Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. And as you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change."

Rainer Maria Rilke, excerpt from Sonnets to Orpheus

Friday, March 25, 2011

Hollow heart...

"The more hollow a heart, the more resonant it can become. I would make of this body, this life, a sounding board, tuned to that sympathetic vibration, which is sympathy, which is feeling together, which is compassion for all the world." (Kathleen Dean Moore, Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature, 139.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Constancy of change

"Contraction changes into expansion, and expansion changes into contraction; physicalization changes into spiritualization and spiritualization to physicalization; movement changes into rest and rest changes into movement; solidification changes into decomposition and decomposition changes into solidification; prosperity ends in poverty and poverty in prosperity; success into failure and failure into success; joy changes to misery and misery to joy; love becomes hate and hate becomes love. Day becomes night, night becomes day; winter turns into summer and summer turns into winter; darkness turns into light and light into darkness, health changes to sickness and sickness changes to health. The rise of civilization brings about it's decline. Difficulties produce strength and happiness. Tears lead to smiles. War results in peace, life turns into death and death turns into life." (Michio Kushi, The Dรต-In Way: Gentle Exercises to Liberate the Body, Mind, and Spirit. Square One Publishers, 2007. 9.)

My friend Elissa McCarthy sent me the above quote. Kushi is an important voice in the macrobiotics for wellness movement, and Elissa has been a student, searching. Are we not all life's students, searching? I am always so thankful for every friend with whom I experience a sharing of the search. Such sharing, it seems to me, leads to that comfort in the deep, inner knowing of continuation.

Yesterday all day and again this morning the skies are gray, the clouds heavy with moisture, light rain falling frequently, rain a persistent possibility. Tuesday morning, though, I noted how mist delineated St. Omer's Creek, and the pond in the meadow, and billowed over Deer Creek where I know it curves out of sight from the house between the hills. The forecast is for the clouds to blow out this afternoon as a cold front comes in. The clouds are heavy now, but the sunshine is coming again.

Okay, I admit it, I'm sick with some sort of sniffly, sneezy, coughy, chills and sweats and achy junk. This too, this too. One real blessing I carry with me from the time illness brought me to a standstill is a sure knowing that I have the ability to notice what doesn't hurt, and what does still work. I have not fallen, I have not been unable to rise and stand and walk, I have not been unable to help myself. So I have noticed, experienced the deep knowing that this is not so bad, I got through worse, and this, too, will pass. There it is, the blessing of the constancy of change. Let me always be one who notices and accepts the life of this hour, to notice it, to experience the gift it carries, to bless the constancy of change.

Persistence and Change

This poem developed in the fall of 2004, a Presidential election year, and one during which the United States was, indeed, at war:

Persistence
...there is nothing new under the sun.
I have seen all the things that are done under the sun;
all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
Ecclesiastes 1:9b, 14 (NIV)

Seasons have turned again. Shiny
wild grasses wave free as flags
and proud as the banners of war.

Multi-flora rose canes, thorny terrorists,
grab and gouge the unwary, the greedy
roots tunnel deep, spread, cleave, hide

in earthy parts that would rather cling
together. See the constant river, corduroy
pattern subtly changed from yesterday.

Wind stings my cheeks. My sweatshirt
hood, black, comes forward like blinders.

I stand under the sun, stare at the world, wait
for any thing to unfold for me today.

On the huge, ancient, reliable rock—
the one rising from the water, shaped like an icon
of the turtle that carries the globe on its back—
shadows hint of growing fissures.

I may live to see it split as a family divided
in one wild moment, edges sharp and bitter
for decades but gradually wearing away,
the breaking pain buffed and smoothed

into pebbles and grains of sand laid down
side by side, one with another, like all
that has gone before, the floor beneath
the flow, the ever shifting ripples.
~Carol Bindel~

Now, in the spring seven years later, I continue to observe that ancient, reliable rock. For a few years after I wrote the above poem, fierce and also slow currents did continue to undercut that turtle rock, wearing it away, making the image of the shell with an opening for the turtle body even more real. About three years ago, though, a large tree fell just upstream, roots and all, and was washed downstream to where it came to rest in such a way that much of the water flow was diverted away from that rock. Pebbles and sand piled up in the lee. By last summer it looked to me as if a new island might be forming, that rock a sturdy, part-buried element included.

Now, in the floods a couple weeks ago, the tree and the collected pebbles and sands all washed away. The tree, I believe, was diverted by the power of high water from the right bank where it had been shielding the big rock, to where it now rests high on the left bank, the Y of its trunk collapsed, yet the roots and color still identifiable. The pebbles and sand surely lie redistributed, unidentifiable. The notion of a new island, of growth, of a family newly and strongly growing in unity without first a break from the old, all that now again looks unlikely.

