Wilderness Homegoings

I have been invited by Oasis, a local-to-me contemplative prayer and spiritual companioning community, to share some reflections from my recent experience in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota.

This year, we were not to be permitted across the Canadian border. A deep sense of loss filled me, yet I struggled with the decision to simply supplant yet another ‘experience’. It felt forced at best, and like an unwillingness to face/be with my emptiness at worst. But after a few false starts and changes of plans, we finally took the plunge and headed to northern Minnesota, for most of the month of September. In that place, I lost myself in presence and in Love, and experienced a simpler, inconspicuous, deep sense of belonging.  

These posts are just a few samplings of our days spent (quite literally) quenching our thirst from her waters.

If you would like to read the first in this series of reflections, please follow the link below.

https://mailchi.mp/oasismin/prayernote-7900353?e=[UNIQID]

a shift in center

I have come to the realization that I live too much of my days, stuck in my head. (I suspect that social media encourages that too, inside that virtual space where the whole world is redacted to content — ideas, images– bombarding my mind.) I am a lover of ideas, a philosopher at heart, perhaps. I get excited by the synapses of connections in my brain from one thought to another. But I can get lost in that tangle too.

Recently, it dawned on me that at least a portion (perhaps a large one) of my seeking understanding is in order to feel safe. If I can understand the ‘other’, get beneath what makes them tick, I can fit them into my heartspace, where I ‘know’ that goodness is at the heart of who they are. I can find compassion. I can feel safe from harm.

I can think a thing to death this way though (following one well-written article to another seeking understanding). I suspect I can also think in order not to feel—pain, fear, grief– or at least in order to soothe it.

These past years the word, humility, keeps redeeming itself in me. Like many, my relationship with the concept was once closely aligned with being diminished, dishonored, belittled, disrespected — ‘humiliated’. But, coming face-to-face too with the realization that my thirst for knowledge sometimes makes the other feel diminished, with the realization that there are so many ways to understand and to see, which may all be true, (all ways are not my way), and mostly with the self-realization that I use knowledge and mastery to make me feel ‘safe’ and in control (especially during times of chaos), is inviting me to let go of ‘knowing’. Besides, is a love that is born from knowledge truly Love? (only if i can understand you, can I love you?).

Yesterday, I was reminded of Mystery, invited to center myself again there, in the great Unknowing. I don’t, nor could i possibly ever, know it all, understand it all, see it all. But perhaps I can hold the Mystery– of life, of humanity, of this earth– in my heart. And I can dwell there in wonder and Love.

It seems we keep arguing facts. We keep arguing perspectives. We keep loving only what we can see from where we stand. It is the fever pitch of crisis (real or imagined) that keeps us from quieting and finding our mutual center. I’m going to take a breather from that and Breathe.

I’ll be headed out into the wilderness for most of September, so that should help. When I’m out there, my brain gets a natural rest. I am not thinking so much as being. And being in Love. I am present without judgement of right or wrong, good or bad. No part of my brain is analyzing or caught in the tangle of chaos. It is a natural reset for me, which I dearly need this year especially. When I am there, I am simply there— the whole of me. Intact.

I wish for you too, to find such a space to nurture your heart and your wholeness.

Adieu

holding fast to Love

“Cherishing this evening’s evolution. First on the scene are the cicadas. Next enter the tree frogs, followed by katydids and screech owls. Every night it is the same. I am grateful for dependable evolutions.” -scratched in my journal while sitting on the porch last evening

A dear friend, who read yesterday’s post, mentioned that while she was at it, she’d also read the previous post Listening for the Voice of Love , and noted how the two created meaningful bookends for this summer. In June, I was sitting with the morning, listening to the cacaphonous prelude of birdsong breaking open the dawn, remembering that all of it is held by Love, mysteriously yet assuredly. Now, at summer’s close, I sit in the evening, listening to the fanfare of cicada, katydid, treefrog, and screech owl, acknowledging the terrible brokenness of our world.

Both are always true. And my pendulum swings from one knowing to the other, settling, when I am centered, in the middle, holding both extremes within my arc of vision, within my heart.

This morning, we sat together, this dear friend and I, with the words of Meister Eckhart.

