Morning night, morning light

I enjoy the darkness of the early morning. It has a nurturing softness. In the still-dark house, I move slowly and intentionally through my morning routine. Before too much movement or thought shakes the dreamy sleep from my head, I turn on the coffee pot and roll out my yoga mat in the living room for 20 minutes of gentle yoga and stretching. This quiet, prayer-full moving meditation invites my breath to slowly and gently waken my muscles and my mind. In the still dark morning, the monkey mind is still sleeping and the demands of the day have not yet arrived. I am not only surrounded by silence and stillness, I am filled with it as I fill my lungs with each breath. I set my intentions for the day during this quiet interlude between night and day, sleep and wakefulness.

With a bow to the rising sun that is still not yet peeking over the horizon, I roll up my mat and move to the kitchen. The coffee is ready. As I pour a cup, I notice the light coming from the chicken coop. I just put a light in there a few days ago. Chickens lay eggs when there are 12 hours of daylight or more. In our region, on this side of the equinox, 12 “daytime” hours is achieved with an artificial light on a timer.  I can only smile as I stand in my dark, quiet kitchen, looking through the dark, still yard to that beam of light. The coop is probably bright and noisy as the hens and rooster shake off the night in their own way. They will be stretching their wings, chattering and mingling about. I wonder if they are noticing that one of their friends spent the night outside. (We couldn’t find her when we closed up last night.) I will let the chickens out to explore the yard after it has gotten a little lighter. The rooster will crow to let me know when it is time.

Still moving gently through the dark, I take a shower and get dressed. Coming out of the bathroom, I hear my son stirring upstairs, heading to his shower. That is my cue that the day is arriving. It is time for me to move out of the transition zone and into the morning too. This time, I turn on the light as I enter the kitchen. I will make breakfast and pack lunch boxes. By the time I am done, there will be enough light outside to take the dog for a walk and let the chickens out of the coop so they can spend the day grazing. The day has arrived and I am ready to step gladly into the light.

Throughout the day, I will touch back into the morning’s stillness that is stored in the muscle memory of my body, mind and heart. It remains closer and clearer on some days more than others. I appreciate it when it is close, but the outcome is not the point. I just get to tend the practice with care and love each morning and strive to cultivate the same degree of intentionality throughout the day… And I get to share it all with you. May my morning reflection invite you to pause and embrace the dark and light of your own rising day. May we join together in stillness, gladness and gratitude for a new day.

Roots and Rocks

On a well worn trail, roots and rocks seem to rise above the surface at unpredictable intervals and angles. They have been exposed by the compaction of soil caused by footfall and water. By keeping human travelers to one narrow pathway, impact is consolidated into the sacrifice zone that is the trail.

This sacrificial zone is both a challenge and a benefit to the trees and bushes that grow in close proximity to the trail. The trail corridor reduces canopy competition, giving each individual plant increased access to sunlight. However, the roots that get exposed by the trail bed have to work harder to extract water from the compacted soil. They are also more vulnerable to the insects, hooves, and vibram soles of passersby.

The runners and walkers who travel the trail also have a challenge and an opportunity. A single moment of inattention or distraction can send a person rolling downhill when a toe gets caught on a rock or root. As reminders to stay aware and attentive, these obstacles become opportunities. They provide an opportunity to concentrate thoroughly on each moment, movement and place. For today, this rocky, rooty obstacle course is my mindfulness training.

But it’s not really the ground directly underneath or in front of me that matters. Even as I take a step, I need to be anticipating the next one. At a stroll, I can safely look a dozen meters ahead, scanning back to the near ground with each new step. At a slow run, I can only look 2 meters ahead or less. It seems a fitting metaphor for the way that I move through life. When I am moving along at a clip, I can attend only to that which is immediately in front of me. If I am not careful, I am liable to be surprised when I suddenly notice changes in terrain, scenery, or company along the trail. I remain alert and acutely present  to the near ground. When I am walking the trail at leisure, I have a little wider perspective. I am inclined to develop expectations and anticipation based on what I have glimpsed up the trail but I am in no hurry to arrive there. I am content in each step. Relaxing into the place and my pace, time and thought dissipate and I feel myself melt into the forest landscape.

Neither the hustle nor the saunter are good — or bad. I am not making a judgement, just noticing that they are different and they require different responses from me. At either pace, the only way forward is one careful step at a time.

Trail Race

Noone in front of me

Noone behind me.

Where did everyone go?

 

No matter,

there’s good company here.

This breeze,

these trees,

those birds I can hear

but not see.

 

There is more here

that I cannot see.

It holds me upright

when my foot catches on a root

and waves in colorful greeting

from ferns and flowers,

maples and oaks.

 

I am running slow enough

that a mosquito catches up

and feasts at my left ankle.

I am running fast enough

that my mundane thoughts are left behind.

I am alone with this forest abundance,

drenched in holy space and time.

 

Palms up,

I offer gratitude

and good tidings.

 

Bless this earth

that absorbs my footfall.

Bless this earth

that nourishes my spirit

and holds my dreams,

kindles creativity

and possibility.

Bless this earth

that grieves and struggles.

Bless this earth

that bears the weight

of human indifference and greed,

teetering at the edge

of sustainability.

Bless this earth

that feeds my body.

