All and Everything

I have been visiting an oak tree at the edge of the field. Her girth allows for a generous (but not overstretched) hug and there is a little bowl at just the right height for resting my left cheek against her bark. I can sit with my back against her and let my mind go still while I listen to the creek flowing by. At our feet, fiddleheads emerge through decaying leaves. The owl, whose echoing hoot I have heard in the middle of the night, offers a midday call from somewhere nearby. The tree bears witness to it all in every moment. 

For me, the fullness — of life and death, night and day, stillness and movement — is a lot to take in. I feel my mind wanting to compartmentalize and segment. I notice the temptation to close some of it out and only take in small bits. Yet my senses just want to absorb, to let it all in. This fullness is certainly the gift of this life.

Earlier this week, I had noticed that the leaves on the littler oaks were in various stages of emergence. On some trees, the yellow-ish cone shaped pods at the tips of the branches were still tightly bound. On others, the cones had ruptured, exploding with stalks several inches long and small, lacy red leaves hanging limply. On still others, the leaves appeared hydrated and filled out. Still red, they appeared stronger and more full.

Yesterday, I went to the hugging tree, curious to see how spring was unfolding for her. I was surprised — and then not surprised at all — to find that each stage of emergence was present. Each branch was unfolding at a different pace and some branches even contained multiple stages of opening within a few inches. I cupped my hand under one of the branch ends and studied the tight cones, the limp leaves, and the stems that seemed to have jumped through the bursting cones. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a flicker of movement. I turned my head to notice one of last year’s leaves, tattered, torn, and hanging on by a thin fiber. This leaf had probably emerged last year at this time and had hung on through the sun, rain, snow, and wind of spring, summer, fall and winter. As the new season begins and new life is springing forth, it is still hanging on.

I stepped back to get a wider view of the tree and noticed several of last season’s leaves hanging on. Amidst the fresh, lacy leaves whose season of life and nourishment is just ahead, rest the old and broken pieces that are not yet ready to let go. It appears that the old and the new are going to co-exist for a while. It appears that spring is not an all or nothing event. It is an all and everything process.

As the natural world begins to emerge from its winter hibernation and our country emerges from quarantine, I will pay attention to the ways in which I participate in the emerging season. As a collective, we have recognized our interdependence in new ways in the last few months. Our fissures have proven to be fault lines. Even as conversations turn to “reopening” and going “back to normal”, I am more convinced than ever that the old ways of separation, individualism, and exceptionalism are falling. We are already creating something new. Like the spring, it is arriving and I am eager to welcome it. But I will be gentle and patient with the tightly closed buds that are slow to embrace possibility and change. I will give myself fully to the vibrant and passionate energy that wants to work for healing and renewal that honors all beings. I will offer compassion to the old and tattered ways that hold on persistently as new life springs forth. Surely there is something to learn from each aspect.

And, as a new world emerges in fits and starts, I will return regularly to hug the oak. Gazing high into her reaching branches and feeling the strength of her roots below my feet, I will be sustained and encouraged.

What will sustain and encourage you?

Patience and Resilience

Snow is falling on the garden bed where I spotted three tiny spears of asparagus beginning to emerge from the soil just yesterday. It isn’t sticking but it has been snowing since I woke up hours ago. I am thinking of all of the buds that are about to burst — the tight round clusters of the asian pear, the long rolled spears of the beech leaves, and the partially unrolled fiddleheads. White wildflowers and purple violets dot the field and the frog eggs in the pond have matured to tadpoles. I have been watching spring arrive for weeks. I cling to the signs of emergence as signs of growth and possibility. Now I am watching it snow. I can’t help feeling a bit deflated but, in Maine, this is spring too. It reminds me not to cling so tightly. Spring arrives on its own. The unfolding of the season like the unfolding of each individual life, including my own, has its own timeline.

I have been trying to be patient with my body’s inclination towards rest these last few weeks. My leaning toward sleep and away from productivity is not just counter-cultural, it is counter to my own urge to connect with and participate in the flow of the world around me. Yet it is what I need. Sleeping in, I am missing more than the morning stillness. Waking up later in the morning means I miss the time to reflect and write. Missing that time means I have grown full to overflowing with unresolved thoughts and feelings. I recognize myself in the tightly rolled beech leaves and the tight balls of blossoms-to-be on the fruit trees. I recognized myself in the full moon that I watched rise on Thursday night.

Today, as the moon wanes and the spring growth slows or pauses, I too feel released from some of the pressure to move beyond this stage of nesting and resting that I feel. I know this period of rest is not fallow. Renewal and reemergence will come in due time. Until then, I can remain curious about what will arrive and grow more patient and more resilient with each day of unknowing.