“Even in the shadows of my life

where I often tremble in shame

You are present there as light

that ever shines without ceasing

and when I turn my heart to that darkness

I find that you were there,

shining, all along”

Turning to face the shadows of life can feel sobering, stark, bleak, desolate, daunting, overwhelming. It can fill me with despair, if I dwell only there. But if I refuse to look at it at all, I forget that Love is also there. I make Love, and my own heart, too small. I want to become more adept at doing both–remaining seated in Love and Hope and Goodness, while also seeing clearly and saying ‘this is wrong’

Still, I believe that my heart, while I trust that it is big enough to hold it all, needs to be tended carefully. How much fuel, and what type of fuel, I feed it can determine its health. Too many violent images and words and it recoils. Too much anger and it grows hard to protect its tender recesses. Too much toxic venom and it gets poisoned.

The internet and mass media, as we all know, can be a dangerous place into which to carry one’s open heart. Algorithmic formulas reinforce exponentially whatever it is we dip our toes into, and soon our vision of world is horrifically skewed. I have taken care to feed my heart in those places with the words and images of those who are seeking human goodness and integrity, so that those kinds of ideals, and so my perspective of humanity, exponentially grows in me, as Mr Rogers might say, to ‘look for the helpers’. Virtual ‘places’ like The Fetzer Institute, media offerings like Krista Tippet’s, OnBeing (specifically her conversations on civil discourse), Jonathan Haidt’s work on OpenMindedness, Positivity, and understanding the ‘other’, feed my heart goodness. These are not the ones making all the headlines (much like the helpers are not the ones making the news during any tragic catastrophe) but living, moving, and having my being with and among those whose work is Love grounds me in the hope of humanity.

Still, every 4 years or so, when the political season ramps up, in my seeking of knowledge and information, even in my seeking words of Hope onto which I might hitch my own, negativity inevitably filters through the cracks, the dam bursts and suddenly my heart is flooded with toxins.

A walk in the ‘real’ world usually helps. Encountering ‘real’ people – being kind, doing good, extending grace -restores me. Human to human conversations soothe. I suppose that’s why it was so very disconcerting for me, for so many of us, this summer to come face to face with the tangible, blatant, meanness of humanity, where suddenly, for instance, wearing a mask to protect my fellow human beings marks me as a target for scorn and public shaming. Even some very real human-to-human conversations hurt my heart. From whence did this anger spring?

Ok. With full self-awareness I recognize my discomfort with anger– mostly, I suppose, the way it comes out, more so than the actual human feeling. To say I FEAR anger is perhaps a more apt way of expressing my relationship to it. I fear it hitting me full brunt. And I recognize my dysfunctional (codependent?) conciliatory self-protective mechanisms and attempts to preempt it. Still, I have witnessed the effects of anger fueling the heart of those I love, the toxic way it changes the quality of their humanity and damages relationships. Right now in our culture, there seems to be alot of fuel out there.

So, how might my heart stay centered in Love — while seeing fully the injustices and brokenness. How might it look fully into those shadows (within and without) without being drawn into darkness in this season of my life, and of our collective lives. How might I listen, without sinking into despair, to the inevitable chorus of nightfall. How am I called to BE with it?

To ever shine? Perhaps. For me, this seems to be the calling of my heart, to hold its center, seeking goodness and light, so that I can see and hear the other while remaining true to my heart, to model the Hope for a society based in humankindness, which I wish to see become real in our world. BE the change. There are others whose calling in these days of strife will look different than my own– prophets, for instance– their gifts and passions different than my own. I celebrate these too. (see my comment on the previous post )

It sounds like such a small thing to do. To act with integrity, to not get swept away in this storm. To be content to be the proverbial pebble in the pond — modelling positivity and peace, touching those next to you with Love and Grace — can seem irrelevant in the midst of a tempest such as this. Perhaps it might be better to envision the integrity of one’s heart, then, as an anchor, holding firm.

As the season turns toward autumn, and the song unfolds, may we each continue to listen for the voice of Love in our midst.

PS. Last night I dreamt there was a black bear on my back, sleeping. I had to take care not to wake him as I found someone to help me disentangle him. He’d gotten tied up somehow in my backpack straps. When we inadvertently awaked him, he was quite gentle (though groggy) as he mouthed my hand (like a puppy) as I reached up over my shoulder to soothe him. So…. there’s that. (;

erosion control

Dear One,

It has been 2 months since I’ve written to you here. In the interim between then and now, this earth has continued to spin, in ways, if I am honest, that sometimes have felt wildly out of control (which of course is never in our control but, in the more typical absence of my need to pay attention to it, feels at least dependable.) And, of course, the earth IS fine, unaffected in its orbit by our human unravelings here in this middle swath of land, on this slip of a continent between her great oceans. A recent trip to a dark sky park (yes, we have to designate those here in the United States as we have obliterated our view of the sky so thoroughly with our 24-7 sense of urgency, efficiency, productivity and, of course, fear) lent a moment of perspective to the chaos ensuing closer to home. What feels so big is so very small.

