Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Hugs, Chores, and All the Good Stuff for the New Year

When my children were little, we had a hug jar and a chore jar -- large, decorated Ball jars, that had little slips of paper inside with different kinds of chores and different kinds of hugs.  We got very creative as we invented different kinds of hugs to add to the jar, including everyone's favorite -- the Cha Cha hug. Each day after school, the kids would come home and draw a chore and the three of us would do that chore together and then each of us got to draw a hug out of the hug jar.  There would be hugs all around.  In our house, there were always more hugs than chores.  It was a daily ritual that highlighted for each of us that we have responsibilities, that doing them can be fun and so much easier when done together, and that there is a whole lot of love in our lives. 

By the time they were teenagers, the hug jar and the chore jar were collecting dust on a shelf in the family room.  But we started a new jar -- the fortune jar.  Every time we got Chinese food and opened our fortune cookies together, we would share the fortune, laugh a lot, and invariably those little slips of paper would end up on the floor, or in pockets.  I would find them on laundry day and put them, and the assorted toys and coins, in a dish near the washer.  One day I noticed an abundance of fortunes and put an extra Ball jar to use. This one was not decorated, but the rising level of fortunes felt like its own kind of art.  Eventually, fortunes were left on the table and added to the jar bypassing pockets and floor.  Sometimes I'd find the odd fortune here or there and add it to the jar.

And occasionally someone would walk by and fish one out when a bit of fortune was needed.  This jar did not provide a regular ritual, but one that could be called on when needed.

Today when I was online, I found a picture of something that sang to me -- a new jar, a new ritual for a new year.  Get yourself a jar and starting January 1st, write good things that happen to you on little pieces of paper: surprise gifts, accomplished goals, the beauty of nature, "LOL" moments, memories worth saving, daily blessings. Whatever feels good. Put it someplace where you'll see it every day. Keep paper and some Flairs near the jar so you always have your tools nearby.  Be artful. Then, on December 31st, open the jar and read all the amazing things that happened to you in the year. 

Its so easy to forget.  The amazing things.  The blessings.  Moments of joy and wonder.  We usually focus on the challenges, the stress, the things that don't feel so good, what's going wrong.  My guess is a jar like this could change your life. And mine.

The hug jar sits on a bookshelf in my living room.  The beautiful decorations my daughter drew when she was six have faded from the paper but not from my memory.  You can no longer read "Hug Jar" on it. But I will always know what it is.  I opened it tonight and drew a faded slip of paper -- Butterfly Kiss.  It is written in my daughter's little girl handwriting and has a tiny butterfly illustration.  All the other hugs were written by me. The jar hasn't been opened in ten years. I could almost hear a whisper of children's laughter. I think I'll take it with me when I get together with the kids tomorrow on New Year's day to celebrate Christmas. I smile when I think about it and realize it is the 20th Anniversary of the hug jar. The chore jar came later.

When I moved out of my house last year I gave away all my Ball jars. Too bad. Wouldn't it be great to give a New Year's jar to each of the kids for Christmas.  Well, I'll figure something out.  You knew I would. 



Monday, September 30, 2013

Changing Form

Changing Form
She leads me to a plateau of rock
And tells me to jump
Slow motion descent
Through beads of water
Like mist
From the waterfall feeding
The pool below
I swim through
Underground systems of
Caves carved
Through rock by
Over time
And wonder
Will my breath hold
Or will I need to learn
To breathe water
(c) 2013 Katherine Cartwright Knodel

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Musings Under the Balsamic Moon



Thinking about this at the end of the evening, at the end of a month, the end of a moon cycle, the end of a season.  It's the time of year when we are moving closer and closer toward our cyclic endings.  The harvest and putting up our abundance for lean times.  The ending of the long, bright days of summer.  My thoughts continue to spiral around, into inevitable thoughts exploring existential philosophy around endings -- the deeper, more profound applications. . . at least to the human mind.  Nature's cycles point to deep and profound realities.  And tonight I feel that simply noticing the moment is important.