I am not alone. Most individuals, organizations and governments are leaning into resilience as they navigate the uncertainties of this time. I recently wrote that, at Renewal in the Wilderness, “we are moving slowly. There is no need to rush to plan, forecast or band-aid. We need, first, to lean into our mission, living it for ourselves, our families and our wider community. We have reaffirmed our sense of purpose, our ability to adapt, and our capacity to sit in the unknowns. We grow ever more resilient as we exercise both our strength and our flexibility with intention. It may not always be easy but, when it is what we are called towards, it is always right.”

May we face the current concerns with resilience born of flexibility, patience and bravery.

May we welcome the coming challenges with resilience born of generosity and receptivity.

May we show up to each moment with an open mind and an open heart.

May we be safe.

May we be well.

May we be at peace.

Last month, I wrote a series of articles on this topic for the Resilience Initiative. You can read them here.

Sleeping In

I have been sleeping in a lot lately. When my alarm goes off, I turn it off without thinking twice. There’s no guilt and no racing to catch up when I finally do get out of bed. I feel a curious sense of leisure and of meeting the world in a new way. Each time I roll over or snuggle in deeper, I hear the birds beginning to sing and notice the sky is getting lighter. There is a relief in knowing that the day can begin without me. It will welcome me when I am ready to join it.

For a few years now, the morning has been my quiet time. In the stillness of the pre-dawn morning, I start the day slowly and gently. I stretch and meditate, noticing my body and my breath with reverence. The stars appear to dissolve as the dark sky lightens. When the sun begins to burst onto the scene, colors splash and shift across the sky. After stretching, I write. This is the time for thoughts that are unadulterated by the light and noise of the human world. In the early morning, I can hear and write a truth that comes from somewhere beyond myself. At the same time, it seems to come both from somewhere deep inside of me and also from the Source of all all knowing. This is sacred time and I have become its devotee.

In every role I play in the world ~ mother, partner, friend, board member, staff member ~ the most important thing I can do is to hold space for others to show up as fully as they can. These few hours in the early morning are the way that I physically and tangibly create space for myself to show up to the day. This morning sunrise time invites a sense of deep grounding, peace, and creative energy that I can tap back into throughout the day.

Yesterday morning, Thomas woke me with a gasp, “Look at that.” I sat up in bed to look out the window with him. The stunning sunrise display of pink and orange spread across the wide cloud-dappled sky. I sat up for a minute or two, taking the beauty in and wondering for a moment if I should rise to be with it. Then I laid back down, imagining that sunrise sky as a quilt worn soft by the love of many generations. I pulled the covers up under my chin and settled back into my pillow. Sleep was too sweet to leave and another vivid dream was waiting. This too is sacred time. 

Which, of course, helps me to remember the truth. It is all sacred.

 

In the Flow

Early this week, I stood in the creek in the rain. The water was running high and fast, turbulent and muddy, like my thoughts and feelings. The weekend’s spring snow storm was melting all at once in a torrent of rain. There was more water than the soil could absorb and the creek, usually just a trickle in this spot, was carrying the excess.

As the water rushed around my ankles, I lowered my cupped hands into the water. They filled to overflowing in a fraction of a second. I watched as the water poured into and out of my hands with equal force. I braced as the water pushed hard against my hands. My heart recognized this feeling of being full to overflowing. The pressure was too fast and too much — and too familiar.

I had been caught in the overflow of my overwhelm for days. For me, that feeling manifests as quiet withdrawal and tears that emerge at the most mundane times. I will suddenly find that my eyes are leaking while washing dishes, writing an email, laughing at a misunderstanding, or literally talking about the weather. When I fall into bed at the end of the day, a few deep, shaking sobs release whatever is left. There is relief in being able to release my emotions with tears. I can’t imagine trying to hold my overwhelm in; It feels possible I could explode. And so I run over, like the creek water pouring out of my hands as quickly as it pours in.

As my fingers began to tingle with cold, I pulled my hands out of the water. I felt instant relief with the release of pressure. Curious, I slowly put my hands back in. For a few minutes, I played in the current, noticing how the pressure on my palm increased at one angle and eased if I submerged at another. I found that if I held my hands underneath the water at just the right angle, I could feel the water pouring over them without being pushed or pulled. With open palms, I was simply blessed by the water’s rush. I did not need to try to catch or release. There was nothing to fill and nothing to overflow. This cleansing, nourishing water simply washed over and around my hands.