Still, I pray that we have left you something that feels like home— home in the true sense of the word, meaning safety, comfort, nourishment, belonging, belovedness. That, rather than the devolution of human civilization we are experiencing, one based in human goodness is restored (if ‘restored’ is even the proper word. Perhaps ‘established’ is a better choice. No ‘re’ prefix at all. A dream of the future that does not pretend that life was ‘once’ anything better)

I won’t begin to try to recap the summer of 2020 for you here; I trust that history will unpack that for you. So, I will write to you from here, inside of my heart.

Today.

Today, it feels in my heart like human culture is in an epic battle between good and evil. As much as I disavow such dichotomic and hyperbolic statements, as much as I have worked on understanding the ‘other’, and on accepting my own ignorance, as much I seek to remain openminded, to stay seated in the center, I look around me today and I see on one side of this epic struggle in which we seem to be engaged, a call to decency and on the other, open hostility. (and, yes, I do ask myself what has happened in life to those who act out their frustrations in aggressive ways).

Oh, but perhaps what I am seeing is not one side as good and the other as evil, after all, for certainly there is hostile language and violent behavior on both sides of this chasm. We have become a hardened and antagonistic people, pointing fingers, scorning, and shaming the ‘other’, name calling and disparaging with vile language. Somehow that is now acceptable behavior in which to engage– part of the devolution which I see and feel. We are like petulant adolescents, rebelling, and as with teenagers, our very rudeness is celebrated. Others have ‘merely’ grown cynical, sarcastic, and untrusting of anything good, and so have devolved into apathy or selfish survivalism, feeling hopeless and powerless, looking out for only themselves. So, perhaps what I am witnessing from the center (if I can even make the pretentious assertion to be sitting there) looking out at the world, are 2 mirror images. Oh, how we must always take care to not become that which we say we oppose.

Still, it feels to me as if something has been eroded in our current culture. As if our sense of common decency, mutual respect, integrity, compassion, civility, cooperation, unity, dignity, integrity, trust, has disintegrated– and I wonder how we begin to restore those things. It feels as if something came along and clear cut an ancient forest of wisdom while we were not paying attention, and now the soil (soul) of our culture into which our roots were once firmly planted has been washed away. I’ve wondered how we can (or will) replant these things so that you, my granddaughters, will live in a world that is once again rooted in the hope and the goodness of humanity.

This is the crux of the current moment. What will win? The hope of a future based in human decency? Or the further exploitation of humanity at the expense of itself? Will we be able to halt this slide into the abyss?

On that same visit to the dark sky park, we also visited a century’s old steel viaduct, rising 300 feet above and reaching 2000 feet across the chasm it spanned, and which lay in a crumbled heap of rusting twisted metal at the base of that gorge, having succumbed at last to the winds of an F1 hurricane about a decade ago. Are these days in which we are living, this summer of 2020, going to prove a wind too strong for the tenuous, old bridge that has held our society together, no longer able to span the divide between 2 different ways of seeing the world and our place in it? Are we consumers, whose sole purpose is to use the earth and one another as commodity, with self-interest at the center? Is that the apex to which we are to ascend? Security in things? Or are we called to rise to something relational, the apex of which is compassion for our fellow human and other-than-human beings? (Perhaps apex is not the correct image for this, as humility and selflessness is a necessary bridge for this way of being together here with one another and with this planet, a laying oneself down.)

Someone recently asked me a hypothetical question. “How much money would it take for me to vote in the upcoming election for our current president?”, a man who has emboldened these baser human instincts in us (in my opinion) ? Their argument was that for, say, 50 million or so I could give you, my loves, a really good future. For me, that felt like imagining I could grow a beautiful, isolated garden for you to live in while the rest of the world surrounding you was a toxic wasteland — for that is my fear if we continue on this trajectory of undermining human goodness. But, life doesn’t work that way. To imagine that is possible is to forget the interconnectedness of life on this earth. You could never thrive in a despoiled world. I long for you a kind world, a cooperative world, a compassionate world, a thoughtful, hopeful, trustworthy world, where adults tell the truth and we trust that their intentions for us are noble.

