remain in their hands.

My daughter, apartment bound in Chicago, has begun dreaming of opening an urban wellness center – yoga, café, bnb, healing arts, planting her own seeds of hope. Will person’s have expendable income for such a place? Will yoga studios, with persons lying 3 feet away from one another while exhaling deeply, be reopening? Will the Stretch Lab, which has been a large portion of her seed money (and her sustenance), where she works one on one with clients, in close physical contact, reopen for business?

Another son and his wife work in the restaurant industry. Before this all began, they signed a contract to buy a new home, downsizing even then to ease their overwhelming financial burden. That new home represented so much hope for them, dreams of family time unstressed by 60 hour work weeks and keeping up with the Jones’. Their mortgage lender is now scrambling to figure out how to approve the sale on unemployment compensation….

‘Will schools reopen in the fall’? is another question that is being bantered. What will happen to all of the children whose parents might be called back to work (and those children whose parents must work even now—in healthcare, food stores, or other essential services) if there is no school for them to attend during the day?

But we all go on, as if. As if travel into the backcountry will be possible for us. As if restaurants and schools will be able to reopen. As if sporting events will resume.  As if expendable income for nonprofits and wellness centers or big building projects (another son is a project manager for a company that manufactures commercial solar installations) will be present. As if persons will be comfortable being face to face again. (ok, confession, I read a NYTimes article that filled my heart with dread about these questions)

Behaving ‘as if’ is not the same as hope, really. In some way, ‘as if’ assumes a re-turn, back to the ways things were. Hope is a different animal. Hope assumes you cannot see what is coming. Hope imagines the unseeable, without specifics of shape. Hope does its best to let go of fear and fall into trust, not blindly, but humbly.

Humility feels appropriate (of course it always is). Humility says we do not know, because we are too small to see over the top of what feels like a monolithic obstacle, but we walk forward one step at a time, nonetheless. Humility accepts that we cannot control, we never really could, but we can Love.

We are all being stripped of Ego.

Humility begs me not to think so much, to get out of my head and into my body. To let my Love flow and grow from there.

Humility. Human. Humus.  Of the earth. It is there that I plant my seeds.

beside still waters

Good morning, love

Its warm enough this morning to move out onto the porch with my coffee. A gentle thunderstorm rolled through overnight. I heard the rumble as if it was high above the house and then the rain began to tumble. I imagined it as a mother squeezing out her rag over the head of a bathing child, or a sick one, and I received that blessing.

We are all needing a mother right about now. I think of the Dr Suess book, Are You My Mother?, all of us having fallen from the tree into this strange new world. Of course, I don’t have one of those. Few women of my age do. We are the mothers now, called to place those cloths upon foreheads, to encircle sobbing bodies in our embrace, to soothe with songs.

The birds offer their song to me this morning. I do not know their names, cannot ever seem to retain the songs I learn from one spring to the next, save the White Throated Sparrow, beloved harbinger of my Sweet Canada. There is a redbellied woodpecker out there with his vibrato laden call. The tree he chose 2 springs ago, outside my bedroom window, the one I’d climb out onto the porch roof to watch, has lost its limb. It came down upon the porch roof, breaking some boards and bending the gutter last fall, springing us from bed. The water drips from that still-bent metal, beads of water lined up on its edge like birds on a wire.

The steady, but slowing, drip drip of the rain, still dropping from the tree limbs overhead also soothes, accompanying the birdsong with it staccato beat. Last evening, taize songs, shared by the Eucumenical Community and retreat house at Richmond Hill on the computer, did the same, (likely stimulating my parasympathetic nervous system, the yogis and meditators might say). Music soothes the savage within me, the raw edges smoothed. I hauled my flute and my dulcimer, down from the attic last week, intuiting this need to self-soothe within me. Times like these, I miss my piano.

The water in the lake below is doing its annual withdrawal, coerced to do so by the owner of the ‘concession’, who drains it each spring for a month or so, ostensibly to make his inspection of diving platforms and decks. So nothing grows in it, is what I suspect. The water fowl, attracted each spring to its promise, suddenly left to flounder, will soon depart, though last year a family of wood ducks, nesting in one of the trees at the time of the draining, no doubt, survived to delight.  Life finds a way. This year, I’ve not yet seen the huge old snapper, who is often stranded in the mud, wallowing. Perhaps we are all like him this spring, wondering who pulled the plug and why? Will it be good for our ecosystem, this reorientation to our world? I pray it is so.

Without that water to soothe, my body made its own way yesterday, as if directed by some inner compass, along a tiny path-lined, skunk cabbage crammed, stream to the spring fed frog pond up the hill. At my approach, the tadpoles, already fat, darted for cover in the leaf litter at the edge of the pond . I had forgotten about the springwell at its entrance, walked around to gaze into the circular capture, remembering my own well of grief. Here, its overflowing created a home of sorts, artificial though it might be, for tadpoles and eventual frogs, and a few disposed of goldfish that survived the mild winter. Deer and small mammals come to quench their thirst at the edge, as do humans. Below the exit a stray cat, black and white and fat as a skunk, curled up in the sun next to the emptying flow. I imagined him soothed by the sound of the mini cascade. Someone placed a bench for human beings, to still themselves by those quiet waters, I crawled upon it like a child onto her mother’s lap.