I see beauty in every season, but so often I feel a bit melancholy in these between times, when something is passing away and what is yet to come has not quite arrived.  I am struck by life's constant rhythm of letting go and welcoming in.  My thoughts inevitably turn to the death and rebirth cycle of life.  I try very hard to keep the three words together -- death and rebirth -- but, more often than not, I pause after the first; I know the second is coming, but pause there too. For what feels like an endless moment, I pause before coming to the third. Word. 
When thoughts of endings and death come, I can't help but yearn for beauty.  And I don't simply want to see it, feel it, and experience it --
I want to help create it, to be a part of it, to be Beauty's agent.
And so my attention turns toward creating Beauty.  With my thoughts and with my words.  With poetry and prose. With my wild imagination and the images that flow from it. With the spoken word and with silence. 

With offering something to meet the worry and the stress and the anxiety of our shifting and changing times, and the landscapes that morph and change more quickly than we can absorb. 
As the waning crescent of the balsamic moon diminishes and disappears, and the dark time between the cycles comes, there is a time of pure potential, pregnant with possibility. A time when our dreaming plants seeds.  We pause for a moment, suspended in the timelessness of between before moving boldly forward into what is still unknown. 


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Mirror in the Cries of a Baby Sparrow

We've had a few very beautiful days this week and on one of them I took the chance to drive up to a little town on the river and sit on the covered patio of one of my favorite places for several hours.  My mind had been running over and over some worries -- you know the kind, normal human worries. We all have them.  The details might be different, but the substance is the same.

I'd told myself I was going to work -- do some writing. Plan a workshop series I'm offering this fall. Stuff like that.  But what I really needed was to rest my mind.  Enjoy some peace and a few hours of Sabbath.  

I had a bag -- filled with work -- sitting on the chair next to me.  And there the two of us sat for several hours... just like that... enjoying the breezes, the river running by, and the quiet buzz of others' conversation in the background.

After I'd been there a few hours, the most extraordinary thing happened.  Actually, it was quite ordinary -- but as we all know, Life often takes what is ordinary and makes it extraordinary.  

The relative calm and quiet was shattered by the insistent cries of a baby sparrow.

This baby was fledging and his parents were there, teaching him how to feed himself.  How to eat beyond the nest.  The parents were hopping around on the ground with the fledgling, picking up food and putting it into the baby's mouth, and all the while, the baby was crying out -- over and over, as if in a panic. This went on for quite some time.  And then the parents stepped back as the baby picked something up off the ground, but as soon as he had it in his beak, it was as if he didn't know what to do with it and dropped it back on the ground.

You can imagine the angry, frustrated cries then -- they were loud and insistent and ongoing and persistent, and could not be ignored.  They pulled at even the human heart.

The parents moved back in and once again picked the food up off the ground and put it in the fledgling's mouth.  It seemed to me they were so patient and I was fascinated as I watched this exchange, which seemed to have a pattern of sorts -- leading, teaching, feeding, calming chirps meeting the panicked cries of the youngster.  

On and on this went, until it became suddenly quiet.

I looked around and noticed that the three of them had flown off.

And I realized I was relaxed and laughing.  Perhaps even laughing at myself.

It was one of Life's lovely and loving teaching moments. 

When we realize that we need to be patient with ourselves, slow down, sink into the heart and get out of the head.  And just breathe. 

Some time later a soft breeze filled the air and I looked up and saw the fledgling sparrow sitting atop a fence over the courtyard where he'd previously been with his parents.  They were down on the ground eating.  He was looking up -- surveying the trees and the skies beyond.  He seemed almost like a different bird -- there was a quiet confidence about him. 

It was as if he was able to relax into this new phase in his life.  Or at least to trust that when he needed it, help would be there.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Paradise on an Urban Balcony and Sabbath in the Bath

I have a friend who lives in a big, bustling, noisy, congested city.  She yearns to travel and to visit beautiful places. She longs for green things and fresh air.  Like so many, she works at a job that may not be her passion, but it pays the bills.  Like most, she has frustrations without number.  Like so many of us, she has spent time suffering over what's not working.  It's a very human thing to do.

But I have to say, recently she's a completely new person.  For quite a while I had not heard from her.  I don't know if that is because I was so distracted by my own stuff I was not paying attention or because she went off the grid for awhile.  I suspect it was some of both.

A photograph she posted recently captured my attention.  She called it The Urban Balcony and it was one of the most beautiful and inspiring places I have seen.  A cafĂ© table and two chairs surrounded by pots of green and growing things -- flowers, plants, herbs, vegetables.  I imagine her sitting there with her tea or her glass of wine or a meal and where once she saw urban sprawl, she now sees blue skies, big and puffy white clouds and her garden paradise.  She took her reality and completely transformed it.

