The Valentine People arrived last night. I wondered if it were too soon; the icy winds of winter still blow fiercely through the shadowed sky’s mysteries, and the introspective garden dreams deep beneath the dense and silent snow.
The old man said, “It is never too early to speak of spring, the resurrection of blossoms, or love.”
It is three months to the day since my reverse total shoulder replacement. The surgery’s name still makes me feel like my arm is now attached backwards, waving at what’s behind me, but it actually means the inner mechanics of ball and socket are now bionic and reversed for greater stability. The arthritic pain is gone and a great deal of mobility has been regained. I’m told by my physical therapist that healing will be ongoing through at least the first year post-surgery if I will commit to daily exercises, and I have. My arm still crooks awkwardly at 160° when I try to lift it to 180°. I hope this improves; I know it may not. Trade-offs are part of healing. Healing challenges us to adapt, discover, and recreate ways of being in the world.
The first six weeks or so of recovery were at times grueling, as though I were in a dark tunnel with a very small and distant light calling me forward. I think that’s true of most illnesses, surgeries, and losses. We feel separated from others, alone in a kind of darkness that requires all of our focus to transform through our gradual healing. I took three steps forward and seven back on some days, despite my best efforts. I attempted exercises that for days stubbornly failed to budge the new shoulder’s flexibility.
The encouragement and loving support from Phillip and other beloveds, daily kisses from the 4-leggeds, music, books, meditation, and some crying and cursing bouts all strengthened my focus and hope. These were my lights, the blessings that walked me home to myself again, returning to independent mobility and activities that connect me clearly to my spirit. My ability to both give and take in our relationship, to undertake chores and help with the 4-leggeds has also returned to a recognizable balance, another sign of restored health. I am grateful. I don’t know how Phillip did it all these weeks, but I know he cared for everything with patience and grace. And I know he’s relieved I can do my part again. Now I can shine my light for him as he has so profoundly shone his for me.
I can see I’ve emerged from the post-surgery tunnel to the other side of whatever my new life will be. Surgery, like all change, involves loss, grief, and the entire holistic involvement of mind-body-spirit to create new awareness of our identity and goals.
Healing is re-grounding, resettling into the person we are now. Home again, but the furniture’s been moved, and we must re-route our paths between rooms.
A few weeks ago, a good friend who is pursuing her nursing doctorate in holistic health asked if I could share resources on spirituality and health that might aid nurse educators in designing curriculum. The timing was significant and graced, as it coincided with my own healing breakthroughs and reintegration into a daily life not dominated by physical pain and restrictions.
I retrieved dozens of documents and resources to share with my friend, but one was especially enlightening. Almost 20 years ago (gad), I was engaged in three training programs simultaneously: spiritual care/chaplaincy, spiritual direction, and a Masters in Servant Leadership. It was a challenging but deeply hallowed time in my life, pursuing and exploring the profound healing I sought after the deaths of my parents, a time of reorienting to my own middle age and mortality. This is Jung’s “second half of life,” a journey one of my favorite teachers, Richard Rohr, calls “falling upward.”
The first program of study, CPE (clinical pastoral education), prepared me for healthcare chaplaincy, and at some point in that two-year program, I wrote a paper on healing, drawing from many sources, but beginning with the words of my patients, their families, my colleagues, mentors, artists, and historical sources. It has always been my practice to clarify with those whom I counsel how they define their healing. These are highly personal and fluid definitions, but necessary, if we honor our life’s journey and continual emergence from challenges faced by illness and crises to new growth and creative possibilities. We disintegrate and reintegrate. But who are we now?
At the time, I’d written: These words underscore that healing holds unique meaning for all involved in its creation and sustenance. The chaplain’s job is to know, honor, and evolve our own meaning while helping patients design and reach for theirs. Healing can be miraculous, but more reliably, I think, it begins with a yearning for home and the persistent journey one undertakes to reach it before dark.
I still believe healing is coming home again to ourselves, but transformed into who we’re now meant to be. (We’re always becoming, aren’t we? Every day is an invitation to become more and more authentically ourselves.) Our being is remodeled through healing, but it’s still recognizable as home.
