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.

Reside in Gratitude

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The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

I return to this poem to remind myself to rest in the grace of the world.  This past week has been very tumultuous for me. As I watched Dr. Ford be dismissed, demeaned, mocked, and patronized. I was consumed with anger. I finally realized the anger was secondary to the deep grief I was feeling.  We have not come very far.  The Senate has now voted to confirm Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Take the possible sexual assault away, I am appalled that a man of his temperament and partisanship will sit on the highest court in the land.

I woke this morning and knew I had a choice.  I could stay angry and grief-stricken or I could choose to reside in gratitude.  As I returned to gratitude, I felt my whole body unwind.  I looked around my home and realized how much I had to be grateful for.  My friends, my clients who entrust me with their stories, my garden, the birds that grace my feeders, the seven miles of nature trails out my back gate, and so much more.  These bring me joy and take me out of the anger and grief. Nature brings me back to my center.

I will not bury my head in the sand. I’ll continue to take action when I feel others are being unjustly treated, but I choose not to linger there.  I choose to return to gratitude, joy, and hope.

May you choose to reside in gratitude for your health and well-being.

Lessons from an Ant Colony

IMG_0877I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know all the scientific information about ant colonies.  I just happen to have the privilege of observing one colony over the past two or three years. This colony sits right on the side of a trail I walk almost daily. I’ve watch it grow in the summer, be demolished by winter weather, and grow again the next summer.

I have been mesmerized by the bevy of motion on this ant colony.  Movement is everywhere–tiny ants working individually yet in harmony to create such an amazing structure.  One day while I was observing the activities I noticed a small stick about one in a half inches long moving across the path.  I did a double take, it is not everyday you see a stick moving.  There were 8-10 ants working together to bring this stick to the colony. I have so enjoyed the building, maintaining, and working together of this colony of ants.

My thoughts move to how we as humans work together to create towns, cities, countries, social networks we can all live within.  At this time in history I feel the divisiveness and hateful rhetoric we hear is diminishing our ability to trust in each other to create the livable communities we so want to build. How do we bring back trust?  How do we honor diversity and know it is our differences that create the new?  How do we reach out and support our neighbors when so often it feels safer to hole up in our homes? Fear is the driving force of hate–may we find ways to combat the fear of the “other” and build sustainable lives for all of us.

I know the ants are instinctual, and fear is not a part of their living.  They just work with each other building a colony for all. May we find ways to reach out to each other and build bridges of understanding.

Forest Bath

 

“….what is my work, ….standing still and learning to be astonished.  Mary Oliver, The Messenger

In his book ForestIMG_0879 Bathing: How Trees Can Help you find Health and Happiness, Dr. Qing Li shares a Japanese practice called forest bathing.  He has conducted numerous studies that show the health benefits of forest bathing.  Nature eases stress and worry, helps us to relax and to think more clearly.  Being in nature can restore our mood, give us back our energy and vitality, refresh and rejuvenate us.

When we unplug from technology, slow down, and relax into the beauty of nature, our bodies and minds de-stress.  I first heard about forest bathing a couple of years ago and recognized the truth of nature as healer. The natural world is a place I go for joy, for solace, for experiencing a sense of awe and wonder.  I feel connected to something greater than myself when I am in the natural world.

Dr Li says, “The key to unlocking the power of the forest is in the five senses.”  When I walk the trails of the park behind my home I intentionally practice engaging all my senses.  The sound of the birds and small mammals, the smell of the forest floor, the variation of greens throughout the park, and the feel of the earth beneath my feet.  I don’t easily experience taste unless the salmon berries are out.

He  recommends we find a place close by that  brings us nature’s gifts.  It could be a park, a tree in your backyard, any place that helps you relax andIMG_0881 let go of the day.  Above is a picture of where I go when I need a forest bath.  It is less than a quarter of mile from my home.  Walking there, I sit on a rock and listen to the rippling water cascade down  past a wonderful old cedar tree.  The sound of water always nourishes me.

I hope you can find a place you can retreat to, if only for 30 minutes.  Give yourself the gift of a forest bath each day to support your body, mind, and spirit.