SACRED SPACES

cascade-environment-falls-2214386At first you might find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred space and use it, eventually something will happen. Your sacred space is where you find yourself again and again.   Joseph Campbell

I find more and more I need a place to go that takes me from the busyness of my days.  A place where I can slow down. When I slow down, I show up to myself. This is what a sacred space gives me. I was first introduced to the power of sacred spaces in Japan. Below is an excerpt from my journal while in Japan.

Shinto shrines dot my walks through the city streets of  Kyoto.  I am in awe of the gardens and temples, the sacred spaces that are throughout this city.  Lingering at a small Buddhist temple tucked between two large high rises I feel a sense of peace engulf me. I am taken by how space is used in this crowded city. Hallowed grounds are found throughout the busy city blocks in the form of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. In the west we build large edifices called churches and visit them once a week. The remainder of the week we lock them up for safekeeping. Sacred spaces are part of the landscape of Asia, offering quiet retreats throughout a busy day. 

I linger in a garden, one of many that grace this city.  Walking the path I look out upon a beautiful pond surrounded by trees shaped by the winds.  It is fall and the colors astound my senses.  Reds, with backdrops of gold and yellow create a kaleidoscope of exploding, vivid shapes of various hues. I hear the cuckoo bird and get lost in its melody. I cherish the comfort these gardens bring.   Sitting quietly for a moment centers me, before, once again, entering the busy stream of foot traffic. 

I learn that the natural roots of Shinto come from the ancient dwellers of Japan.  It was their response to the stunning natural environment they found. Shinto honors Earth as a partner, seeing mystery in all of Earth’s gifts. The gardens symbolize their reverence for earth and all of creation.  As I come upon Shinto shrines throughout Tokyo and Kyoto, I enter the peace these small gardens offer. The Shinto belief calls for us to harmonize with “Great Nature’.

My sacred spaces always include someplace in nature. Some people create alters in their homes as sacred space. Where do you find your sacred spaces? Take time to pay attention to when you are in a place of peace and quiet.

Trees

I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree.  Joyce Kilmer

The beautiful Service Berry tree offers gifts each of the four seasons.  After the blossoms turn to berries, the Cedar Waxwings come in droves and denude the tree of berries within two days. It is a wonder to see, especially since I don’t see them again until next year. Do they have a special radar that tells them when and where the service berries are?  The fall gift this tree bestows is vivid fall colors of red, yellow, and orange. Winter offers time for rest. Her leaves have let go and she hunkers down for the winter, renewing her energy.

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Service Berry tree in backyard.

Trees continue to be my solace and my teacher. They are rooted to the earth. When I’m fragmented and unsure, I return to nature and the beautiful trees dotting her landscape. I reconnect with the Universe, becoming rooted, centered–coming home to my core essence.

Visiting Northern California, I saw a mighty redwood standing with a gapping burned out hole in its trunk—surviving, but scarred.  My life has had raging fires that have burned and scarred. I too have survived these fires that have swept through my life.  I stand taller and am stronger for the burning. Trees continue to teach me how to live.

The cypress that bends to the mighty winds–bending but not breaking. It teaches me how to live with the power of the wind and not resist it.  I am learning to flow with the changes that take place. To fly with the wind, instead of pushing against it, diminishes the stress that comes with resistance.  I feel the freedom that comes with trusting the flow of life.

The trees that have died become nursing logs and new growth begins.  As parts of me die, old patterns or habits no longer necessary or useful, space opens for me to create new stories.  Death brings life, and my old ways of being are a nursing log for the person I am becoming.

The tree stands in all its glory—proud, majestic, and strong. It survives the many elements and still reaches for the sun with hope of renewed life.

I continue to reach for the sun, to stretch and grow.  The sun heals me and gives me hope for tomorrow. May you find and befriend the gifts of trees to support nourishing growth within your being.

Spring is Here

Spring is nature’s way of saying “let’s party.”  Robin Williams

I’m always amazed at how much lighter I feel when we turn the cornerIMG_0951.jpg

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from winter to spring. The burst of color from the first flowers of spring: daffodils, crocus, and hyacinth bring me such joy. Their winter rest has produced such beauty. A good lesson for me in my busy schedule. “Rest in the stillness,” is a thought that comes to me when I get too busy running from one activity to another. When I say this I feel myself slow down and breathe.  Always a good thing.

