Peace at Sunset

Last night, as the sun was setting over the lake, the wind seemed to blow the thoughts from my mind as easily as it blew away bugs and clouds. As the mundane and repetitive thoughts in my mind dissipated, my body grew calm and steady. As the sky turned brilliant pinks and oranges, a quiet peace returned to that place right beneath my breast bone where it lives much of the time. I hadn’t even noticed it had been away. Welcoming that deep inner stillness home, I felt its presence permeate my body and spirit.

Deep sigh…That feels right…

Retracing the last days and weeks, I cannot pinpoint an hour, or even a day, during which my own grounding and grounded inner stillness was replaced with the noisy chatter of contemporary life. But I can see why and how it slipped beneath the surface. Over a series of days with more movement, more people, more obligations, and more schedules, I was being less attentive. Compelled to pay more attention to the needs and demands of the outer world, I had let the care and nourishment of my inner world wane. By contrast, for most of this summer, I had been paying very careful attention to balancing the needs of my spirit with the needs of the world. But I hadn’t even noticed when I had slipped.

Gratefully, I only needed the sunset to bring me back to myself.

Dwelling in the balance between inner and outer, giving and receiving, doing and resting, seems to be at the center of the householder yoga that I have been practicing this summer. Life requires us to navigate practical needs and emotions along the entire arc of a swinging pendulum. Fortunately, the perpetual movement invites us to remain confident that we will always return to center. Even the highest tide will ebb. The setting sun suggests a sunrise is on the way.

Just after the sun rose this morning, I paddled across the lake. I gave thanks as I felt deep into that inner stillness swelling beneath my breastbone. I am grateful for the remembering ushered in by last night’s breezy sunset and for the pendulum that carries me reliably between the work of sustaining my spirit and the work of sustaining my family and community. These two things are not just related, they are aspects of a singular ongoing movement and they nourish each other.

In A Gift From The Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh describes the movement this way, “The only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity – in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern.”

 

[I read my grandmother’s old copy of this book each summer. It has pencil notes in the margins and a page of her reflections from the 50s and the 80s. As I read, I feel the pendulum swinging not only in each of our lives, but also between and amongst generations. With my hands holding the same pages that she held and my mind mulling over the same questions, I naturally notice the extension and expansion of attention and care. More on this another day … If you have never read this sweet and potent book, I highly recommend it.]

On Blueberry Hill

On many Sunday mornings, I attend Quaker Meeting. Gathering in the bright, sunny meeting room for an hour of silent worship is incredibly nourishing. In that space and time, stillness settles in and I feel myself one with All That Is. No words necessary. Even if I leave after the rise of Meeting without speaking a word to anyone, I always leave feeling deeply grounded, present to my life as it is unfolding, and thoroughly connected to community. Some days this sense of presence and connection grows into a sense of urgency to respond to the needs of the world. Other days, it blossoms into a sense of being warmly held, not just by the immediate community but by the entire web of life. Always, it feeds my spirit.

This morning, as soon as I woke up, I knew I would not go to Meeting. The sun was shining, a breeze was blowing, and the blueberries on the hill were ripe and ready to be picked. With a steaming cup of coffee in one hand and an empty bowl in the other, I walked into the morning sun to harvest the sweet fruits. As my bowl slowly filled, my mind quieted and my heart was at peace. I was at Meeting after all. Only here, instead of gathering with human family, I was in communal worship with the breeze, the sun, the fruits at my feet, the mosquitoes buzzing in my ears, the muscles in my back and legs, the deer and turkeys who had grazed here earlier this morning, the birds who were singing from the nearby branches, the ancestors who brought me here, and all the humans over time who have gathered their breakfast in warm summer sun…

I went inside just long enough to make blueberry pancakes and brought them outside to eat. As flavors of blueberry, maple, and pancake melted in my mouth, I was overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude. What an amazing gift to be alive to relish this sweetness on my tongue, the sun on my face, and the chorus of birds. Right next to all of the burdens and responsibilities of being alive in this time and place, amidst all of its horrors and the work to be done, there is this — beauty and abundance, peace and presence, community and connection, ready for harvest in my backyard and in my heart.

This week we celebrate Lammas, the harvest festival in Celtic tradition. At the midpoint between the summer solstice and the fall equinox, the days are getting shorter and the harvest is in full swing. Life and death stand side by side: fruits are ripening as stalks are dying. We are called to notice and honor the value of both creation and destruction, disintegration and integration. Holding the paradox can be uncomfortable. It requires stretching, strength, and trusting our own capacity. It requires practice and it requires taking breaks in whatever brings you solace. This morning, I unexpectedly found peace on Blueberry Hill. Where will you find it?