Yet the metaphor continues to feel sturdy to me. We cannot know, day to day, cannot predict exactly what event comes next. All we can know with surety is that change will continue and continue, and we can rest in the comfort of knowing that life is change. I rest assured that life and change and flow will carry us all.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Noticing the Wounded Healer

No fully conscious adult can fail to notice that we are in a time of tumultuous change. The great unraveling. A shift in consciousness. A paradigm shift. A few years ago, I didn't even know that word, paradigm.

Simultaneously, many voices of observant people are now decrying how for centuries we have treated our Mother Earth like both an inexhaustible storehouse of supplies and also a sewer or garbage dump, pouring out our messes and poisons. Mother is sagging under the burden of our demands.

I heard someone, maybe Coby Beck, make a comment to the effect that we are the first species who could choose not to go extinct but we have not yet done so. We are as children, demanding, and Mother makes her responses. I wonder, do we know how to listen to and hear her?

A cluster of five pines grows by our mail box. In yesterday's damp air, the smell of resin wafted around me like a tonic. I stood there and breathed deeply, soothed.

This morning it is good to see a new dawn.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Anita Barrows, "Heartwork"

Do you know the poetry and translations of Anita Barrows? If no, you have a treat awaiting you in her work. Here's just a taste:

Heartwork by Anita Barrows

Monday. Bronze sunlight
on the worn gray rug
in the dining room where Viva sits
playing her recorder. Pain-ripened sunlight

I nearly wrote, like the huge
vine-ripened tomato
my friend brought yesterday
from her garden, to add to our salad:
meaning what comes

in its time to its own
end, then breaks
off easily, needing no more
from summer.

The notes
of some medieval dance
spill gracefully from the stream
of Viva's breath. Something
that had been stopped

is beginning to move: a leaf
driven against rock
by a current
frees itself, finds its way again
through moving water. The angle of light

is low, but still it fills
this space we're in. What interrupts me

is sometimes an abundance. My sorrow too,
which grew large through summer
feels to me this morning

as though if I touched it
where the thick dark stem

is joined to the root, it would release itself
whole, it would be something I could use.


There were colts with their mamas in the warmest meadow across the road this morning. The sweet freshness of new life is blooming all around us in the natural world. Whoever looks may see.

Friday, March 18, 2011

"No measure of human grief can stop Earth in its tracks. Earth rolls into sunlight and rolls away again, continents glowing green and gold under the clouds. Trust this, and there will come a time when dogged, desperate trust in the world will break open into wonder. Wonder leads to gratitude. Gratitude opens onto peace." (103)

Kathleen Dean Moore, Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature. Trumpeter, Boston, 2010.

Yesterday was sunny and in the low 60s, and I kept finding reasons to go out into the day. Clear more winter debris from the lawns. Take a walk. Take the pruning shears and wander in the woods, hunt poison ivy climbing tree trunks, and the invasive multiflora rose. Be sure to greet everything.

Some of the skunk cabbage plants are already standing tall, in vigorous green leaf. Some are still at blossom stage, and some of those as pairs looking almost like praying hands.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

My favorite modern Irish poet is John O'Donohue, who just died in 2008, way too young. You're probably familiar with him and this poem, but if you're not, it's too great a gift not to share. (The title means "Blessing," a curragh is a sort of canvas boat, and Josie was his mother.)

Beannacht
For Josie

On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.

And when your eyes
Freeze behind
The gray window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colors,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
In the curragh of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.

John O'Donohue, To Bless The Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings. Doubleday, 2008. 10-11.

He also writes in his book Anam Cara, "You can search far and in hungry places for love. It is a great consolation to know that there is a wellspring of love within yourself.... When you have moments on your own or spaces in your time, just focus on the well at the root of your soul. Imagine that nourishing stream of belonging, ease, peace, and delight. Feel, with your visual imagination, the refreshing waters of that well gradually flowing up through the arid earth of the neglected side of your heart. It is helpful to imagine this particularly before you sleep. Then during the night you will be in constant flow of enrichment and belonging. You will find that when you awake at dawn, there will be a lovely, quiet happiness in your spirit."

John O'Donohue, Anam Cara, Cliff Street Books, and imprint of HarperCollins, 1997. 28

(By the way, the poem "Beannacht" is also published on the dedication page of Anam Cara.)

