Arriving Here is Taking Flight

This beautiful review from Reader Views assures me that Arriving Here is not only taking flight, it is serving its purpose. Reviewer Paige Lovitt writes, “This is a beautifully written book in which the author uses her gift for writing to celebrate her spiritual connections to nature and her family. As I read her exquisite writings, I could feel my blood pressure dropping and my muscles loosening where they had been tense from dealing with my mundane world.  By sharing her stories, the author inspired me and I felt a yearning to return…”

Read the whole review here:

“Arriving Here” by Lisa Steele-Maley

In March, I am inviting readers into conversation during a series of Book Launch/Lunch events hosted by Inn Along the Way.

During the Book Launch/Lunch series, I will share how and why I wrote this book and describe the insights and practices that guided each section. As I read excerpts from each section and invite participants into conversation, attendees will have an opportunity to begin to reflect on and reclaim the meaning in their own lives.

Bring a bag lunch and join us online for one session or all three.

Seeking — March 10, 12-1pm

Remembering – March 17, 12-1pm

Deepening – March 24, 12-1pm

Since this book launch is virtual, attendance is not limited by space or distance. Please join us if you can. Register here.

If you have any questions, email Sherry.

Frayed Edges

 

A few days before Christmas, I finally received 50 copies of my new book. When the box arrived, I was thrilled. I took one out and savored the beautiful cover and the sense of completion, holding at bay both the terror that a typo may remain and also the nagging truth that the birth of a book is only its beginning. Like a human baby, it needs to be tended, nurtured and supported to find its own way out into the world.

 Arriving Here: Reflections from the Heart and Trail is an invitation to readers to claim their own lives in new and important ways.

After the New Year, I began to write inscriptions to family members and the friends who had helped in early stages of the book. I was eager to get the books in the mail, beginning the process of announcing its arrival in the world. Then, as I was emptying the remaining 25 or so from the box, I noticed that one was smaller than the others. I began to look at the stack of books more closely – inside and out. They were different sizes. Many of the covers were tattered. Some of the margins were too small. In some books, the bottom margins were so small that the page numbers were literally at the bottom of the page. I leafed through like a flip book – none of the page numbers lined up. They were all at different heights.

How disappointing – after months of formatting, honing text and refining the cover, the first distribution of the book suffers from sloppy printing and cutting. I had enlisted support from a professional designer and two editors to ensure a polished presentation. Printing and distribution are the final stage of the process  – and one that I don’t have any control over. Perhaps that is a saving grace. If (when?) I find an editorial or design error that slipped through, I will blame only myself and I am sure I will be disappointed and discouraged in some outsized way… But this sloppy finish work, I find easy to forgive. Oh well, someone neglected to notice that they needed to sharpen the blade on the trimming machine. Oh well, their alignment was messed up. Oh well, these books don’t look as sharp as they could but the message is still strong and resonant.

I could return the books to the printer, pointing out their mistakes and requesting replacements. But that would take weeks and, worse, they would simply “destroy” the copies I return. Instead of contributing to that waste, I have kept the books and continued to give them away. I am beginning to embrace the imperfections as an important nod toward reality. The facades of our lives appear clean and straight and tidy; in truth the real lives underneath are a little messier. We are all a little frayed around the edges sometimes. We don’t always line up straight and sometimes we run right off the page. I can live with imperfection. I can appreciate the ways in which it teaches me to soften my expectations of myself and others. This feels like a good lesson in letting go for me.

That said, I hope I am not the only one buying my book! And I know that book sellers and customers will (and should) expect margins to be clean and crisp. The cover should jump out at you for its beauty, not its fraying edges.

If you have ordered books and found the printing or binding so irregular that it is distracting or if, like a friend of mine, you received a copy that was missing the last chapter and end pages, please let me know. That’s unacceptable and can be corrected. If you bought the book at a bookstore, return it there and point out the problems. They will return it to the printer for a replacement. Once the distributor has received a few returns from retailers, I imagine they will pay better attention to future orders. Learning from and correcting mistakes is as useful and important as forgiving imperfections and holding expectations lightly. The birth of this book is not the end, it is just a beginning.