As I pulled my hands out of the water a final time, I brought them to my heart. Could my heart learn to play in the flow the way my hands had played in the creek? Is it possible to learn how to hold my tender heart open to the hurts of the world without being overwhelmed? Can I learn to hold myself at just the right angle for standing as steadily in the fast flow of spring melt as in the slow trickle of late summer?

Yes. I think so. Yes – to all of the above. And I trust that the creek will show me the way.

How are you holding or releasing the overwhelm these days?

Who or what is showing you the way?

Cracking Open

The other day, I wrote about the logging in the forest behind our house. I wrote about how the menacing sounds of the logging seem to echo the rippling losses of the Covid-19 pandemic. I wrote about the challenge of not doing anything and allowing myself to simply be with this destruction and the discomfort of sitting in the loss, messiness and uncertainty of this moment. You can read the whole post here.

After writing, I went out to the woods to be with the ache in my body, not just in my heart and mind. It had been raining all night and the air still felt heavy and misty. Either the colors were extra vivid in the misty morning light or my senses were extra sharp; I began to notice signs of life all around. It is springtime in Maine, a season that always feels like a bit of a miracle after a long winter. This year, though, against the backdrop of illness, loss, and fear, the promise and possibility of spring feels especially miraculous.

 

Amid destruction

Creation is emerging

Look and you will see

 

The acorn has split

Cracking open to new life

Spring is flowing in

 

The creek is running

High with water, sight and sound

of saturation

 

Bed of brown decay

Mulching oak leaves lie under

Verdant green lichen

 

Blown out of a tree

Whose sap is running and buds

are bursting with growth

 

Perfect insect hole

Borne into this rotting log

Now hosts a sapling

 

Stems of grass turn green

In the dormant brown field, soon

Deer will graze again.

 

New cups of lupine

Hold pure raindrops and dew drops

Sacrament of life

 

Blessings of wonder

Offerings of Creation

Look and you will see

Being With Destruction

There is logging happening in the woods behind our house. A few months ago, we had seen flagging back there. An abutting landowner had commissioned a survey of the land. Since our deed reads something like, “walk 40 paces north, turn 35 degrees at the big maple and walk 70 more paces to the separation in the stone wall…” the flagging seemed appropriate. We didn’t know why the landowner needed to know where the edges were but we found it interesting to see them delineated.

We have always appreciated that “our” undisturbed patch of forest spills into other unknown people’s undisturbed patches of forest. The lack of boundary markers between “ours” and “theirs” makes it even more clear that the forest belongs to itself. More specifically the inhabitants of the forest belong to themselves and one another and, in their interrelationship, an even more whole and complete life force is evident. This is the universal spirit expressed in all life and in the creative energy that passes between and among all. 

Knowing the bright and vibrant life force of this forest makes the hum of the logging equipment deeply disturbing. The menacing sounds of zipping saws and crunching equipment rub roughly against the fragile peace and security that I harbor in my heart these days. It is so loud and so close that I can hear it even from inside my house. Even worse, I can hear the sounds of destruction, but I cannot see them. I know that lives of the trees are ending and the lives of the forest critters are being forever altered. I also know the reality of woodlot management. We have thinned our forest for firewood and to help support the development of a healthier ecosystem too. There is nothing for me to do to change this situation. It is complicated, messy and beyond my control. I can, however, be with it.

I can notice the violence of rapid change. I can notice my distress. I can notice the tightness in my chest when the machines start up each morning and the relief when they stop in the afternoon. 

I am especially aware of how my responses to the logging feel amplified by the Covid-19 landscape. Daily, I am overwhelmed by the reality of our existence and by my own urge to be of use, to do something (anything!) to alleviate the suffering that is multiplying and amplifying daily. Alas, there is very little for me to do. I can ensure that my family feels safe and loved. I can reach out to offer a listening ear to friends. I can offer support to the organizations who are creatively meeting basic community needs. But none of that is really about doing. It is about being.  I cannot open my arms to hug the loved ones or strangers who are ill, scared, lonely, anxious or grieving. I can, however, open my heart to them. I can open my heart to be with others in the concerns, loss and uncertainty of what will come next. I can be with my own distress in a way that is open, accepting, and curious. 

I have to remind myself that being is enough.

When the machines and the virus have gone, and it is safe to offer the world an embrace, I will step into the new landscape with new appreciation. I know I will feel eager to do something to contribute to healing and recovery. I will need to remind myself again (and you can remind me if I forget) to simply be with the creation too. There are lessons of letting go, letting be and faith for me here.

Perhaps there are lessons here for you too?