Something like that is bound to have ripple effects.  It leads to other changes.  She wrote one day that she has been juicing and has lost 15 pounds.  I recently saw a photograph of her and she looks so peaceful -- not a worry line in her face.  Who knows what will come next.

This is a story about power.  The power to change the world.  Maybe not the whole world, but one's own world.  And one change leads to another. 

Something as simple as taking a small corner of our lives and making it our own idea of paradise can lead to incredible things.  Something as important as carving out space for our own dreaming can have tremendous impact in our lives.  Something as fundamental as creating time to spend in the sacred space we set aside is crucial to our well being.  And as we become healthier on one level, we become healthier at every level -- body, mind, heart, and spirit.  As we become healthier, we give the world another gift that works toward its well being.  

I have a hammock chair that is my small piece of paradise.  I cocoon myself in it and its gentle swinging and swaying calms me almost instantly. I can look up through the trees at the sky or out beyond the trees to the river flowing by. I have another friend who turned her bathroom into her own water sanctuary, complete with soft colors, a claw-foot tub, and fresh flowers.  She runs the water, opens the window to the breezes, closes the door, and loses herself in soothing waters that cradle her and to luscious body creams that pamper her.  She allows her stress to release as she sinks into the water and blesses it on its journey as it runs down the drain.  

The word paradise comes from the Greek for "enclosed park of Persian origin" -- in the ancient world, people created pockets of beauty where they could retreat for felicity, bliss, or delight.  In a brutal world, people found refuge in beauty.  Oasis.  As people began to imagine life after death, they began to speak of it as paradise and to imagine incredible beauty as a contrast to the struggle to survive and the horrors of violence and poverty they encountered all around them.

I find it fascinating that we are able to focus our will and efforts to transform small pockets of our world and our lives.  I wonder about what might happen as we partner more fully with each other to create larger pockets of beauty and well-being in our society.  I think about this especially as I read news items from here and abroad that have to do with the consequences of division as well as what can happen when people unite around a common purpose -- for good or for ill.  Power is neutral.  It is simply force that enables movement. How we focus it and the ends to which we use it determine the consequences. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Letting Go and Freefalling through Grace

This spring I am living in a new place.  And it is all about downsizing.  Less than half the space indoors and just a teeny tiny bit of outdoor garden space, sometimes I pull out my hair trying to figure everything out.  There are times I feel buried alive under all my stuff, but I can't imagine how to get rid of anything more.  How to let go of so many things that have felt so important for so many years.


I try to remember that's all they are -- things.  But things, of course, also carry meaning.  There are memories attached to them.  Engage the senses and the memories come pouring back, flooding me.  I worry at times that if I get rid of something, I will forget something.  And I don't want to forget.

But slowly I am going through things again and finding more that I can toss, recycle, sell, or give away. I am coming up with creative ways to store or display items I want to keep or am not ready to give up. I am discovering photographs that have images of things. My criterion for keeping things is -- "Do I love this?"  Most of the time. Sometimes I find myself keeping things I don't love for some mysterious reason I need to figure out and other times I find myself letting go of things that I dearly love.

One thing I love and decided not to keep was my garden.  I thought I might dig up my favorite plantings and bring them over here and make a miniature version of what I had there. I'd spent nearly ten years building that garden and it was beautiful.  So much time spent weeding and nourishing the soil and watering and planting and planning and thinking about where plants would grow best and how to make it all look natural and not too cultivated.  There is a tiny woodland along the back of the property with a grove of large oak trees and a smaller understory of flowering trees.  There is naturalized forsythia that dances on the breeze.  There are other naturalized forest and shade-loving plants throughout, and the beds along the other edges of the property were planted in free-flowing waves of beauty and color.  Throughout the growing season something was always blooming from early spring through late in the fall. 

But I let go of it all and left everything behind.

I found myself thinking about all this as I was taking a long walk on a gorgeous spring day and noticing how the earth is coming alive.  My thoughts naturally strayed to my old garden and what would be blooming. And wishing that I had brought my plants with me so that I could enjoy them here.  I found myself really missing my garden and grieving what was and no longer is. 