 I am looking forward to hearing what the book has meant to readers. To bring the words off the page and into conversation, I will be convening an online book group later this spring. Let me know if you’d like to join us and I’ll send you an invitation. 

If you have read Arriving Here: Reflections from the Hearth and Trail, please let me know what you thought. And please help me spread the word. Leave a review at Amazon or Goodreads to help other readers discover the book. Share stories or poems with friends and family. Recommend Arriving Here to your book group and invite me to join you for discussion.

I am grateful for your support and encouragement in any and all ways. Thank you.

The Quickening

photo credit: Thatcher Steele-Maley

An ease has washed over me so suddenly that I can’t help wondering how and why it has arrived.

Maybe it is a by-product of the rising light at dawn arriving earlier each morning. Perhaps it is a result of the rising light in the national mood. Maybe it is due to the increased volume and variety of birdsong in the field. Perhaps it is the relief of reading that Covid-19 cases are beginning to steadily fall. Maybe it is simply the echo of Amanda Gorman’s poem reminding me that “there is always light. If only we are brave enough to see it. If only we are brave enough to be it.” 

I try to acknowledge, notice, and appreciate it without looking too closely. I don’t want to scare it away. But, Oh! How I do want to revel in it! After months of tension in my body and constriction in my heart, I feel an ease arriving. It’s just around the corner, close enough that its edges touch mine, my sigh melting into the fertile silence that surrounds it. Winter’s grip is releasing.

The self-care that felt like such a chore in the last few months when cold, darkness, fear, and anxiety presided has become joyful again. Seemingly overnight, my own practices of self-care, anchored by my spiritual practices, have moved from my to-do list back to where they truly belong, as simple habits of body, heart, and mind. I cannot pinpoint when they became chores, to-do list tasks that barely offered satisfaction when completed and shame or frustration when they were undone. As to-do list tasks, I am only going through the motions. I plod along with the hope that my good intentions will be enough to see me through until the spell of darkness breaks and the awareness that maintaining motion is vitally important. As a habit of body, heart and mind, caring for my self — body, mind, heart ,and spirit — is no longer something to do. It is simply a way of being, my way of being. 

The season is now turning and my being turns with it. With ease, I settle back into the familiar rhythms of movement and writing, prayer and contemplation. I greet the sun as it rises. By 7 am, I am full — full of possibility, full of hope, full of ideas, full of peace. And I may need a nap before the day is done.

I recognize the seasonal pattern. This is the Quickening, half-way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. With the snow gently falling, I know that winter is not done. I welcome its invitation to go slowly, to be watchful, to bundle up when I go out and snuggle in when I get home. And, with the light steadily rising, I know that spring is coming. I welcome its invitation to make ready, to gather seeds, to raise my face and hands to the sky and feel my feet firmly on the ground.

May we celebrate the gifts of both the departing and the arriving seasons.

May we honor both the slowing and the quickening.

May we trust that the balance surrounding us also dwells within us.

Rising Light

Last week I noticed the lengthening days. This is not a surprise – we passed the solstice almost 4 weeks ago. The days had been slowly and steadily getting longer, but in such a subtle way that it didn’t rise to awareness. And then, one afternoon I was coming in from a walk just as the pale pink and orange colors of sunset were beginning to splash across the sky. The afternoon felt newly spacious. Entering the house, I looked at the kitchen clock. It was 4:45! The days have gotten longer.

I guess I didn’t really need to look at the clock to tell me that but it was nice to have my suspicion confirmed. After all, my mind has been subconsciously tracking the passage of the season. Now my body was sensing the rising light and rising to meet it in a new way. The burst of energy brought by the light was doubled by my delight at noticing it as if for the first time.