As I celebrate and continue to heal my shoulder, I’d like to share these generous words of wisdom from others, to support and illuminate your own healing journeys and those of your beloveds. (Note this was a clinical paper, so patients are identified by their diagnoses. Names are changed. Religions are identified, if provided, only to gain insight into potential sources of spiritual support.)
Joyce, 92 Christian (Methodist childhood/Presbyterian adult; increasing physical symptoms that indicate the end-of-life is approaching)
I suppose for me it would be a return to optimum health…and if that is a lower level of health than I had when I arrived at the hospital, then healing would mean acceptance. (Long pause.) The most difficult healing of my life happened after my husband’s death. The hardest by far…it took years, although it was the first year that was completely black; it was the heaviest, darkest, most silent year of my life…but it wasn’t until five years after he’d died, when I was 61, and traveled to London with a friend, that the sorrow palpably lifted. I remember the very moment: we were in Piccadilly Square, shopping and having a grand time, and I came out onto the street: bustling and life and people and color and activity everywhere…and just like that: I said, “I am happy. I want to live again.” Just like that. Healing can happen like that. Grace.
Maura, 56 (Catholic family; Mother has had CABG [coronary artery bypass graft] and stroke in past year)
I think it would just be for her to have no more pain…she’s been through so much this year: the surgery, all the hospitalizations, the nursing home, and hospice. (Crying.) I just don’t want her to suffer any more. Healing would be an absence of suffering and pain.
Kate, 51 (Catholic; morbidly obese)
Healing? It would mean I could ride a bike, play in a pool with my kids, walk with them…I could clean house; I’d be normal. That’s what it would mean: I’d be normal. Spiritually, it would mean forgiving myself…finally; I would be able to forgive myself.
Jane, 75 (Catholic; third TIA in past year; grief issues)
Well, healing would mean I could live with Frank’s obsessive control of everyone and everything; I mean, I’d heal faster if he would heal, but I have to heal anyway, right? So I need ways to keep calm and not let him get to me.
Paula, 32 (Catholic childhood/education; now “spiritual; not religious.” Staff member struggling with decision to have hysterectomy)
The definition has changed. Healing used to mean reiki, imaging, meditation…any natural and spiritually-based therapy that would help me release the physical and emotional pain and tension due to my reproductive organs’ malformation or malfunctioning. All I wanted was to preserve the ability to have children. My last relationship was the only time I’ve felt an absence of all that pain, but since we ended our relationship, I’ve been experiencing all the old pains again, and this week it’s just become unbearable. I finally am willing to consider a hysterectomy and accept all that means for my life. So, I think now, healing has come to mean living without pain and seeking other ways to express my procreativity and maternal yearning. And there’s grief that comes with this understanding… I’ve always been content with the idea of adoption, and I receive a lot of satisfaction from healing others; maybe these are some of the answers for me…
Joe, 76 (Lutheran, raised as “holy roller;” complex web of disease including diabetes, kidney failure, CHF)
I just want to make God happy while I can; do what I can for others—maybe help out other old people who don’t have the money or kin to care for them.
Bernadine, 74 (Lutheran; extreme back and flank pain; chronic pancreatitis; grief issues)
Healing would be finding my way to inner peace.
Patrick, 47 (Church of Christ, Vet with PTSD; alcoholic)
I think healing means ridding myself of my addiction and being able to focus on doing good for others; that’s what gives me joy and makes me feel the best I can feel about myself.
Carmen, 82 (Methodist; infected knee implant; “miraculously cured” of bone cancer 8 years earlier. Responded to question regarding healing by applying the concept to her daughter who is now receiving treatment for bone cancer with a poor diagnosis)
Glorious! Healing would be glorious. She would be completely cured, like I was.
Healing is the restoration of physical and mental well-being; feeling life is once again manageable and meaningful…for me, this is what nursing is about.
Emma, Social Worker/Discharge Planner
Healing? It’s getting the hell out of the hospital. Being here forces people to confront the fact that they’re sick. Being “out there” (gesturing towards the outside) gives people evidence, even proof, that they’re able to function and be seen in the world as healthy.
Healing would encompass the complete realm of physical, emotional, and spiritual components necessary for well-being. I don’t know if it’s ever complete…it’s an ongoing progression.