"Feel, with your visual imagination..." and "...that nourishing stream of belonging, ease, peace, and delight." The visceral, visual imagination . An enormous power that we carry, that we can access just by noticing, by intentional attention, a power we can enhance with practice.

Everyone in the household is sort of sick. My Irish husband is even sick enough to stay home from work, which is unusual. Yet I look out at the brightening light of the day, and I know myself happy, just happy.

This morning I had emails from friends, real communications. I have "real" friends, and family who love me and whom I love, and that makes me happy. I have creature comforts of all sorts: water (hot and cold, clean, running! I will never take that for granted), food, clothing, shelter. These help make me happy. I know the blessing of peace in my heart, in spite of all the troubles around us, and I find simple delight in daily routine, and in nature, and in all sorts of the arts, and in the sciences... I have enough; I know myself just happy.

I wish you, also, all the blessings from the poem, from the wellspring of love within yourself. May you have them, and know you have them. May you find yourself happy.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Still

The word "still" is interesting in that it has two quite different meanings. It holds the sense of quiet, and also of continuance. Sometimes the meaning in context is clearly one or another, sometimes, and especially in poetry, both apply.

That word applies in both senses to the outdoors view today. There was rain overnight, and light mist fills the valley. Wet tree trunks, wet roof shingles on the horse sheds, dense shadows inside those sheds, all are varieties on the theme of dark. The mosses growing on the close trees have about the same value of green as the meadow grasses, but a slightly different, perhaps less golden, hue. The asphalt lane that comes from the farmhouse to the road, usually black as asphalt is when it's dry, makes a slick sliver ribbon. The pines, as fully infused with color as ever, are less distinctive as the air-water blends and softens the view. It's all beautiful.

Don't our moods and abilities go through periods of weather changes, just like the valley? There is sunshine, and starsong, and rainy times. Since I must continue to age, my desire is to do so gracefully, and I'm sure one of my lessons is to learn over and over that if I will but set my intention to be patient and compassionate to myself and to others, sunshine will return.

The truth is, of course, that eventually I will not open my eyes to see the sunshine. I know that end from the beginning. I don't claim an opinion about what happens to my particular spirit after death. Yet I know this: Is there life after death? Just look around! Springtime!

This morning the world is quiet, and it continues.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

When morning stars sing

Last summer before surgery, neighbors saw me out one morning and asked with some surprise in their voices and faces, "Did we see you running? Why are you running?" And my answer, which seemed obvious to me, "Because I can!"

Likewise this morning, had neighbors been about, they might have asked, "Why are you walking around your house in the semi-dark?" Because I wanted to be, and I could.

It was an early-to-work day for my husband, so I was on the deck in full dark, while I could still see some stars. Job's conversation with God came to mind. Job had heard all his comforters, and complained to God, and finally the thundering reply came, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth...when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God sang for joy?"

Isn't that a wonderful image? There they were again on this particular morning, those morning stars, singing. As reliable as they'd been in my girlhood in all the clear pre-dawn mornings when I rose and went out to tend to my assigned work. I'm not sure why I was fetching up cows from the meadow in the morning, because my primary jobs related to the chickens, but I have those deep, deep muscle memories of cold and frost, and also of lush full summer, and the murmur of the Holsteins; and my own voice sing-songing in walking time (Uhpsey,Uuhpsay, come-on, come-on) to start them marching toward the barn; and the quiet, then, as we all moved patiently together in the calm, the soft sound of all the feet on the earth, accompanied by the song of the morning stars.

And then I got to experience dawn.

There's another song:

"On the road to Mandalay
Where the flying fishes play
And the dawn comes up like thunder
Out of China across the bay."

Poem written by Kipling, and made popular by Frank Sinatra's rendition of it into song, it's much longer than that verse used as refrain, of course. But it's the thunder image that's always puzzled me.

My own experience of dawn is of such a quiet, opening time. Except when there's literally that rare event, a dawn thunder storm. What is this dawn coming up like thunder? Is sunrise or sunset really different in other regions of the world? I've heard of sudden sunsets, too. So perhaps.

Every one of the sunrises and sunsets I've ever experienced has been a gradual, quiet event, the subtle colors shifting, shifting, shifting. In some sense, it does happen quickly, so that if I look away for even two minutes there's been an obvious change. But it's an event that takes place over quite a period of time, an hour or so, or an hour and a half, depending on what one chooses to count. And each particle of the entire environment is effected. One can easily not notice much from indoors. So this morning I had sufficient time, sufficient energy, sufficient desire to once again experience part of today's sunrise as a contact sport.