After a time, I walked up to my new garden, greeted by sweet-faced dwarf pansies I recently planted and the delicate new growth of "Sweet Kate," a cultivar of spiderwort I planted last year. She withered and died away over the summer and I spent the winter wondering whether she would come back.  I can't express the joy I felt when I saw the tender new growth struggling to push its way through the dark earth and begin to emerge.  There were some surprises too -- a few bright pink hyacinths I did not know were here until I saw their lithe green leaves coming up a month ago and the lone hosta I'd forgotten about. I am still wondering if the dwarf daisies I planted last summer will return. I've left space for them, just in case.  The pansies have grown and filled in beautifully and send out rainbows as they nod on the breeze. 

I always thought that fall and winter were the seasons of letting go, but now I am thinking that spring actually is the season for that.  To welcome resurrection and new life you also need to welcome letting go and death.  They seem to happen almost simultaneously -- as you see the new life that is emerging, you also realize you've let go of what was so that something else could be.  And the surprise of it all just may be that you realize that no matter how hard the process was, you were freefalling through grace the whole time. 


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Holy Ground

March was a quiet month for me.

I had nothing to say and went deep inside for awhile.  It was as if I'd burrowed deeply into the ground to sleep and to dream. 

It was unusually cold and grey here, and felt more like winter than the coming of spring.  And I felt like there was so much upon which to reflect. 

Of course I was busy -- actually, when I was busy I was unusually busy.  And when things were quiet and at peace, it was as if the whole world had stopped.  As if the world around me, and the world within, were poised at the edge of something that wanted to be noticed.

I wish I knew what it was.

I've wracked my brain trying to figure it out.  And all I can come up with is an obscure reference in one of my journals --

My life is holy ground, and I am being asked to stop and notice.

Why is it that so often when we come upon one of those rare, profound insights that cause us to pause and really pay attention, we remember so little about how it came about -- where it came from, how we got there, the winding path through our thoughts and experience that brought us to such a place?

I am thinking this time it doesn't matter.

I am thinking this time it is simply important to stop and to notice.

I had a dream around the time I was thinking about all this.  A dream guide took me to a stone circle and there the wind began to blow.  Roots went down from my feet into the earth and grew into and wrapped themselves around the Earth's roots.  As the wind continued to blow, I noticed how dry I had become -- and my dryness began to blow away like sand.  Down to the bone. Carried off by the wind; even my bones turned to dust and were carried away on the winds. 

From where my essence was rooted, vines grew up and remade me.  I was a green and growing thing.  A force of nature came and danced around me and called on me to name all that I wanted to plant in my life at this time.

"You are the garden," he said.  And as he danced, he began to toss seeds into the air.  The winds caught them and they burrowed in and became buried among the vines that I had become.  He laughed uproariously as he watched me green, grow, and blossom.

Time to stop and notice.

You are the garden.

Spring has come and the winds are blowing.  The earth is receptive to the seeds we plant, and the tender, green shoots strengthen as we nourish and nurture them when they begin to push their way out of the cold, dark ground. 

What do you want to plant in your life at this time?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Cries of the Heart

I am struggling tonight.  I just want to put that out there.
And I am not sure how to talk about it.
These days it feels like it is one thing after another after another
and I am feeling world weary. 
I think I need some support.
And some kindness.
Very little feels kind these days. 
Much of the truth I am seeing around my own life
feels harsh and hard to bear. Hard to hold.
Softness feels elusive right now. And I am craving it.
And if one more person tells me I am strong I think I will go out of my mind.
I know that I am strong,
and being strong does not mean the heart does not feel it when it hurts.