Gratitude Swells

A few weeks ago, I wrote about building bridges, about traversing the distance and difference between independence and interdependence. With the help of a word play, I demonstrated how you can get from one to the other with a few simple steps and how you can pause to dwell in any of the steps of the continuum. It went like this:

Independence

Separation, Autonomy,

Rights, Responsibility, Integrity

Cooperation, Participation, Collaboration

Connection, Cohesion

Interdependence

I made it sound easy. I’m sorry for that. That’s a disservice to you. And it was a disservice to me. It’s not that easy and it’s not the end of the process.

I was so eager to move beyond the discomfort of holding the contradictions of independence and interdependence in this time and place, that I embraced the theoretical resolution of the word play as fait-accompli. It did offer a sense of peace and completion for a spell and I was grateful for the breathing room but the dis-ease soon crept back in. Building bridges with words, ideas and theories is only a starting point. The ideas that had originated in the head needed to land in the heart and be put into practice in the body. I am pulled to live into the pendulum of independence and interdependence in my own life. I need to pay attention to both the clinging and the releasing. I need to notice both the safety and the isolation, the comfort and the distress. I must actively choose to step in closer and invite others to join me in community. I must also pay attention when I am called to solitude.

Rather than building a bridge to span a gap, uniting my mind, body and heart around these disparate ideas feels more like casting a wide net over abundance. It is about allowing and honoring the distance between them. It is about knowing that the distance is relational and full of potential and that, in that fertile space, there is infinite possibility and continual movement.

Today, rather than landing in something that looks like resolution, I am gaining comfort from the movement. I am appreciating my capacity to be elastic. Moving through my own ideas, embodied in emotions and actions, I live into the ebb and flow that guides all life. I inhale the sweet fragrance of milkweed at the same moment the monarch lands to drink the flower’s nectar. Gratitude swells as I walk on and the butterfly takes flight. Carrying the sweetness of the encounter for a moment longer, we go our separate ways, parting the same air that has sustained butterflies and humans for as long as we have been here.

(Incidentally, I wrote about Independence and Interdependence in May 2017 too. You can read that post here.)

Independence, Interdependence

As the 4th of July approaches, I’ve been struggling. It is hard to watch our nation pursue profit, growth, and progress without regard to current and future life. It is devastating to see policies and practices that prioritize nations and corporations over individual lives. Independence for some at the expense of others is not ok. It wasn’t ok when our country was founded and it isn’t ok now. We have to do better. We can do better.

Recognizing that we are interdependent is a start. We have always been interdependent and we always will be. It is long past time to pledge our allegiance to the web of life. We can start with the David Suzuki Foundation’s Declaration of Interdependence.

There are benefits to independence. Trust me, I know. I live with teenagers. Life in my household is all about finding balance between being independent and being in relationship. Independence is how we find out what motivates us, how we are meant to participate and give ourselves to this life. Relationships help us find boundaries and give meaning to our thoughts and actions. There are benefits to interdependence. 

I am still not sure how to reconcile all of the feelings that have been evoked but I have been helped by a word pattern that my boys learned when they were in second or third grade.

Independence

Separation, Autonomy, 

Rights, Responsibility, Integrity

Cooperation, Participation, Collaboration

Connection, Cohesion

Interdependence

Naming the connection points between independence and interdependence turned the words into points along a continuum rather than punctuation at an end. As I played with the words and their associations over a few hours, my mind wandered and opened. The knot in my chest loosened as I released either/or and embraced both/and. I am so grateful to be reminded of this word play that is really an exercise in building bridges.

Try it for yourself. Where could you build a bridge between ideas or emotions?

Generosity and Surrender

The peony blooms opened just days ago,

Soft round balls of warm pink

Sitting atop tall dark green stems.

The bulbs are clustered

but they open one at a time,

Each offering its fullness in turn.

 

Today, the large blossoms rest on the grass,

heavy with their own weight

and the added weight of the rain that fell last night.

I wonder what twine or fencing I might have in the barn.

I imagine I could create some support,

Alleviate the weight of their burden.

 

I watch an ant walk from a blade of grass

into the heart of one of the blooms,

Disappearing into the soft sweet folds.

The ant is served by the weighted blossoms.

What else might benefit?

Maybe the drooping is part of the peony’s offering,

A generous bowing to the earthbound insects

when it is done serving the airborne.