Outdoors, the full arc of sky is available; also the ground and all that's close thereto, newly growing; also the taller growing, the towering trees; also the voices of the summer birds returned; also and the twigs and leaves disturbed by the briefly quickened steps of the deer who noticed me and leaped up for a few steps before they said to themselves, "Oh, just her." (Or, if they were part of the formally trained English major herd, perhaps they said, "Oh, it is just she.")

This morning the sky wore scarves of pink. Yellow, purple and white crocus are in bloom, some of them little, some of them giants. Every year, a few crocus and daffodil plants appear in unexpected places. I suspect woodland critters transplant for me. It makes me laugh, a little joke in the springtime.

Like most mature people, I recognize I have some fear of the process of coming to my own death. Yet I am coming to trust that I will never be too old or infirm to notice and take joy in the beauty and mystery of the earth. Even if I were to be blind and deaf, park me in the sunshine so I may feel sun warmth on my skin. If I'm lucky, I'll always be awake enough to notice dawn and dusk and the little jokes of spring.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sense of Wonder

Again I observe, and thereby experience, the glory of two geese flying in sunrise, uplit, their marvelous colors, their perfection. How they tilt, straighten, cup their wings to guide their flight. It seems to me that they are as intentional in their ways and being as any human being. How they set an example for me as we meet, unknown to them, in a shared moment of this day. Everyday. Every day the same and different, repeated and also new in its variations on the theme.

In her book Wild Comfort, Kathleen Dean Moore writes, "I'm thinking it's a paltry sense of wonder that requires something new every day.... To be worthy of the astonishing world, a sense of wonder will be a way of life, in every place and time, no matter how familiar: to listen in the dark of every night, to praise the mystery of every returning day, to be astonished again and again, to be grateful with an intensity that cannot be distinguished from joy." (36)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

This morning I lay in bed for a little while after I awakened. The early sun painted a pink tint onto the black oak trunk where I could see it through my window, and rimmed the western sky with pink as well. I experienced again the glorious burnished colors of birds flying at dawn. How the sky-oriented, sun-pinked world shines.

A little later, I saw the angus herd with a couple babies in a neighbor's meadow. Those calves! They're so sturdy and squared-off-looking, and so charmingly little. And they're all so black on the present pale green meadow. Even later in the year, when the meadows have turned to lush green, the angus are reliably sturdy, rectangular and black. I always look for them, and seeing them always gives me the belly-felt experience of all's-right. "All will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well" as long as angus graze in the meadow.

I have a crystal hanging in my bedroom window. In the afternoon, when it is struck by full sunshine, it sheds rainbows on the white walls all around my room. This morning I sat for meditation for half an hour in full sunshine, and a vision opened of a rainbow filling my body with clear, overlapping layers of light, like the afternoon rainbows on my bedroom, only bigger. I was a warm, human rainbow.

With the sensation of being so filled with light came the sensation remembered from childhood of opening my arms wide and running full tilt downhill. Oh, how alive that felt! Do you remember that feeling? Almost out of control but not quite, laughing like crazy at the pure sensation of being.

Wasn't it Rilke who wrote something to the effect that if one had lived fully in childhood one could spend the rest of a lifetime in a cell and still write vividly from those memories? I'm so thankful, though, that I can still experience the wide world.

Today I walked along Deer Creek for the first time since the floods last Thursday and Friday. The road is full of mud. The county dumped gravel over top, but at many places the mud was so thick the gravel just sank in and disappeared. A few neighbors plowed and shoveled mud from the mouths of their lanes much like we shovel heavy snow. There are shoveled-mud piles. Big trees and heavy rocks have been moved all around in the creek bed, though I can't quite see how and to where, yet, the creek is still so high and murky.

Compared to a tsunami, this rushing creek water is small stuff. What wild power is carried in rushing water. The fierce, non-human, dependable loving-kindness of the natural world. As Lao-Tzu says, "Nature is not human hearted," and "Nothing in the world is more flexible and yielding than water. Yet when it attacks the firm and the strong, none can withstand it, because they have no way to change it. So the flexible overcome the adamant, the yielding overcome the forceful. Everyone knows this, but no one can do it."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Scientists and Researchers, In Praise and celebration of

We have a youngish (four years) and very lively light-orange and white cat in the household. (Her name is Yuengling, the pale ale cat. The white-trimmed black cat is called Guinness.) She is quick and alert and full of vim. She has recently been found to have a heart murmur. And she has also been showing us, of recent months, that she likes coffee.

