The fog hangs low between me and the distant horizon. The tree line feels further away than usual. The dense opaque white mist hangs between us like a sheet. But I know it is penetrable, simply water molecules suspended in mid-air. This water vapor is not a solid veil, it is permeable and gentle. It lingers over the marsh below, creating a mixing place for the tidal waters and the cool air above. It is a mixing place for my imagination too.
When the boys were little and we woke to foggy mornings that were so dense we could not see the trees across the field, I used to joke that it was the kind of morning when you expected to see a pink rhinoceros emerge. As the boys got older, they rolled their eyes at the “mom-ism” but, still embraced in the wonder of childhood, I knew that they approached their days with open curiosity and a clear sense that everything was possible.
For me, the mystery and potential in those thick foggy days was an opportunity to remember what I had forgotten in the process of growing up. As I wondered about the pink rhinoceros that was just out of sight, I wondered about what other fantastical beings or events were just beyond my sight. I wondered about the mysteries of creation. I wondered about Mystery and Creation.
Eventually, out of the dense fog of my wondering, the pink rhinoceros emerged to welcome me back into the chorus of all life, one among many. With possibility penetrating and surrounding us, we walked together, back into the cloud of Love and Light that lingers on the horizon.
Years ago, I found this little slip of paper while I was cleaning out my desk. I recognized it as a note included with the calendar that my grandfather sent every year around Thanksgiving. This homemade calendar included birthdays and anniversaries for my grandparents’ children and their spouses, their grandchildren and their spouses and all of the great grandchildren born to date. Despite long distances, philosophical differences, and ordinary family dysfunction, the calendar literally tethered 50 people and 100 years of lives and relationships. Each year when I received it, I was reminded that my grandparents provided a centripetal focus for all of our orbits. Through them, we each remained in some form of relationship with one another and vitally connected both to our ancestry and also to our legacy.
Our memory of the past defines our hope for the future.
Something about the note must have resonated with me at the time, because I tucked it in a drawer to be discovered and considered another day. When it emerged during my desk cleaning, my Dad was declining with dementia. At the time, we were working hard to hold together the pieces of a life that was determined to unravel. Despite our attentive and creative efforts, the world continued to become more and more unfamiliar and confusing every day. On some days, the note seemed to taunt me, demanding that I figure out how to retain enough memories (for me and for Dad) that we could also both find hope in this very hopeless situation. On other days, the message simply seemed mis-guided. Dad did not have memories to rely on at all and did not seem to forecast towards the future. I noticed, though, that he fully lived the present moments that arrived throughout each day. Each new moment was greeted with openness and curiosity. Unhinged from expectation, a certain freedom emerged. I learned to follow his lead and soon found myself somewhat released from past and future too.
Our memory of the past defines our hope for the future.
Eventually I reconciled with the note. Memory of the past and hope for the future can be important tethers, like the calendar. They connect us to an ancient future and a distant past that keep us grounded in awareness and responsibility. They hold us in relationship with the rest of creation over all time and place, and remind us that we are a part of the whole. But neither memory nor hope can shape our relationships or our actions. Those are best tended in each moment.
The slip of paper still sits on my desk where I can see it often. It still makes me think of my grandfather and his calendar. It also makes me think of my Dad and the love and good living that we shared when we released past and future and, instead, walked purposefully into each present moment of his last few years. It reminds me to appreciate memories and hope while giving my care and attention to those who are with me and the work that is at hand now.
The note no longer teases or frustrates me. It strengthens my resolve to contribute to healing and wholeness. It focuses my attention on the world that my children are inheriting. Their hope for the future is in the words and actions of the young people and adults around them who speak and act with compassion for others and for the living earth now. Their hope hinges on what we do today. For today, I will honor each arising moment with memory and hope — and with an open heart, a clear mind, honest words and actions, and good intentions.
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.
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.
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.