Healing? It depends what you’re specifically addressing. It has to speak to the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of the entire person: mind, body, spirit. From a nursing standpoint, it’s the absence of the disease state, meaning physical wellness and the restoration of health. But that’s not always possible, as with types of cancer; so then we address the emotional or mental struggle and the patient’s grieving process regarding what he’s lost physically, his ability to make new meaning and move on. The spiritual facet of healing also has subsets; for example, those aspects that might be termed “religious”: the patient may be angry with God, or perceive a distance in prayer, and the need to find his way back to peace or, hopefully, even grow in relationship; this becomes integral to his healing. Then, there’s the individual’s own spirit—connected with his emotions— that, ideally, would reach a level of healing that would confer contentment, inner peace, happiness. All of these areas need to be addressed and brought into balance. The degree to which this happens can offer a kind of measure of the healing that’s occurred.
Linda, RN, Nurse Educator
The first image that occurs is that of a wound closing; that’s my orientation as a nurse. But healing is also getting better, improving, and returning to your previous state of health and well-being. It’s also moving forward in your life rather than remaining in the place of illness.
Betty, Social Worker/Discharge Planner
Hmmm. My first thought is to regard the patient’s mental and emotional health. I think healing is physical and emotional well-being—the process of getting there.
Dr. Harper, Pulmonary Medicine
How would I define healing? (Smiles and recites) Two pieces of flesh coming together…no, seriously, I think healing involves the recovery of physical attributes that one associates with wellness, as defined by the patient, his family, his physician, etc. As important , is recovery of the spirit and one’s outlook regarding one’s life. So many times, the physical healing occurs, but not the spiritual—a sense of vitality and wholeness isn’t restored. Both are necessary, and the latter is sometimes overlooked. As Director of Pulmonary Medicine, I initiated our directive to ask patients to define their own goals regarding their treatment outcome and it’s always illuminating to hear these: things that would be way off my radar and that I would have no way of knowing if I didn’t ask the question…I’ll always remember one woman, Dorothy, who has since died. She said her goal was to be able to make her bed again. She wanted to restore order and beauty to her home, to gain control of her space and the time she had left. (Smiles, remembering.) I wouldn’t have understood that if I hadn’t asked and listened.
Catherine, Social Worker
How would I define healing? Oh, gosh! So many things…The simple concept would be that healing requires the alignment of one’s mind, body, and spirit; they need to be in balance. I don’t believe that healing is curing—it takes place on a deeper level. Real healing is being in right relationship with oneself; for me, spiritual healing needs to take place before anything else can happen that matters.
My spiritual director told me of a time he sought answers in knowledge and realized knowledge didn’t offer healing; it just made him an enlightened neurotic. How profoundly that resonated with me.
So many of the people I see each day cannot be cured, but I believe that every one of them can be healed. The Greek root “sozo” is related to our words for healing, redemption, and salvation. Illness can create a holy place where the healing of one’s spirit can occur even as the physical existence is altered, incapacitated, or ending. Here, in the midst of great vulnerability, is a sacred opportunity for transformation into the authentic self that life so often buries at the core of one’s being.
Healing? Hmmm. (Long pause.) I guess, healing would entail being at peace with who, what, and where you are now.
Sr. Mary Patricia: Spiritual Director, Leader, Wise Woman
Hmmmm. Well, healing has to be about the whole person; it’s multi-faceted. One’s chakras have to be in order; the spirit has to be whole…healing has more to do with the spirit and a sense of well-being than not. I can have “incurable” physical disease, yet be in a process of healing, of seeking and establishing well-being. It’s more about fully being in the here and now than “getting somewhere.”
Ed: Personal Spiritual Director, Anam Cara
Healing is a lifelong process that’s available to the degree one is open to trusting the Spirit’s work and is accessible to Divine Action, or Love.
Dr. Walter Alvarez: Listen to your patients; listen and they will tell you what’s wrong with them. And if you listen long enough, they will even tell you what will make them well.
W. H. Auden: ”Healing,” Papa would tell me, “is not a science, but the intuitive art of wooing nature.”
Sai Baba: Love one another and help others to rise to the higher levels, simply by pouring out love. Love is infectious and the greatest healing energy.
Barbara Brennan: Any illness is a direct message to you that tells you how you have not been loving who you are, cherishing yourself in order to be who you are. This is the basis of all healing.