I wonder if the two-- heart issues and liking coffee-- are related? I know for sure my morning coffee is a pleasure. I am both physically and emotionally addicted. I like the taste and I really like the sense of energy that follows, and the easing of some of my morning creakiness.

Some scientific studies say coffee is bad for us, others say it's good for us. Just yesterday Bernie told me of one that found that women who drink coffee are less likely to have a stroke. Well!!! I love self-justification.

I am no scientist, sadly. I did not know, when my life was taking shape, that that was a path I would enjoy hugely, and so followed other emotions and took another path, and there is a Robert Frost poem that explains all about a life full of roads not taken. But I am a consumer of scientific research results, a reader of the synopsis of findings, articles in Scientific American and New Scientist that are written for the interested lay reader. And I'm ever interested.

David Brooks has a new book out, The Social Animal. I've been hearing about it from many sources. I gather it's about how beneath our rational consciousness we are emotional creatures. It shows that the way we physically experience our lives depends on the largely still undefined-by-us workings of the brain and the rest of our physical body. That our chemistry, our experiences, our emotions govern our conscious, rational mind.

In an article in the March 7, 2011 issue of Newsweek, James Atlas quotes Brooks as saying, "The scientists I've spent the last three years talking to are truth seekers... They've helped me see how the power of deep ideas changes the way you think. It was part of my idea to go down, down, down, to look at moral and spiritual creativity, the deepest issues.... Philosophy and theology are telling us less than they used to. Scientists and researchers are leaping in where these disciplines atrophy-- they're all drilling down into an explanation of what man is." (47)

In this morning's sunshine I carry with me all sorts of ideas and questions. In most simple, unscientific ways, I observe the horses and the flock of white gulls like a paragraph on the greening meadow, the pine tree wiggling it's branches to adjust to the invisible air flow. Before I sat down here, I was briefly outdoors in the cool morning, and I knew I was happy in the moment. I take a breath here and now and come to one basic answer: I know that I am alive with the rest of the natural world.

Much more than that, I do not really know. I will observe and experience my very little slice of the world, and listen to researchers and scientists.

P.S. What about that earthquake in Japan, and the probability of one coming soon to a landscape near us? Are we listening to the scientists?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Desire

I've been talking with my friends about how much I miss the feeling of desire when it leaves me, when I cannot identify anything that energizes me, pulls me forward. One friend agreed that she's aware of lack of desire, too, trying to notice it, identify it. Desire is, after all, such a powerful thing.

Though sexual desire is one element of desire, perhaps the first element people think of, what we're discovering is that we are seeking something different from that but just as elemental.

My friend Dana Knighton wrote: "My urgings are deeper these days, less physical, more a thing of spirit and soul than of flesh. The drivenness of my hormonal years is gone. In its place is a quieter, deeper longing, one that roots down into my veins and marrow. It has no name, it does not surge forward, pulling me behind it like a cart. Instead it sinks into me deep, like rainwater through loam, percolating down to the aquifer. I don't know where that blind stream runs, I don't know its source nor its end, I only know I feel it running through me quiet and strong."

Yes.

We are in the Lenten season, now, of course, and the promise of springtime and nature's new beginnings is growing all around us. Yesterday, Father Richard Rohr (http://cacradicalgrace.org/lenten/2011/) wrote about desire and new beginnings, how it is that "new beginnings invariably come from old false things that are allowed to die." Today Father Rohr writes, "In Isaiah 58:1-9a ... Isaiah makes a very upfront demand for social justice, non-aggression, taking our feet off the necks of the oppressed, sharing our bread with the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, letting go of our sense of entitlement, and not speaking maliciously."

In today's entry of his blog (http://earlsmichwat.blogspot.com) my friend Earl Morris writes of a time when he was approached by an apparently homeless family in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart, and he gave them less than his wife was in the process of spending for ice cream. Only driving home, and onward, did he think about the comparison of amounts given and spent, about homeless families, people down on their luck in this tough, tough economy.

We know the statistics about the current inequity of wealth distribution in our country. Do we truly desire some redistribution in order to have the kind of world Isaiah describes? Who has the power to shift us toward what Isaiah suggests? The obvious answer is, together we do. The next question, with a far less obvious answer, is How?

I suggest it's one more movement that begins with desire in individual hearts. Recognized desire. First, know yourself, deeply know yourself. Identified emotional responses that may then be factored into rational, actionable responses. Not an easy path. How do we start? How?

