Morning Lessons

This morning, long shadows stretched out across the new snow. Looking up to see the waning moon, the contrasts were dazzling. The moon hung just above the treetops in the fading night sky, a brilliant beacon portaging awe. The crisp, lean lines of the tree shadows lay on the ground, a study in boundaries and steady presence.

This morning’s play between darkness and light is a relief. The strong contrasts are beautiful. Though distinct, the edges seem soft. In these illuminated differences, there is truth and integrity. That is the relief, if only for these few moments of early morning, to see the profound beauty in the place where opposites meet. I recognize the relevant lesson for my life immediately. Rather than becoming exhausted or overstretched by trying to embrace the immensity of contrasting strong emotions, I can relax into the place where they meet, noticing tension and contrast and also beauty. This simple noticing takes me off the roller coaster in my head and heart and onto my feet, rooted firmly in this generous earth. Breathing into this deep knowing, my attention turns fully to the mundane tasks in front of me, easing gently into the busy part of the day as I make breakfast, fill the wood stove, pack lunch boxes, and prepare for departures.

An hour later, the night shadows have given way to a ubiquitous softness. As the winter sunrise casts its pale light across the sky and snowy landscape, everything became washed in gauze, including my newfound clarity. I am suddenly washed in gauze too. What am I doing now? How is this important? Can it be done faster so I can move onto something else? What happened to that sense of peace? Why am I so fickle? It was just here. I could feel it. And now it has slipped away, like sand through my fingers.

I am tempted towards frustration for half a moment but instead, I smile at myself. After all, this is the way of the world. Why should it be any different for me? There is coalescing and there is dispersal. There is coming together and there is resting apart. There are phases and cycles, ebbs and flows. I can only endeavor to pay attention and to learn from each step along the way. I do not need to ride the roller coaster every time it invites me on board, but I can pay attention to the ups and downs. I can remember that the moon and the long lines of the tree shadows teach and so does the soft gauze-washed sky. And I can remember to hold and release it all lightly, with love and generosity.

May you too notice the teachings that arrive unbidden in your day.

May you hold them with love, levity, and generosity.

May you release them with love, levity and generosity.

In Community with the Oaks

Most of the old and stately oaks in our forest have dropped their leaves. We have had a few good snowstorms this winter, some ice, and lots of wind and rain. It is not a surprise that the tree line is mostly barren deciduous branches. This clear and distinct iteration of our winter tree line is comforting. It offers clear view of the oak’s strength. The stout trunk and wide reaching branches tell of each tree’s decades of steady presence. They bear witness to the changing seasons in both the field and the forest. In the summer, they host all manner of species in their branches and at their roots. In this mid-winter time, there are fewer visitors and less activity from those who are there. While the frozen earth sleeps, the branches seem to reach toward the sky with a sigh. This is the deep winter rest from which buds and leaves will emerge. This is the deep peace that balances midsummer’s busy-ness. I appreciate these trees from a distance. It is the only way that I can take them all in, from the heights of their tops to the depths of the roots.

A few feet into the field from the great grandmother oaks, there is a line of younger oak trees. They are no taller than 10 feet and their trunks are no thicker than my forearm (which is pretty thin, by the way). These trees are still holding onto their leaves, as oaks often do. Maybe they are more protected than the taller, more exposed trees. Or maybe they are a different species with a tighter hold on their leaves than the others. Either way, these young ones have caught my attention.

With my awareness absorbed, I am freed from my human mind and body for a few moments. Invited into the more than human world, the self-reflective chatter in my mind quiets. My senses awaken. Lights and sounds become brighter and louder. I notice the chickadee who has been calling incessantly from the top of one of the trees. It feels as though roots are sprouting from the soles of my feet, penetrating the soles of my boots and the half frozen ground as my arms lift to the sky. I recognize the stature of the tree in my body. I feel its connection to earth and sky. I feel my connection to earth and sky. No, I am not turning into a tree. I am noticing myself in relationship with the trees. In community, the difference between us dissolves and we become one. (More on community another time)

The leaves of the young trees wave on the slightest breeze. When I walk by, I feel like they are greeting me. I have begun to greet them. It began innocently enough, just a growing silent awareness. Now I find myself talking to them and singing to them. The other day, I walked by without noticing, absorbed by some abstract rambling in my head. I raced back to apologize and offer them my heartfelt greeting. The spirits of these trees are joyful and laughing. They feel both young and oh so wise. They hang on to their leaves but waggle them at me playfully, reminding me not to hold on to anything too tightly or take myself so seriously. They invite me into kinship with the wider world. I am delighted to be in relationship with them. Their friendship makes me smile.