Ivy Compton-Burnett: Time is not a great healer. It is an indifferent and perfunctory one. Sometimes it does not heal at all. And sometimes when it seems to, no healing has been necessary. Samuel Butler: A physician’s physiology has much the same relation to his power of healing as a cleric’s divinity has to his power of influencing conduct.
Lord Byron: Always laugh when you can. It’s cheap medicine.
Richard Carlson, Ph.D.:Wholeness or health is our natural state. The nature of healing involves removing obstructions to this natural state and bringing individuals into alignment with themselves and their world. Free of these obstructions, an individual’s innate intelligence and self-regulating capabilities will guide him toward a state of well being.
Willa Cather: The miracles of the church seem to me to rest not so much upon faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near to us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always.
Norman Cousins: It is reasonable to expect the doctor to recognize that science may not have all the answers to problems of health and healing.
Sarah Fielding: The words of kindness are more healing to a drooping heart than balm or honey.
Matthew Fox: Beauty saves. Beauty heals. Beauty motivates. Beauty unites. Beauty returns us to our origins, and here lies the ultimate act of saving, of healing, of overcoming dualism.
Lester Bowie: Music is very important. It’s important as a tool for learning, it can be a tool for healing, it can be no telling what, as long as we remain free to be able to create the music, to be able to experiment and to really research, and to really get time to develop the music.
Catherine Drinker Bowen: For your born writer, nothing is so healing as the realization that he has come upon the right word.
Brad Garrett: Humor is healing.
Stanislav Grof: Coming to terms with the fear of death is conducive to healing, positive personality transformation, and consciousness evolution.
Marilyn Hacker: I have experienced healing through other writers’ poetry, but there’s no way I can sit down to write in the hope a poem will have healing potential. If I do, I’ll write a bad poem.
Hippocrates: Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.
Alice Hoffman: Part of the healing process for me was, what would I want to read if I was newly diagnosed? I would want to read a story of possibility…
Jean Houston: With subtly developed body awareness, it is possible for the individual to become the conscious orchestrator of health.
David Hume: It’s when we start working together that the real healing takes place… it’s when we start spilling our sweat, and not our blood.
Hubert H. Humphrey: The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love.
Susan Jeffers: The joy of becoming whole is always accompanied by tears. Every step toward a healthy body, mind and soul asks that we say goodbye to something familiar.
John 5:6: Do you want to be made well?
Sue Monk Kidd, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: In her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard wrote that she could not cause light, but she could put herself in its path. The same may be true of healing. Maybe in the end we cannot make healing happen; perhaps it is, after all, a grace. But we can put ourselves in its path.
Clyde Kilby: Myth is the name of a way of seeing, a way of knowing. Systematizing flattens, but myth restores. Myth is necessary because of what man is because man is fundamentally mythic. His real health depends upon knowing and living his mythic nature.
James Miller: Healing is a sign of life’s desire to refresh and renew itself. It is evidence that life has been infused with a vitality that allows for regeneration, sometimes even resurrection. Healing is an energy that pulses through all living matter, leading irresistibly toward wholeness. Even death does not exhaust it. Death is an essential part of the cycle of healing but not its final word.
Ultimately, healing is rooted in the Source of life itself. It is the original act of creation taking place again and again, in bodies and minds, in people’s stories and dreams, in their relationships and accomplishments. It is the same act that takes place each time you reach out to another in reverence and openness. And it is what happens each time the other responds.
Caroline Myss: How important is becoming healthy to you? Healing has its price, just as seeking to understand the nature of one’s consciousness does. The price of becoming healthy is, in many respects, similar to the answer to another question I could have asked: What are you willing to give up to meet God?
Christiane Northrup, MD: If you have a headache every Monday morning when it is time for you to go to work, perhaps you’re driving the wrong car, perhaps you’re taking the wrong route, or you may be in the wrong line of work. Obviously, only you can figure out the message. The more you move toward what makes you feel good, and move away from those things which bring you distress and pain, the healthier you will be. The work I do to let go of my suffering diminishes the suffering of the whole universe. When I have room for my own pain, I have room for the pain of others. Only then can I be transformed into joy. As I heal, the Earth heals.