I think it's the path that Jon Kabat-Zinn advocates, finding one's truest self in regular periods of quiet. Kabat-Zinn teaches a secular path to that inner quiet. (Others, ancient and modern and of every stripe, also recognize the same path as Kabat-Zinn takes, just the methods of teaching, the trappings, vary.) I suspect I'm preaching to the choir, here. Nevertheless.

What do you most deeply desire?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

In today's rainy grayness, I glimpsed a rise of water as if from a beautiful, mysterious fountain from a largish puddle down in the meadow. Then I noticed a small flock of dark birds rising. There to be noticed, to give joy, or not. There, either noticed or unnoticed.

Me, too. I'm here, noticed or unnoticed. Here I sing my song, true and clear as I can manage, singing to myself and to anyone who wishes to hear and share in the singing.

I grew up in a tradition of a capella four-part-harmony hymn singing, every member of the congregation not exactly encourage but more like intrinsically expected to lift voice, to participate, to give back whatever gift one had been given. In the atmosphere where everyone was expected to participate in the song from the time before they were conscious of being conscious, the group had no totally tone deaf members that I remember. The choir of the full congregation became a worthy offering.

I do not remember a time when I have not loved to sing. When I was a girl, I grew into the responsibility for egg production on the farm. There were about a thousand chickens running loose in the straw on each of three stories of the chicken house. The nests where they (mostly) laid their eggs were along one wall, the roosts where they went to sleep at dark along another wall, free-standing wooden feeders in two long rows mid-house. I came into that space with an egg basket over my arm, the need to spend the time to gather all the eggs, and a young, imaginative energy. So I sang to the chickens. Each time, then would raise and cock their heads at me in unison, and you haven't truly lived until you have a thousand chickens gazing at you! Then they would begin a kind of crooning that chickens do when they're happy. Not exactly clucking, certainly not squawking. Just a kind of humming song. The chickens and I surely also made a worthy offering.

Lift up your voice and sing, mindless of critics, for critics there will always be. Do not stifel your song for such. Find your true voice, and let it be heard. Be yourself. Lift up your voice and sing-- it's in the Bible, isn't it?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Teachers change the world.

"After class, a student said thank you. It's a heady experience to have a class go well. A class is kind of a garage band, everybody pounding away on their own instruments and something new and interesting and celebratory flying into the air," Kathleen Dean Moore writes in her book Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature. (Trumpeter, Boston, 2010, 26)

These three sentences are part of the chapter, "The Happy Basket," where Moore tells of having decided to do some intentional observations about what made her happy. She simply (or not so simply, as is often more the case) put a basket on her desk and every time she found herself really, deep-down happy, she jotted down on a slip of paper what she was doing at the time. Thus she gathered raw data for her personal happiness experiment. A really good class experience turned out to be one of the things that made her happy.

Yesterday I was gathering up over-winter leaves from flower beds. Earlier I had stacked a few pieces of wood, and raked up a wind drift of leaves from the lawn-- not a lot of extensive, heavy work, just a little of this and a little of that in the sunshine and crisp, quiet air, under the elegant, naked branches. And suddenly, crouching there with my bare fingers carefully, gently wriggling in the dirt around those sturdy new daffodil and tulip and hyacinth and crocus leaves coming along, I noticed I was smiling, and so relaxed. Just happy. Really, deeply happy. That felt satisfaction, the all-is-well feeling, that in-the-body knowing of happy.

It is a worthy experiment, I think, to truly notice and pay deep attention to what makes you happy. In today's Ash Wednesday daily meditation, "A New Start," Father Richard Rohr writes, "Today you must pray for the desire to desire."

What do you truly desire? What makes you truly happy?

Teachers change the world. And, oh wait, everyone is a teacher.

We learn from each other anytime, anyplace, we can't begin to know when we are teaching someone something just by the way we are being.

So, if we can identify moments that make us truly happy, and if we also can desire to desire good things, happiness, for ourselves and others, then will we become the best people we can be? Then will we have quiet (or boisterous), ordinary influence that changes the world? I'm suspecting that's how it might work. Now, I'm going into my day to find out what else makes me happy.

By the way, I'm thankful for every one of the teachers in my life. And I've noticed that a deeply thankful feeling is one of the experiences that makes me happy.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Soon Spring-- an ongoing story

The sunrise brilliance is gradually filling the valley as the shadow of my eastern hill withdraws itself. The movement of the light and shadow always reminds me of the most graceful ballerina dancing on her toes from the western sky wings, down the trees, across the meadow, onto center stage. There was frost on all the meadows, and it, too, is yielding itself to the warmth of the direct sunshine.