I feel grateful to have cultivated these new forest friends. I am also aware of how much relationship there is to be nurtured. The forest surrounding our field has hundreds of trees and I have singled out these 8 to befriend. That can’t possibly be fair. But it is a start and it is joyful. And getting to know the others will be full of joy too. Further, there are thousands, maybe millions of other plants and animals on this little plot of land. Who will I meet next?

I am guessing this all may sound a little silly. And it is — silly and fun and important; It is one of the ways that I can reclaim my right place in the world, one being among many. I am also guessing that I am not the only one who has a relationship with a tree, or a body of water, or a special stone, or a bird that frequents the feeder. What relationships with the more than human world have you cultivated?

A Week in Haiku

Last Monday, with a busy holiday week approaching, I decided to set a tangible and achievable writing goal. I don’t usually set expectations for my writing. I write by hand in a little notebook each morning. When time and space allow, I write again at my computer when I am inspired, or struggling, or problem solving, or filled with gratitude or awe. I don’t require this writing time of myself. Rather, I feel compelled toward it and when I “need” to write, the time usually opens for it. Since I wasn’t likely to have vast amounts of mental or physical free space for this additional writing during the holidays, I wanted a finite goal that would ensure reflection and allow me to creatively capture an element of each day.

I decided to write one haiku per day for the week. Each day, it felt as though the subject for the day’s poem presented itself. Something would capture my eye or attention and, almost spontaneously, I would begin counting syllables. Teasing my observations and experiences into 5-7-5 format was meditative and fun. I was looking deeply at the world around me and exploring the sensations it evoked and playing with the words and associations to describe it all. I suppose that is what I am always doing when I write, but somehow the haiku form made it all feel light, playful, and just right for this time of the year. May these word pictures bring light, play, and peace to your day also.

December 23 – 29 — a week in haiku

Waking to wonder

Pale pink sky surrounding me

Gentle, warm embrace.

 

Walking in the field

Oaks laughing, breeze caressing,

Sun rising. Delight!

 

Ice coated lichen

Illuminated in a 

blanket of soft snow

 

Wooded trail, crunch of

Ice and mud heaves underfoot

Unpredictable

 

Blessings from the sky

Cool and dripping sacrament

Original gift

 

This in between time

Not then and not yet later 

Only now, always

 

Woodsmoke hangs heavy

In a dark and starless sky,

A storm is coming

Solstice Sunrise(s)

The balance of light and dark invites introspection and contemplation. The pre-dawn morning is the time when I capture and record my inner thoughts. These are the moments of the day reserved for nurturing awareness, cultivating gratitude, and setting intentions. This is sacred time.

On the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere, we have an opportunity to bow in gratitude to the teachings of the darkness and turn again towards the gift of light. However, it was December 20, the day before the solstice, when the sunrise captured my attention and this poem tumbled out.

Solstice Sunrise

As the veil of night lifts

And sky lightens,

Oranges and pink shade the horizon,

Pale grey blue overhead.

There is no fanfare

To celebrate 

This auspicious day,

The shortest of the year.

The land and the critters feel

Gentle, subdued and sleepy.

Noone stirs in my house.

Perhaps we are meant

to greet this pale sun

with a soft smile

before pulling the covers high

And retreating to dreams

Until the sun has climbed higher.

The next day, on the winter solstice, I actually did sleep until after the sun had risen well above the horizon. It was the first time in weeks that I had not been awake to witness the transition from night to day. I was sad to miss that special time but I was grateful for the extra sleep. 

Re-reading this poem after watching this morning’s sunrise, I realize that I had suspected a sleep-in was coming. While it was not at all intentional, it seems the solstice was meant to be an opportunity for me to snuggle deeper with thoughts and dreams. That is the magic of the pre-dawn morning. That is the wonder of living in harmony with the rhythms of the earth. The sun, the moon, the critters, the plants and the body are teachers.

This morning, the sun rose behind a heavy curtain of clouds. The sky was shades of purples and grays. I made note of the imbalance of light and dark. I gave thanks for the circumstances that have brought me here, to this place and time on the earth. I set an intention to honor the swinging pendulum between balance and imbalance in my life.

Whether you are in the north greeting the light or in the south welcoming the dark, I hope that the shifting solstice energy offers you an opportunity to meet the season with deepening awareness, gratitude and intention.