Henri Nouwen: The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing… not healing, not curing… that is a friend who cares.
Yoko Ono: Healing yourself is connected with healing others.
Philipus Aureolus Paracelsus: The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician. Therefore the physician must start from nature, with an open mind.
Max de Pree: We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion.
J. B. Priestley: We may not ourselves find the right healing symbols, but, just as a first step, we can at least believe that man lives under God in a great mystery.
Rachel Naomi Remen: …Fixing and helping are the basis of curing, but not of healing. In 40 years of chronic illness I have been helped by many people and fixed by a great many others who did not recognize my wholeness. All that fixing and helping left me wounded in some important and fundamental ways. Only service heals.
John Robbins, Reclaiming Our Health: Unlike much of orthodox medicine, alternative approaches to healing typically honor the wisdom and capability of the human body. Their goal is often to support and strengthen the powerful healing forces already at work within us.
Anne Wilson Schaef: There are so many ways to heal. Arrogance may have a place in technology, but not in healing. I need to get out of my own way if I am to heal.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca: The wish for healing has always been half of health.
Duncan Sheik: I actually think sadness and darkness can be very beautiful and healing.
Fritz Smith, Inner Bridges:In natural healing, illness is viewed as part of a broader process in a person’s life. The illness is seen as having a long preamble and an epilogue, and its own evolution (Herring’s Law of cure*) as it resolves. (Herring’s Law of Cure: A person heals from deep to superficial, from “more important” to “less important” organs and systems; old symptoms return in the reverse order of their occurrence, and we heal from the top of the body toward the feet.)
Dr. Randolph Stone: True health is the harmony of life within us, consisting of peace of mind, happiness and well-being. It is not merely a question of physical fitness, but is rather a result of the soul finding free expression through the mind and body of the individual.
Rabindranath Tagore: When I stand before thee at the day’s end, thou shalt see my scars and know that I had my wounds and also my healing.
Paul Tillich, The New Being: The gospels, certainly, are not responsible for this disappearance of power in the picture of Jesus. They abound in stories of healing; but we are responsible ministers, laymen, theologians who forgot that “Savior” means “healer,” she who makes whole and sane what is broken and insane, in body and mind.
J.R.R. Tolkien: The hands of the king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known.
Carl Townsend: All healing is first a healing of the heart. Healing is not an issue of faith, but rather an affair of the heart. If the romance and passion is there in the heart, we will have faith. People are the gatekeepers of change and healing; God trusts his visions to people.
Ben Vereen: I love sharing my story. It’s endlessly healing.
Marianne Williamson: The only work that will ultimately bring any good to any of us is the work of contributing to the healing of the world, and the practice of forgiveness is our most important contribution to the healing of the world.
May we use our gifts to serve our healing and the healing of others. May we tend our spirits, our bodies, and minds with the love they deserve. May we shine our healing lights, walking one another home before dark. Joy and gentle peace to you.
In the Christian story, the invitation we receive on the First Sunday of Advent is to be present at a coming birth, for which we are given four weeks to prepare, time and events being symbolic, really, of each moment we choose to walk the Christian path.
I used to joyfully accept the invitation to attend the birthday celebration, and faithfully joined in the party’s annual preparation. I sang in choirs, focused myself spiritually by “cleaning house” through participation in Sacraments, readings, and reflections, and then made very merry on Christmas Day, the culmination of the Advent journey.
Etymologically, “advent” means arrival. I used to feel that on Christmas Day we’re there; the journey’s over for another year. We’ve arrived. We welcomed the child and his Light.
Some years ago, though, the meaning of Advent and Christmas began to widen and deepen and simplify for me, as things do when we grow older and accrue experiences and losses, breathe into the blurred spaces between black and white, notice time’s flight gaining velocity, and reflect perhaps more honestly on what we’ve offered our world, and what we might yet offer, given our dwindling days and gifts. No story, after all, is literal; each comes with shadows, echoes, symbols, and meaning, which can change at every reading.
Now I consider that Advent sets us before a full-length spiritual mirror. We arrive at an opportunity to stand in the Great Light and ponder whether we truly want to co-create with it or not. Christmas invites us to be crystal clear about our choices. Are we shining brighter or is our holy light growing dimmer? What is asking to be born in us that will make us radiant and more loving?