The wind has calmed, a perfect day to do some spring raking, for the raggedy old leaves will smile and bow and allow themselves to be carried and deposited wherever I take them, rather than flying up with new determination in the face of fierce air. A day like today reminds me of the old tale of the springtime wind and the sun and their contest to see who could get the man to take off his coat.

'Tis a metaphor of fear and love, of course. Another example of how the generosity of love-- fierce, powerful love that is as generous and inclusive as sunshine-- can defeat fear. "Hate drew a circle that left me out, but love drew a circle that took hate in."

Monday, March 7, 2011

Rain, then wind

A big flock of gulls has settled in the valley this morning. They shimmer when they fly in this sunny, windy day. They've been flying low, somewhat wind-shielded, I suspect, by the surrounding hills.

A bald eagle was circling in the earlier, dawning brilliance. They are so independent, contained, powerful, so shiny white and golden, so marvelous and gorgeous, when I see one like that I momentarily forget to take my next breath.

In spite of all the signs of spring, it's below freezing this morning, and that wind is fierce. Yesterday we had lots of rain, and St. Omer's filled its banks. I didn't go by Deer Creek, then. But I am eager to wrap up and stride my way down there today to see what has changed. Everything has changed, of course, but what kind of changes will I be able to notice?

I had written a different entry earlier, and lost it when we lost power. S. was in the shower, and B. was eating breakfast before showering. With our own well and septic, we lose water, of course, when we lose power, so it's bad news all around. We are so dependent on all the "ordinary" parts of our life. We take so much for granted.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Notice, Experience, Practice

My sons say that learning is a participatory sport.

We learn through experience.

Our learning experience may be through reading, or through writing down our thoughts, or by tracing letters in sand in order to fix in memory a symbolic shape (a letter) with an associated sound. We learn by sitting in the driver's seat of a car and putting hands on the wheel and feet on appropriate pedals and turning the key and putting a functioning vehicle into motion. We learn from being still and simply noticing (i.e. without trying to affect) what is happening inside our bodies. We learn from efforts and falls. Every experience can be a learning experience, a transformative experience. For once we have learned a thing, we are changed, transformed.

But in order to learn we must notice. We must notice what happened, or when, or how, or why, or all of those. If a thing went wrong or right, if we got what we wanted or got something else entirely, we must notice the experience of a thing in order to learn from it, to be transformed by it. And experience is not just a head thing, it is a whole body thing, head (mind) being just a part.

How do we experience life? Through our senses, though noticing our bodies, our environment, through our full range of senses.

In the present moment? How can we be anytime else? Perhaps we're in memory of the past in this present moment, or perhaps we're in hopes or expectations for the future in this present moment, but we are always in the present moment. It's self-evident, once considered.

But are we fully noticing this present moment, the experience of it, the range of it? Of course not. Who can be human and notice the entirety of any present moment? We can only feel the experience of the moment from within our own skins.

I have learned from my own experience with debilitating pain that the saying, "Breathe and everything changes," is completely true. Change happens in one breath. In my body, every single breath I take creates a change. Of course. It's keeping me alive. When it stops, I stop. It's the exchange that is required to sustain my life in this body, and my body carries my life.

Change is incremental. In the late 90s I was sent for physical therapy for the first time, and the first thing the therapist said was some version of, "You're not breathing right." It has taken me years of learning, of small, breath-by-breath, incremental changes, to learn how to breathe "right."

On my own, by searching, searching, searching, I have devised a practice that works for me, a practice of noticing breath that can control (not eliminate) pain and lower my blood pressure. I tried and could not sustain the formal practices of yoga, and tai chi and qi gong. I tried water exercise and could not bear the coolness, nor the contact with all the necessary chemicals. I listened to this lecture and read that guru. Now I could (haltingly) tell you about my practice, but if you, too, will control pain and blood pressure with breath, you must notice your full body, you must learn some techniques that fit you. You must practice. It's there, it's doable. If I can do it, anyone can.

Notice, experience, practice. It's your life.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Happiness

Francois Lelord, in his allegorical novel Hector and the Search For Happiness, creates a list. He writes, "Lesson no. 6: Happiness is a long walk in beautiful, unfamiliar mountains." (47)

For me, happiness is the simple, humble ability to take any kind of walk, especially in the ordinary, familiar natural world. No need for unfamiliar, no need for mountains, even no need for what is commonly identified as beautiful. Any old day that I can get up and walk in the fresh air automatically qualifies. Like today, for example.

