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.]

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?