Last week, I also observed, along with the rest of the world, as the shadowy darkness of American exceptionalism clawed its way into the light. After feeding on a steady diet of fear, lies, and divisiveness for years, an angry mob attacked the US Capitol. As if that were not enough, the institutions designed to protect the Capitol and our representatives failed. This is a disappointment but not altogether a surprise. The dark underbelly of our nation — with its foundations of racism and violence, greed and corporate rule, individualism and separation — is demanding to be seen and acknowledged as it becomes obsolete, slowly but surely replaced by life-affirming ways of doing and being.

Watching news accounts of the events unfolding reminded me of watching the planes fly into the twin towers over and over again during the news reporting on 9/11/2001 and in the days afterward. Then, as on Wednesday last week, my body felt heavy and my mind numb – the only thought I could hold on to was, ‘this changes everything.’ I don’t know what or how or why but it is clear that, just like 9-11, this changes everything.

As disturbing as the picture is, we do well to not look away. These are our neighbors. Can we find our way to hold space to hold them accountable for their actions and also honor their pain? There is real suffering and discomfort involved in letting go of what you thought you knew. Growing and growing up is hard work. Some people put it off their whole lives. It seems to me the entire country is trying to grow and grow up right now. Some people are more ready for the work than others.

The country feels poised, perhaps for the first time ever, to live into its promise of liberty and justice for all — an honest, inclusive all. It won’t be easy and it won’t be graceful, but it is necessary and it does feel inevitable. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught that, “the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice”.

As I imagine myself lending words and weight to the arc of the moral universe in whatever small ways I can, I am grateful that we are in the arc of the celestial year that turns toward the sun. That is more than poetic symmetry. It feels capable of bringing some alignment between human will and universal action. It is helping me remember how and why and where to offer my own light and my own strength — to being whole and healthy for my family, our community, and our nation.

New Year’s Encounters

Just 10 feet ahead of us, it swooped over the road, rising gently from the field on our right. The eagle landed just above our heads in a tall scraggly pine to our left. Tall, majestic, certain of its perch. She watched us watching her — or maybe we were watching her watching us. Her white head and dark body contrasted with the bright blue sky all around so we were able to notice the loft of her feathers, the strength of her features, the tail that seemed shorter from the front than it does in flight. I am sorry you can’t see the face in this picture; I was particularly drawn to the vibrant yellow beak and the clear, straight gaze, inviting us to be with her. 

When we finally began to detach ourselves, we waved good-bye and continued down the road. I paused to take a picture and, in doing so, dropped my mitten. The big bird took off, startled by the movement or sound, or maybe simply preferring not to have her picture taken.

The next day, while running the same route, I saw her again. At least, I think it was her. Again, she flew low over a field and just past me, like she was intentionally revealing herself to me. Her presence feels like a reminder to keep my eyes open to gifts and surprises – not because there are so few but because they are always here if only I would pay attention enough to notice them.

Twenty years ago, we lived in the Chilkat River Valley, the valley of the eagles. Bald eagles lived in the valley year round but, each fall and winter during the salmon runs, they were ubiquitous and bountiful. Though common, we never failed to notice the majestic presence of the individual birds and the power in their massive congregation. We knew how lucky we were to live in their presence. The landscape belonged to the eagles and the salmon, the mountains and the rivers. We were grateful and humble visitors to their home.

By contrast, greeting the single eagle on the road two days in a row, I felt like a host. I wonder (and worry) if she is finding enough food and if there is an adequate nesting spot here. In this neighborhood dotted by patches of forest, field and marsh, is there enough space? In this forest interrupted by farm fields and houses and barns and cows, is there enough wilderness? Is she one of the three eagles we spotted feeding on a deer carcass that was thawing out of the snow and ice at the marsh edge a week ago? Is she a winter visitor or a resident? When can I see her again?