I wrote this one day when life felt particularly difficult and shared it with a small group of friends who wrote back and buoyed me without having to know what was wrong or my having to explain myself.  I am lucky. I have terrific friends.  Their support made the difference for me that day.  Even though I had been feeling terribly alone, I knew there were people out there who care about me and who were thinking about me, sending loving energy for whatever healing and support I needed at the time. 
There are days when we all need that kind of support, but so often we try to soldier through difficult times without asking for help.  And we end up feeling isolated.  Isolation makes whatever we are contending with even more difficult.  Human beings are creatures of connection.  We are meant to connect with each other, with the Divine, with nature, and with our own deep interior spirits.  All of these are essential relationships that are important to recognize and nurture.  They are part of what help us to be healthy and vital.  
But so often we confuse strength with self-sufficiency.  And sometimes things can become difficult for us when we encounter people who project their own need for us to demonstrate that we don't need any support.  There seems to be an unspoken contract in some relationships that suggests that if one person can "be strong" when times are tough then the other person will be able to also.  And not wanting to disappoint the other person, we might be tempted not to ask for help when we need it. There is no shame in asking for help.  It does not make us weak. It does not make us a burden.       
Instead, asking for help can open whole horizons of joy in life.  Knowing we are connected with others and part of a web of support enable us to face the challenges in life with more confidence.  It helps us to know that we can be the central core of our own web of support and that when we are feeling shaky, there are others we can call upon who can help to buoy our spirits and hold our hurting hearts while they heal.  And then, when the tough times pass, there are people with whom we can celebrate.
One of my favorite responses to my request for support that day is this -- 

Just breathe deeply. Give yourself a break.
Know you are loved and appreciated.
We are here to be aware, not to save the world.
Take in the pain.  Let it enter your heart, then breathe it out,
and your love will transform it to a goodness.
I will send you warm thoughts of love...thank you for being you.
You are wonderful!

I return to this message when I am feeling a little shaky.  It has become both poetry and prayer for me, just as my cry above has.  Together, they remind me of a Psalm -- a genre of literature in the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible) that are some of the most real and human words in the Bible.  So many of them explore the depth of human suffering and the turning of the soul toward remembering its relationship with the Divine and the love that surrounds us and fills us at all times. They were sung together by the community - a living expression of support.  My favorite is Psalm 139.  Read it sometime when you need a reminder of just how precious you are and how there is never any true isolation, no matter how you are feeling or what you are experiencing. 
Some of my favorite lines...
Beloved, you have searched me and known me.
Even before a word is on my tongue you know it completely.
Where can I go from your spirit?  Or where can I flee from your presence.
If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning, and settle at the farthest limits of the sea
even there your hand shall lead me, and you shall hold me fast.
Even the darkness is not dark to you.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made...
intricately woven in the depths of the earth and
your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
Search me, Beloved, and know my heart... 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Caught by Surprise by the Tides

The final weeks of winter is a great time to ponder death and rebirth.  The season of Lent is a few days away and I think we've probably had our last big snow of the season -- another big storm like the one last fall, except this time we were just on the edge of it.  We were fortunate -- woke up Saturday morning to a beautiful white landscape, plowed roads, crystal clear blue skies, and the feeling that the old energies had been completely cleared and something new was coming in.  It feels ironic in the deep winter -- the time just before spring begins to green and bring forth flowers on the earth.  It feels like the time between the final exhale and the first inbreath of rebirth.

Like everyone else, I have my cycles of death and rebirth.  I'm in a pretty big one right now. Lots of change. Lots of loss. I sit by the river every day and think about what's left.  And I think this may be a problem.  Thinking about what's left.  Watching the waters flow beyond my ability to see is definitely teaching me something about allowing things just to go. It's starting to feel pretty clear to me these days that when everything goes, it's time to stop fighting it and discover something new.

I like to kayak on rivers.  I love dynamic water. This was something new I discovered eight years ago after my father died.  I'm not one of those paddlers that hugs the shoreline and looks for herons and turtles.  The first time I was on a river, the Hudson, near Rhinebeck, NY, while most of our group of first-time paddlers kept close to shore, intimidated by the fast-flowing waters that were so different from the quiet lake we'd learned on, I waited for the big boats to come by -- like bullets shot down the middle of the river and leaving turbulent waters in their wake.  Sending waves out on three sides and disturbing the comparatively quiet waters, they sent most of the group back to the shoreline the few times they ventured father out.

I loved it, though -- turning my small craft into the wake and paddling my heart out to get to the middle of the wide river, thrilled by the motion that sent me flying above the water's surface as I paddled over the waves to get to where the action of the water was even more choppy and precarious. 

You can't sit still in water like that.  You can't look around and ponder the beauty and wonder of nature.  If you do, you'll find yourself in the water instead of on it.  What you have to do is paddle as if your life depends on it with a strong power stroke.  And what I had to do while doing that was to laugh my heart out at the top of my lungs.  Just because it was so thrilling.