Anniversary Remembering

The wave washed over me Tuesday morning just after the sun had risen. It was a familiar but unpleasant wave, the kind that releases only after it has held you under water just a few seconds too long. Emerging breathless and shaken, I took a deep breath. I stepped carefully and cautiously into the day, disoriented and on the verge of tears. Despite the attention and care of loving family members, I was overwhelmed by a sense of being lonely and lost in familiar surroundings.

This was the wave of grief. It has been three years since my Dad died and the wave of grief overcame me as abruptly and harshly this morning as it did on the morning that he died. When Dad died, I recall walking into the still dark morning with my brother, startled by how familiar the morning felt. The stars, the crisp air, and the beginning snowflakes of an incoming storm were typical of a mid-December day. The familiarity was a comfort and also an affront. Because, of course, everything had changed. We had accompanied Dad to death’s edge and waved goodbye. The wave of anticipation that had been holding us underwater during 4 days of bedside vigil had just released. As we greeted the morning, there was a sense of relief but there was also immense loss and uncertainty.

In the days after Dad died, my sense of order — of the universe’s order, really —  had been disrupted. I waited, sometimes calmly but often impatiently, for the world to right itself. I wondered daily, what was this thing we had just experienced and what was next? How do I move forward? 

I have found ways forward. I have grown more sure of my place in the world and my responsibility to it. I have recognized that I am not alone. Death, like birth, is an inevitable and beautiful aspect of the blessing of life. Sustaining love courses through us all and unites the corporeal and the spiritual, the living, the ancestral and the future generations. Grief is a byproduct of expressing and manifesting our love in this lifetime. Grief has invited me to see my own life more clearly and offer my gifts more freely and more bravely. For that reason, I can be grateful for the love and lives that are no longer here. They live on in memories of heart, mind and body. They live on in gifts of love that are re-directed back out to the wider world.

Of course, I could not remember any of this when the wave of grief washed over me on Tuesday. I was simply washed up on the cold December beach, bewildered, overwhelmed, and uncertain about how to proceed in a world that could turn upside down in an instant.

The way forward now is the same as it was three years ago: One breath and one step at a time – just like every other day. After all, that is all we ever really have.

Today, feeling stronger but still tender, I will remember the grip of the grief and the solace of its teaching. I will remember that love and loss touch us all, and that we never know when a wave of new or re-lived grief will break. I will remember to hold others gently. I will remember that love unites us all — one breath and one step at a time.

The Call of the Horizon

The horizon beckons to us all. So why should I be surprised when our dog, Karma, off her leash, heads to the woods? She is obviously pursuing that tree line at the far end of sight. I don’t blame her. I would go there too. On this day with fresh fallen snow, I too would like to be the one to make the first tracks. Of course, she will find that she is not the first one. Others have been through the field and forest already; Deer, turkey, and fox have been awake for hours. Their tracks will tell stories of patient and attentive walking. They are likely looking for food or shelter or both. There is food here. It may be a little harder to find under the blanket of new snow. There are hiding places. They may even be better hidden now that the weight of the snow on the branches curves them toward the ground. I imagine that the critters walk through the woods with keen awareness of potential dangers and opportunities all around them. Karma will follow all of these scents like I read a book, with curiosity, excitement and disregard for the rest of the world. In her absorption, Karma will forget about the horizon and attend to the tracks below her nose.

She will not hear me calling to her — and I will not follow her.

For today, I will not follow the call to head straight for the horizon. I have other things to do this morning. There are breakfasts to make and a lunchbox to pack. There are words to be written and a commitment to be kept. There’s a meeting to prepare for and others to schedule. I suppose that attending to these details of my life is how I follow the tracks below my nose. With my head down, I am attentive to the needs and call of the moment, taking only the step that is in front of me, and then the next. This attention to what is here, no matter how stimulating or mundane, is a practice and a discipline. When I am doing it well, focused on the people around me and the work that is mine to do, I feel grounded and in alignment with my place and purpose. But to maintain that sense of right place and purpose, I need to remember to look up too. There is always a beckoning horizon. Noticing it and, potentially, even yearning for it, provides balance. Some days, I will even take a running leap or a few deliberate steps towards it. But not today. 

Today, I will follow the tracks beneath my nose. I will tend to my work and my home. I will feed the slow and steady fire in the wood stove as well as the one in my heart. I will be here when Karma’s adventure turns her towards home.