Last summer, I read the book, The Wayfinders, written by anthropologist, Wade Davis. The most striking takeaway from that reading for me was contained in the introduction, where the author imagines human life on earth being destroyed down to a few dozen human beings, and with faith in the creativity and intelligence of the human animal, asserts that we would rebuild something completely new and different– not build back what was, rather through our prolific human gifts create new ways of doing culture. (He then goes on to explore some of the unique and diverse ways humans have actually crafted life on this earth). So, maybe, just maybe giving money to a few who would use that money to create something utterly new might affect the future in some positive and concrete, long-lasting way, except— again, we are NOT isolated beings in this place, and so the premise is flawed– my granddaughters would have their ‘riches’ in a disparaged and cruel world.

My visceral instinct, in the moment that the question was posed — the one asking how much money it would take to buy my vote — was such a strong, ‘no amount of money at all!”, but since then, I’ve pondered it quite a bit, from a variety of angles. How much money, for instance, would I need to offset this trajectory that has been initiated? How much good could I do with money? How many children could I educate? How much power might I wield to influence the movers and shakers? Still, the answer for me is ‘no’ because we don’t need a singular power (or money) on top, we need change from within. We need a shift not in wealth but in values. That’s what I think this election is about– asserting that shift from the power of money, from Money as God, to the power of soul. I pray for you, my child, that the shift has taken place.

Recently, I walked into an establishment in upstate PA where a bull’s eye target, with the faces of our state’s governor and the democratic presidential candidate at its center, was hung on the wall behind the cash register. How can it be that this is ok in our country? That our disrespect and hostility for one another is something to put openly on display like a badge (of dishonor)? How did our sense of human decency erode to this point? I believe our baser instincts have somehow been emboldened by leadership that preys upon our weaknesses.

My hope lies in this upcoming election, my child, that decency will rise up and we will choose it. When the opposing candidate speaks of dignity and decency and honor and integrity, when he refers to restoring the soul of our country, I feel hopeful again. I feel as if we can begin to replant seeds of goodness again in our country. I pray there are at least half of us who still long for goodness to prevail.

Yet, if I am honest, I also fear. I fear that the seeds that have taken root in our devastated soil have gained a chokehold, like an invasive species, and will be difficult to eradicate. Discontent and blind opposition (for the sake of opposition, it seems) are so rampant here. Violence and aggression (verbal and physical) seem to have taken hold as the only response to differing worldviews. Trust in our fellow human beings has been thoroughly undermined. Selfishness and ego rule. I fear what will be unleashed by those who do not ‘win’.

This is a bleak letter. Please know I have not given up on us. There are many, many human goodnesses that I see and know. And, of course, I continue to trust in the inherent goodness of humanity to rise up and overcome, to trust in the power of Love to overcome fear. Perhaps it is that hope which will replant itself in these eroded soils. Perhaps those seeds are hidden even now, dormant, waiting, underground, part of the bedrock itself.

The bleak outlook perhaps comes from stepping outside of my bubble. As a quiet introvert, it has perhaps too easy for me to stay inside my idealistic bubble, to remain thoughtful and hopeful rather than active, to turn inward and to not see. Then come these moments when I step out and take a look around. Recent forays have left me feeling stunned. (Perhaps it’s something like seeing a child whom you’ve not seen in a year or so and being struck by how large they’ve grown!) So it is perhaps even more striking for me to see how far we’ve devolved.

There are so many important issues we are contending with in our country right now….most of which speak on some level about the way we as a society care for one another, eg the human need for equity, the human need for healthcare, the need for a livable income (which means meeting basic human needs like shelter and food), the issue of humane justice in our immigration policies, the way we care for our earth, the epidemic of violence, and more. But WHO we are and who we are becoming is far more important than how we specifically address any one of these issues, for it is the underlying moral compass that guides these decisions that will determine our fate. The language we use matters to me, for it lies at the heart of our very humanity. Our language expresses our humanity and our hope. It defines us. It undergirds and informs the way that we approach life. When I hear words that speak the language of soul, of hope, of dignity, integrity, honor, empathy, compassion, I feel safe in your future.

Human decency matters. (and in my belief, it makes us so much safer than weapons and money) I pray it is not swept away in these torrents of change. I pray for your sake, that if it is, it will be deposited somewhere on your shores.

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.

.

incarnation

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.

Love-making.

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

Then

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.

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