Perhaps my own overflowing well might do the same, offer comfort, peace, communion. Soothe the savage like a song, offer a cool cloth to the forehead or a lap for curling into. May my pouring forth be like that well, offering life, not like that draining dam, emptying, the depression left behind devoid of life.

The water continues to drip from overhead, from the spouts, though the sky, peeking through the breaks in the trees, is azure blue. The dulcimer beckons. I’d like to teach myself the song, The Water is Wide. It will be good to give my heart something to sing.

this well of grief

‘I now affirm that I will look deeply into myself without fear’

Dear love,

These last days I have been noticing it more, this deep sadness in me. I mentioned it one of the last times I wrote, the way suddenly a sadness would sweep through me like Rumi’s broom, such that I would have to just go sit down with it. So it’s been knocking for some time.

The yoga classes I am taking are slow flows, restorative, with much time for stillness built in. Throughout them I am often on the verge of tears, as if my cup is full of them always, but somehow the busy-ness of my mind at other times drains them off enough that I don’t feel the nearness, how close they are to overflowing. I picture a spring, perhaps, filling up from beneath with no place to spill itself into in these days, to flow into life-giving rivulets. My busy-ness gives them some escape, but not enough to keep up with the backlog.

David Whyte is offering recitations of his poetry, snippets. A few days ago, I noticed that the one he was sharing was “The Well of Grief”. I didn’t pause my scrolling to listen to it that day, but it rises in me this morning, I know it well.

“Those who will not slip beneath the still surface on the well of grief, turning down through its black water to the place we cannot breathe, will never know the source from which we drink, the secret water, cold and clear, nor find in the darkness glimmering, the small round coins, thrown by those who wished for something else.”

I awoke this morning to snippets of some nightmares. In one, I had gone to get my hair cut, and was tipping the stylist afterwards. I miscalculated the amount of the tip, and was digging through my purse to correct my error, my brain trying to sift through the calculations as I did so, when the stylist ripped the purse from my hands and angrily helped herself to what she rightly deserved. A smallish nightmare, if you will.  In the second, my daughter was screaming, ‘help me’. I heard it muffled at first, couldn’t make it out, but then ‘saw’ that her mouth was gagged with a towel . That one got me out of bed.

Perhaps I need something to get me out of bed in the morning. Perhaps there is too much stillness in these days, nothing to pour myself into. Nothing to lift my energy. Yesterday’s ending meditation in the Yoga practice invited me to imagine fire in my belly. It was difficult for me to find that flame. Perhaps the ‘opposite’ of stillness is not busy-ness, but passion.

But I cannot deny that there is grief. Is it merely my own, I wonder? Or am I feeling the collective? Is this a reflection of my empathetic soul, or is that a cop-out? I am worried, that is true, about loved ones—their sorrows spilling into me. So many losses – income, homes, dreams, security, life itself. Last night I learned that a young mother, in a freak accident, lost her leg. Of course, these sorrows and losses are always and forever with us in this thing we call life, its just that they are so much more cumulatively present in these times. And though I know that such losses feel as if they won’t be overcome, they will, and all will be well, in ways unimaginably so. Still, this day, here and now, contains much sorrow – so much that it overflows, perhaps.

Do I need to get out of my house (literally—and perhaps step out of Rumi’s guesthouse as well)? The walks in the woods help for as long as I am out there, (I’ll share those tender photographs with you) – the earth is sending flowers, but I am snippy with my partner. This sorrow does not slow him down. He doesn’t understand this, gives it momentary recognition, but is distracted/busy in his own way.  How can I expect him to understand that which I cannot name?

And so this morning’s enneagram invitation in my inbox , ‘I now affirm that I will look deeply into myself without fear’ feels a challenge. I realize I don’t really want to return to that place. I have worked so hard to heal myself, I don’t want to return to woundedness. I don’t want that to be my identity. I don’t want to be a burden.

I don’t want to feel this.

I don’t want to pathologize this sadness within me. Perhaps sadness is the appropriate response to the world right now. Perhaps I need only to sit with it, acknowledge its right to be here, now, welcome it onto my lap and let it cry.…….

Perhaps wildflowers will grow along this trail of tears… or that skunk cabbage I revisited yesterday, with its scent of death somehow bringing freshness to this flooded forest floor, a swath of brightness, the buzz of life.



After posting this entry, I returned to Facebook, to share it there as well. Greeting me atop the page were these words, reminding me how to embody the wisdom of my years. So, yes to this too. Both/and.

“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.

What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.

Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.”

~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes

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