As my question, concerns, and longing turn over and over in my head, I sense that something is out of balance. There is too much of me, too much of my expectations and assumptions, of my care and concern. In the lopsided encounter, there is not enough of us and that sacred, open space between us where we meet as autonomous beings – each with something beautiful and tangible to give the other, the greatest gift we have to offer – our presence. 

If I become too attached to the role of guest or host, I miss the ability to be fully present. Currently, I fancy myself to be a host in my home and in my community but feel like I am clearly a guest in the wider world. My cultural training nudges me to embrace the role of host more fully. As host, I can prove competence and self-reliance, independence and generosity. These are the assets that are rewarded both subtly and overtly in the world around us. As a guest, I get to practice humility and vulnerability, interdependence and graciousness.

When I recognize that I am always both guest and host, I open to the complexity of being human – fallible, invincible, capable, fumbling, awkward, graceful…Honoring my own complexity, and that of the world around me, is ever-present in my work as a program director at a small interfaith seminary, as a parent, as a wife, as a member of a small, rural community, and as a cohabitant of a diverse ecological landscape. Maintaining balance is a little like standing on a balance board. There is constant motion – a continual giving and receiving of energy, tension, intention, intelligence, and care. Attending to the balance and the reciprocity supports each member of the community in retaining their autonomy and integrity while acknowledging that none are truly separate from the whole.

Recently, I have been feeling challenged to release the expectations and hopes I have for myself and for the people around me — especially those that I hold for my children. Now I am reminded to meet their unflinching gaze and broad wings in the same way that I meet the eagle, with a simple presence that honors theirs. Where will the gifts, the surprise reminders of our interconnectedness, come from next?

Winter Solstice 2020

A few years ago, I wrote:

For over a year, I have been watching sunrises. Waking in the quiet darkness, I move to the living room windows and watch the eastern sky. Most mornings, I do yoga as I keep watch out the window. Other mornings, I simply sit in peace and presence. I miss a few sunrises here and there when sleep is too sweet to interrupt or the nest inside the blankets is too warm to leave. On those days, I miss more than the sunrise. With the dawn, I set an intention to guide my words, actions and thoughts for the day. At this time, whether in yoga or in meditation or both, my body, mind and heart rise to greet the day. My daily intention emerges like the sun, slowly and reliably from behind the veil of night, sometimes a surprise but always a gift.

As the winter solstice approaches this year, I begin writing down my intentions. I think that subconsciously, I am hoping to hold the gifts of the sunrise a bit longer as each day gets shorter. Alas, each morning I still need to learn anew that the beauty of the sunrise doesn’t linger. It is leaving even as it arrives. Impermanence resists holding. Impermanence is inevitable, and there is beauty in that too. *

In this year, 2020, impermanence has become a way of life. It is no longer something I need to wrestle with; impermanence has become readily visible in dozens of mini daily adaptations that are required to accommodate new and emerging realities. We have been continually adapting to new situations and information in response to climate crises, the coronavirus, growing social awareness, and declining confidence in our political, educational, and cultural institutions. Our schools, jobs, homes, and relationships have been dramatically altered. What has been felt as tremors in the microcosm of my life has been earth-shattering for others. The impact of our individual earthquakes has been magnified in the collective. It has been exhausting to be continually in response mode and the rate of change has been overwhelming at times.

So this year, as the winter solstice approaches, instead of leaning into the sunrise, I am settling into the gestational period just before it. I am savoring the stillness and nurturance of the pre-dawn darkness, more fully embracing the attentive waiting that precedes the sunrise. In this pregnant pause, there is something waiting to be born, a new intention preparing to emerge. As I wait here in the darkness, I sense the ever-present flame of life that burns within me. That light rising within me is quietly preparing to meet the light of the rising sun.

As the planet turns toward the sun this solstice, may I nurture my little flame of love and compassion. May I kindle fires of justice and hope. May I be the light in the tunnel. 

*Excerpted from Arriving Here: Reflections from the Hearth and Trail. Available now at your local bookstore or Amazon!