 

There is so much I do not know.

I am no longer wondering about twine and fencing.

I contemplate life and fullness,

Weight and burden, generosity and surrender,

Witnessing and honoring, beauty and decay.

The mysteries are infinite and close at hand.

Soft pink peony

Explosion of vibrant life

Rest your heavy head

Strong breeze

A few nights ago, a strong breeze blew through. It was pushing out a cool, soggy day and ushering in a warm, sunny evening. As I stood in the orchard watching the leaves wave and the branches bend, I couldn’t help myself from wondering what else it might be ushering in or out. It felt capable of the strong magic that could blow in Mary Poppins or transform the Kansas of our present times to the OZ of the near future. As I felt the wind on my face and in my hair, I daydreamed and wondered.

Is this the sudden shift of energy that will usher in harmony and balance?

Could the Earth help blow away the ills of our society and blow in its health?

Was there someone nearby experiencing a significant shift of perception or life circumstance?

Standing in that wind, I was reminded of the breeze that blew the day before my youngest son was born. There was no doubt in my mind that that wind was ushering in new life. The convergence of energy and air outside had something to do with the life-force that was in my body preparing to make an entrance into the world. As contractions were slowly growing, I walked aimlessly through the neighborhood. The cool air on my cheeks and swirling dandelion seeds were reassuring mirrors to the powerful energy that was building in me. The intensity of the wind and the alternating dark clouds and bright blue sky held both dark and light, ferocity and safety. As I observed the interplay of these external forces, I was acutely aware that they were also at play inside my body. Moreover, they had a life of their own.

As I walked, I remembered the words of comfort and encouragement that my friend, Su, had spoken to me when I was in early labor with my first child. I had called her in a panic, certain that I could not go through with this birth process. The intense emotions and intense contractions were too scary, too painful. “I can’t do it,” I told her. She listened patiently and then assured me that not only could I do it, but also “the only way out is to go through to the other side.” She was right, of course. I could do this: I was born for this. Emerging on the other side, I joined a long, proud lineage of startled first time mothers when my son entered the world.

Two years later, remembering her wise words and reveling in the wind energy around me, my sense of individual autonomy disappeared and was replaced by the sense of being held by this collective lineage. I surrendered myself to the labor and power of the birthing process, trusting in the ancient, inherited wisdom carried in my female body. In the face of this powerful, shifting life-force energy, acceptance and openness were my only possible responses. The next morning, as the wind subsided and the sun began to rise, my son was born, carrying the strength of that wind that blew him in. We welcomed him with love.

The wind blew strong yesterday as the city of Portland, Maine prepared to meet the needs of hundreds of asylum seekers being transferred here from the Texas border. Most of them have been traveling towards safety for many months. The new arrivals have overwhelmed the city’s established shelter system in the last few days so the city has established an emergency shelter in the expo center. They are preparing to offer safe temporary housing and food for up to 350 individuals in the next week. As a whole, the community has responded quickly and generously to welcome the new arrivals. When I first read reports, it made me proud to be a Mainer. Reading on, it surprised me to read disparaging comments about the generosity. Panicky voices of fear responded to requests for assistance — “I can’t”, “I won’t”, and “it’s not my responsibility”. People are grasping to the illusion of their control and separation even as cooperative action unfolds around them. I wish I could offer them the same assurance, comfort, and confidence that Su offered me many years ago. The only way out of this is to go through to the other side. That means that it isn’t possible to opt out. There is new life being born, not just for the asylum seekers but for all of us. Humans are social creatures. We are meant to step in close with one another. In fact, we were born for this.

In Sacred Instructions, Sherri Mitchell has described these evolutionary times as “the long, dark birth canal, and the Great Mother is in the throes of her laboring pain”.(p. 26) The analogy describes perfectly the squeeze, fear, and promise of these times. There is a strong wind of change blowing. We respond by alternating between contraction and expansion, generating ever greater energy. When we give ourselves to the possibility and promise inherent in this process, joining the light and energy within us to the shifting energy around us, we contribute to the emergence. On the other side of the long, dark birth canal is a new life, full of love, possibility and an energy of its own. On the other side of the dark, blustery night is a sunny, nurturing day. Shadow and light will always interplay, but we can choose to give our energy to the light. When we do, we may just find that the Mary Poppins magic has been here all along in the strong breezes, gentle wind, and still skies. It is here in our hearts.

May we greet each other with openness and acceptance.

May we welcome new life with love.

May the strong winds around us and within us usher in new life and possibility.

May we remember that we were born for this.