We have crocus blooming, and daffies are poking green shoots through rich brown earthy places. Ferns are greening in the woods. There is an early scrim of color at the tips of the trees.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The forecast for today is "sunny and high in the mid fifties." !!! In our passive solar living space the temperatures will become absolutely toasty, into the seventies.

In the winter, I light the fire in the wood stove and soon I'm sighing, "Ah, warm." By August, though, I know I will be seeking out the basement and sighing, "Ah, cool." I'm glad I have a place to sit, down there, by the north-facing door, the only north-facing opening in the house. In the winter, we're happy to leave our outdoor wraps and boots down there, and scurry to warmth. In summer, it's a fine place to wait for the washer to stop.

Yesterday I noticed for the many-eth time how sunshine polishes the bare tree branches. A sheen, gleaming like the finest furniture finish, the best hand-waxed and steadily, regularly, lovingly polished pieces. And nothing is missed, no curve or cranny where wax accumulated with dirt and crated a dullness. All is curved and clean and cared for.

I first noticed this fine, natural polish eleven years ago when illness brought me to stillness. As I continue to observe the chaotic perfection of the natural world I am so comforted by the sense that I am not in charge (neither are you, but together we are enormously powerful), and still all is well. What feels like the worst will happen, and all is well, all is well.

In the time of heavy snow, I noticed that on dim, cloudy days, even all the reflected light didn't create much shadow. Big, solid tree trunks or smaller, solid me, all wrapped up in my many layers of clothes, we just didn't have much of an impact on the distribution of light, it was all sort of evened out and dull. The daylight was just dull, even day. On days of full sun, though, the shadows were sharp, clear, so finely wrought that even the wire of electric fencing showed as precise lines on the whiteness beneath. The wind tousling high branches created shadow play dances, performance art on the snow. On those days of full sun, even the shadows were brighter than the brightest places on days dimmed by clouds. There is powerful metaphor here. Available for notice.

Mallard ducks are nesting on Deer Creek, and not yet accustomed to my passing. I don't even notice them until they fly.

Early this morning a pregnant doe and the twin yearlings were browsing in the vinca not thirty feet from the table where I sat writing cards. They know from their short life experience that they need not be too cautious in this place. I read the articles about deer overpopulation, and yet there they are, their ears so alert and trimmed with dark fur, their backs tawny, so perfectly colored to fit into their environment. So graceful and beautiful and hungry for life.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Follow-on

This morning the poem on Garrison Keilor's Writer's Almanac is "Gone" by Ronald Wallace, from For a Limited Time Only. (c) University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008.

Wallace writes of sorrow, of the pain of the living in the time after a beloved has died, writes of "the mundane / acts that keep you human, / the little rituals that keep complete // numbness at bay." He ends with the line, "And then, the sorrow goes."

Well, yes, it's true. Sort of. My experience is that after the poem's last line, there is a lifetime of follow on. A little like this:

Years After Sorrow

After the loss of a mate,
parent, child—and oh, please
God, spare me the loss of a child—
one stumbles through the house
of routines that keep the children
fed, washed, cuddled, sent to school,
housed, and fed again. Next step, next.
And then, the sorrow goes.

It goes. Then returns
like a cat pouncing
on surprised prey, and now
it is my turn to cower with pain
in this moment, and the fear of pain
how it zings through the nerves
and leaves
one weak with trembling sadness

and now it is also my turn to breathe,
to straighten, square and relax my shoulders
and say, this too, this too
is bearable, and I can
bear it all, feel it all,

carry it all in the huge container
of love that is the core
behind the heart and bellybutton
of my being.
And then the sorrow goes.

It goes. Then returns
like the ebb and flow of tides
and circle of ocean currents
that keeps the world alive,

the sorrow goes.


Look on this not as an addition to the Wallace poem, but as a continuation of the conversation, a follow on, another poem that (hopefully) stands on its own. And look upon it that finally I am brave enough, and audacious enough and willing to speak, finally, even in limited venues, of my own experience of bearing what has been brought to me to bear.

And let's admit that there are many kinds of sorrow. Everyone, every single one, bears sorrow. We do not pass one other being on this planet who does not bear some sorrow. Why not be kind? For in the midst of sorrow, life is also funny, and we laugh, and life does go on.

Why not imagine that all life might be carried in a container of love so huge that to human perception it is unfathomable? Why not organize some small routines to give back small pieces of compassion for self and other that also exists with all the pain and sorrow? Oh, why not!

Let me live free not because I have become pain and sorrow free but because I have found a container that is larger than those, a place that surrounds them, includes them, and also includes so much more. A sunny soon-spring day, for example...