Bless this earth

that soothes my heart

and ignites my imagination,

both of us cycling endlessly through

birth, death and rebirth.

 

Palms up,

I offer gratitude

and good tidings.

 

A crowd of people cheers ahead.

My body is relieved,

my heart is full.

Palms up,

I offer gratitude

and good tidings

as I cross the finish line.

Gratitude and Responsibility

In early August, I celebrated the midway point between the summer solstice and fall equinox with a dozen folks from Renewal in the Wilderness. We gathered for Lammas (a.k.a. Lughnasa, Harvest Festival) next to a Community Garden overlooking a meadow with waist high grass and insects and birds of all colors and songs. Standing in witness to this abundance, we recognized summer’s bounty as well as the fading light and withering stalks that served as a reminder that a dormant season was arriving. We discussed the infinite web of connection that binds us to past and future, death and birth, light and dark. And we offered gratitude for being here to receive it all. We gave thanks to the exploding stars that give us iron to course through our bloodstream and to the biome that lives in our gut to keep us healthy. We gave thanks to the four-legged critters who bless our homes with joy and fur and to the ancestors who saved the seeds of the sweetest corn from generation to generation so that we could enjoy crisp, sweet corn that evening.

The gratitude that I shared that day has been echoing in my mind and heart ever since. I gave thanks for my children. They are kind, engaged, and curious individuals: they are also tethers to the future. My commitment to nurture and nourish my own children is simply part of my commitment to nurture and nourish all life — and the land and water that will sustain it. Simply by their presence, my children guide me into right relationship with the world around me, always moving towards just and compassionate action and words. I am grateful for the daily reminder to notice and honor my responsibility to the wider web of creation.

I had never thought of gratitude and responsibility in relationship to one another before but, since that Lammas celebration, I have often noticed them nesting together and guiding my actions as I tend to the myriad details and relationships that appear throughout each day. I have been repeating a vow articulated by Joanna Macy in Active Hope. The affirmation captures my sense of responsibility to this time and place and clarifies my intention to live in an honoring and sustaining way.

I vow to myself and to all of you:

To commit myself daily to the healing of our world and the welfare of all beings.

To live on the earth more lightly and less violently in the food, energy and products I consume.

To seek support and guidance from the living earth, the ancestors, the future generations and my brothers and sisters of all species.

To support one another in our work for the world and to ask for help when I need it.

To pursue a daily practice that clarifies my mind, strengthens my heart, and supports me in observing this vow.                                  

   – From Active Hope by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone

As we approach the fall equinox, I am paying close attention to the internal and the external rhythms. I am curious to see what new awareness arises internally as the season comes to balance between dark and light, warm and cool. Whatever emerges, I am sure I will be greeting it with gratitude and responsibility.

photo credit: Thomas Steele-Maley

 

At The Lupine Patch

Yesterday afternoon, I took off my shoes and went for a walk in the field. I circled “the lupine patch” in the middle of our backyard. We mow around this jumble of wild field every year, leaving a circular oasis of weedy pastureland that becomes a safe bedroom for deer and turkeys and a bountiful pantry for birds, bees, and butterflies.

Approaching the lupine patch, I noticed a monarch chrysalis. Finally! I have seen a lot of monarch butterflies this summer but very few caterpillars and no chrysalises. Here was a dazzling green chrysalis with gold flecks hanging from a tall stem of grass. As I stepped in to look more closely, I noticed another and another and another. Two had already been vacated: they were transparent hollow shells. Another was dark, so close to emergence that the wings of the butterfly inside were visible. My son called from the other side of the patch, “I think I see a butterfly that just came out.” As I looked up, a butterfly took flight. He explained, “I think we saw his first flight. He was standing right next to that empty chrysalis drying his wings when I first saw him.”

As I watched the butterfly fly off, something lifted in me. Continuing to walk around the circle and noticing more chrysalises at various stages, I thought about strength and resilience. Just a few years ago, we had worried that the population of monarchs was declining. I am not sure about the worldwide population of monarchs but, here in my backyard, they are healthy and plentiful. I thought about transitions and transformation and the human capacity for change. If humans are caterpillars, how many of us are busy eating, only paying attention to the bite of leaf in front of us? How many of us are stuck, as if in chrysalis form, ready to burst and join others who are already aloft with wings of compassion and care? How many individuals need to transform before a great migration, a great shift in consciousness, can occur? If humans were monarchs, where do I fit in this process?

When I began to walk around the lupine patch, I had been sad for days, carrying a grief that I couldn’t name or understand. I didn’t feel compelled to pinpoint my grief either. After all, loss feels ubiquitous these days. The web of life has been stretched and stressed until the planet and all of its inhabitants are suffering. I did not need to explore in practical detail the myriad ways in which loss of life, dignity, potential, etc…are reflected in my own feelings of lost safety, hope, and courage. I had been just allowing myself to feel this sadness – noticing its heaviness and vagueness. I trusted that the grief had work to do in me and that it would lift when I was ready.

Apparently, I was ready when I remembered to reconnect with the living earth around me. With the resilient earth beneath my feet, my imagination took flight with the butterflies and I remembered. I remembered that we are all One. I remembered that the magnificent capacity for change and healing that I witness in the Earth also exists within each one of us. I remembered that I am a co-creator of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. I remembered to choose transformation.

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.]