Spring affirms the changing of the season reminding me that life is constantly changing. I need this reminder periodically in these tumultuous and divisive times we are living through. I use the word through purposefully because we will live through these times as we have other hard times in our history. It is just sometimes hard for me to remember when I am feeling the angst of our country’s divide. Spring is a great reminder that life continues and dark turns toward the light.

It is hard to pick my favorite season, but I think I would have to say it is Spring. The beauty of the flowers, the birds preparing their nests, and the return of sunny warm days.  It is the sense of rebirth and renewal. I wonder what is being rebirthed in me, what wants to emerge? I think of Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote, “Where there are flowers there is hope.”  Yes, Spring opens my heart to hope and trust that all will be well.

Follow Robin Williams’ sage advice, “Party” and enjoy the vibrancy this season offers.

Two Affairs

I heard someone say recently that we all carry on two affairs throughout our lifetime:

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one is with the past and the other is with the future.  Each has its own siren that calls us forward or back in time taking us away from the present.  This really made me stop and think. As I reflected on these two affairs in my life I became aware of how often I am pulled from the present moment.

This photograph shows a part of seven miles of old growth trails right out my back fence. I walk them as often as possible. Nature is my spiritual home.  Even on these trails I find myself fast-forwarding, planning my next hour, day, week.  The natural world gently calls me to listen to the birds singing, to bend down and smell the flowers by the path, to be astounded by the gradation of greens that dot the landscape. Even with all this call to slow down and notice the moment, the future’s call is often louder.  Eckhart Tolle says, “Focus on the NOW and tell me what problems you have at this moment.”  Stress and gratitude cannot reside in the same moment.  Being present takes our minds off the future and/or past.

I don’t spend a lot of time in the past.  I am not one to put energy into bitterness and regret. I don’t spend time wishing my past were different. I do spend time reflecting on the impact of my life events to help me understand my behaviors and beliefs of today. My past experiences are my best teachers.  Being from a long line of alcoholics I have definitely spent time looking at the impact of alcoholism on my life, and the behaviors I developed to protect myself.  These are behaviors that no longer serve me, and hinder my ability to live a full life today. By acknowledging them I have the opportunity to heal through them. My affair with the past is more about learning how my past impacts me now, so I can let go of old stories and make room for the new.

I continue to practice being fully present right here, right now.  It doesn’t always work as I have a very active mind filled with chatter.  As I quit the chatter, I breathe into the present.  Buddha states, “ Enlightenment is not a state we transcend to, but rather it is experiencing full presence and awakening in daily life.”

May we all learn to be more fully present to our lives, opening our hearts to the awe and wonder life offers.

 

 

The Mystic Within

When it’s over, I want to say, all my life I was a bride married to amazement.  Mary Oliver

I dedicate this piece to Mary Oliver, whom we lost this week.  She was a true mystic, present to the amazing beauty of nature that surrounds us every day.  The mystic sees the sacred in the ordinary.  The mystical path takes us from our head to our heart.  It is a path of mystery, awe, wonder, and gratitude.

When I am fully present to life, I am able enjoy the birds in my backyard, the park I am able to walk everyday, and the antics of the squirrel that has outsmarted me each day.  This beautiful squirrel continues to eat my birdseed and bird suet.  I finally went out and bought a squirrel baffler.  Looking out in the yard later I noticed the squirrel sitting on a branch of the tree looking at the baffler.  He looked up, he looked to both sides, and then stared at the baffler.  I am smiling and thinking “Ha got you!”  All of a sudden he crouches down, takes a flying leap up under the baffler and proceeds to enjoy the suet.  As I watched this great display of nature, I was feeling no stress or tension, I was just smiling and enjoying the intelligence of this little critter.  He is now part of my wildlife backyard.

Abraham Maslow once said, “The great lesson from the mystics is that the sacred is in the ordinary, that it is to be found in one’s daily life, in one’s neighbors, friends, and family…in one’s backyard.”  Yes, it is what Abraham Heschel calls “Radical Amazement,” the ability to see the world through the eyes of awe and wonder, and to be amazed and astonished at the beauty, complexity, and synchronicity that graces our lives.

Mary Oliver shared her mystical soul with us through her poetry.  I thank her for waking me up to a form of earthy, accessible, and mystical poetry.  I close with her three recommendations for life:

Pay attention
Be Astounded
Tell Someone

May you know in your heart that animal-close-up-fur-47359we are all born mystics.  Being a mystic is as natural as experiencing wonder.