Sometimes on the river, though, you can forget how powerful dynamic water is.  And when you paddle long enough, you may even become so comfortable that you don't remember to plan for what you might not expect to happen.

I was on a river near Ft. Meyer's Beach, FL, paddling across the shipping lanes and into a bay that would lead me into a mangrove forest where I looked forward to a peaceful search for manatees.  And it was wonderful.  Especially crossing the shipping lanes where there is plenty of wake. The only problem was, I hadn't planned on the tides. 

Most of my paddling experience had been on freshwater rivers and I didn't even think about it.  Probably should have.  Coming out of the mangrove forest, I barely recognized the peaceful bay I'd paddled across a few hours before.  The tide was coming in so powerfully, it took all my strength to paddle within yards of the mouth of the small bay that opened onto the tidal river and shipping lanes.  I could not get across it.  I could barely keep my position.  When I stopped paddling even for a second, the power of the water pushed me away, losing ground (so to speak) in seconds that had taken so long to gain.  And once I'd lost the ground, I didn't have the strength to regain it. It's a hard lesson to learn -- that some things are just more powerful than we are.  I could not get back across the bay and into the peace and safety of the mangrove forest either. The way was closed in the current conditions and I was stuck in the middle of a bay paddling for my life to keep from getting pushed into a terrain made of trees that were mostly gigantic roots somehow anchored in the water.      

I knew the real danger would be panic.  I could somehow manage the water, and the boat, but not my own panic.  Whenever you watch those "how did people survive that?" shows, they always tell you that it is panic that kills.  Like when you drive your car off a bridge or a cougar jumps on an unsuspecting you while mountain-biking.  I looked around quickly to assess the situation and saw a trail marker.  It was the only solid ground in the middle of all that turbulence -- a slender metal pole anchored in chaos.  I paddled over to it, looped my arm around it, and held on until the tide turned.  Fortunately, I'd brought a picnic lunch. I must have been a sight -- one arm hooked around the trail marker and a ham and cheese sandwich in my other hand.

A trail marker in a bay is easy to spot.  Not so, the trail markers in life.  Still, they are there.  And when we're in the middle of the unexpected, or the unplanned for, sometimes we get through by hanging on and relaxing until a way through is clear.   

Friday, January 25, 2013

Insofar As That I Can See

Yesterday I came across a famous quote, a paraphrase of a line from a Robert Frost poem:  "The only way out is through."  It was attributed to someone I know did not speak it originally. She may have used it, like so many of us have, but it did not originate with her.  It was fascinating to see the comments posted beneath -- "L. Ron Hubbard said that, but before him, I don't know."  "That's a line from an Alanis Morissette song."   Someone else thought it was a quote from the Buddha. 

Just for fun, I googled the quote and discovered that it has been used in song lyrics by another female artist, and as the name of an album by another.  I found two art exhibits with this title and one sculpture.  There was a tattoo advertised by a tattoo artist and a hand-lettered t-shirt, both misquoting Robert Frost who actually worded it slightly differently.

There was a Psychology Today article with this quote as its title and about a gazillion blog posts. Articles by life coaches.  A few pieces by writers offering this as good advice to budding word smiths.  It was even dialogue in a video game.  Most of the blogs and articles were about perseverance, dealing with pain, fear, illness, grief, and life transitions of all kinds.  There was an article about being productive in business. My favorite was an article about a 12th Century Indian poet, mystic, and saint - a woman - Akka Mahadevi.

He says the best way out is always through.
And I agree to that, or insofar
As that I can see no way out but through --
Leastways for me -- and then they'll be convinced.

"The only way out is through."  "The best way out is always through."  I prefer the original.  And I think I prefer it for the same reason that the woman who is telling her story in the poem does -- that I can see no way out but through...what other way is there?  Hence, the paraphrase.  What I really like about the original is I get to discover it for myself. No one tells me it's the way it has to be. 

That's an important part of the spiritual journey and core to waking up -- discovering the great and deepest truths through one's own experience. You can read ten thousand books by a thousand masters and see all the wisdom of the ages on the page before you, but what really matters is embodied experience.  This is the way to wisdom. 

Of course, just being does not bring us to wisdom.  We can move through life unconsciously or we can be conscious as we move through life.  Some ancient cultures describe warriorship - the way of the warrior - in terms of mindfulness and consciousness, showing up and choosing to be present.  Present to our own lives, our own experience, to each moment, thought, and feeling, and to others and the world around us.  That enables us to see.  Seeing enables us to move through the world without the blinders that sometimes enable us to get through difficult times by simply moving through something any way we can, distracting ourselves with being busy, so that we don't have to think about, feel, or see.  Not everyone would agree with me about this -- for many people distraction is exactly the way they get through the hard times.  Insofar as I can see...leastways for me...  

The way that I engage with all this is through story.  I write poetry, short stories, sermons, reflections and other devotional pieces, blog posts, speeches, retreats and workshops, journals, columns, and probably other things that I'd need to check my resume for in order to remember right now.  It's my language for moving through the landscape of our fractured-expanding-and healing selves.  It's the way I attribute meaning.  And the way I offer something to the world so that others can pause and attribute meaning as what I offer merges into an unexpected alchemy with their own experience.

In Robert Frost's poem A Servant to Servants, the woman who is telling her story describes some brutal life experience, and in telling her story, she is actually moving through her story and out of it into something new.  This is the power of sharing our stories with each other.  We gain perspective - see where we have come from, what we have come through, and the new place we have come to.  And through it all we, and the world, are transformed. 


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Flowers in Winter

I go into the wilderness and rediscover the home within.
                                                                                               - China Galland

I was walking by the river the other day.  It was a beautiful day -- sunny and unseasonably warm for a Mid-Atlantic mid-winter.  The only green in sight are the evergreens.  The grass is brown.  The deciduous trees are naked.  There's not a vine in sight. Oddly enough, the herb garden in the middle of town has some kind of ornamental purple plants that have survived in the winter. I have no idea if this is their normal behavior, but it certainly feels weird.  Everything else has died away. 

For the most part the days have been grey, so this sunny day felt like a huge gift to me.  Grey days make me feel a bit blue in winter.  When there is sun, no matter how cold it is, I tie on my hiking shoes and head outside to walk briskly in the sunshine and watch my steaming breath pour out into the cold air. 

The skies are so blue and the clouds so huge and white and puffy I'd begun to wonder what season it really was.  It was one of those sublimely beautiful days that do not feel quite real, but enable us to feel more fully alive than usual -- simply because they feel so unexpectedly good.  And as I walked, I began to feel fully alive.

And this was a huge surprise for me.  But, then, days like this almost always catch us by surprise.

Winter is one of those seasons that so often feels like we are sleeping -- but in our culture we work against the natural cycles and tend to push as hard through the winter months and to be as productive as we are the rest of the year, when what we should really be doing is allowing ourselves to lie a bit fallow so that we can rest before another growing season begins.  We need more sleep in the winter when there is less light and many of us get sick.  We need time to reflect, to draw near to our hearth fires and be quiet.  To come home to ourselves. 

And it's easy for us to do because it feels like a wilderness outdoors.  Snow, ice, sleet, freezing rain, icy chill days and nights, and winds that bite the skin as they blow through can feels as rough and uninviting as a desert or scrubland.  Winter days make many of us feel like there is anything we'd rather do than go outdoors.

But on this winter day I found myself being drawn outside.  The air was brisk but far from freezing.  The winds were more like breezes.  And the sun was shining so brightly it felt almost warm on my face.  It felt good to be outdoors in the fresh air and to leave the stale indoor air behind for awhile.  I was outside walking for a good, long time in the cold.  And on my way back, I looked down into the brown grass and saw a golden yellow face smiling back at me. A dandelion beginning to open...there on a winter's day in mid-January.  I breathed deeply and felt like springtime was filling up my tired wintry spirit.  Suddenly filled with energy, I came home and put the flower in a small vase, where hours later I walked by and it had fully opened there on my windowsill.  Meanwhile, instead of being productive, I used the energy to ponder some things that have been knocking around the corners of my mind. 

I am reminded of a day last winter when I wrote a poem that begins,

There is forsythia blooming today --
Four little bright yellow blossoms on a wild branch
That has reached through the fence between
My neighbor's yard and mine --
A long, trailing branch....
I just saw her dancing on the breeze

I remember being surprised that day also.  And smiling deep down in my soul. And writing in my journal with wonder, how in the middle of such cold, a sunny day or two can bring out flowers in winter.