Because we are the vessels holding Love’s potential birth. The Christmas story lives within us, shining outward, or it’s just a pretty story. The Light shines through us or we obscure it.
Our commitment to be present once again to the Christmas birth is really a renewal of our vow to follow the path we’ve chosen: we can be mere witnesses to this birth, or get into it up to our elbows, midwifing its Love in every moment of our lives, shining the light it gifts us, revealing all the ways the entire world is infused with the Sacred.
This Christmas, may we forgive our cruelties and the pain others have caused in our lives; may we notice and amend injustice; may we engage in activities that respect and cherish the Earth; may we welcome all the invitations to love and be in joyful, generous relationship with all the life that surrounds us.
We’re still/always becoming, and we have choices regarding whether we’ll lean into or away from Love’s light and see the blessings inherent to being here/now, with the gifts to make that light cast its brightness ever wider, wide enough to include all creation. Happy birthday to the Light of the world!
Blessings to all, however you honor your light and the light in others. Travel safely, gather merrily; I wish you love and gentle peace.
And what is this bright, spangled season for, but to renew our choice to follow Love’s example, to be Love’s energy in the world? We are here, we are only here, to be the light that kindness can shine in the darkness, our own and the world’s, every day. We are here, we are only here, to co-create with Love, this moment and the next.
If Christmas doesn’t ignite in our hearts the choice for a new year of generating all-encompassing darkness-defying Wild Love, then we have got it utterly wrong. And the world cannot afford us the time to get it wrong.
Be merry, be light, love wildly.
Gentle peace, sweet joy, merry adventures, and wild love to all this Advent, Christmas, Solstice, Hanukkah, and Holiday Season. From all of us at Full Moon Cottage.
…And he sat in the chair near the door that Thanksgiving Day, and saw, in the innocent and uncomplicated way a child sees everything, how each of the guests brought gifts to the party, both in their hands and in their hearts.
Aunt Rena brought her famous pecan pie, which meant she had forgiven Aunt Miriam for the argument they’d had last year, and Aunt Miriam brought the casserole she knew was Rena’s favorite.
Forgiveness, he learned, is often part of gratitude.
Uncle Nick brought a huge bowl of fruit salad and his cribbage board.
This must mean that gratitude requires joy and playfulness.
Grandma darted here and there, back into the kitchen, tending the meal, then rushing out to welcome each newcomer with hugs, then secretly adding another place at the table…only he noticed how tenderly she created an atmosphere of celebration.
He understood that humility and hospitality are important ingredients of true gratitude.
Mrs. Whitsall surprised Grandma with flowers, and he watched how closely she listened as, one by one, each guest spoke to her and moved on more calmly. It seemed like they were shining, he thought.
Listening seemed to inspire gratitude, to ignite it somehow. He’d remember this.
And his father had brought dinner rolls from Lessard’s Bakery, and his grief, which he spoke of only a little and set gently aside to join more fully in conversation.
So, gratitude must require a willingness to be human and to surrender. But for what? What did it offer in return?
And then he heard his father’s laughter, a rare beloved music the boy had missed for so long.
Ah, he thought, so there is something of healing in gratitude; it eases sorrow, so we can find our way back to our own song once more.
In every home, up and down the block and all throughout the city, people were gathering, bringing their gifts of food, of forgiveness, joy, humility, listening, and loss–if that was what they carried in their heart–and their yearning for presence. They were gathering to share food for bodies and spirits, to hear their songs sung back to them, to become real again, in ways the world sometimes rushed past and ignored.
Here we all are, as we are, in the geography of now, he thought, and through love and all its gifts, we are brought to deep and happy thanksgiving. And tonight, we’ll say goodbye, but we will be shining, spinning like brilliant stars through the dark world, shining with gratitude.
Today and always, may we be wise, fired by love and reaching for peace, listening to the heart’s yearning for justice, envisioning the next kindness, the new ways of being here, the healing we may offer the world, and our beloveds, and ourselves; gathering our energies to make such visions real, to give them life through our actions our words our willingness to look once more and see the all in every the only in now the new, eternally rising from mystery and possibility.
this is not who we are or why we’re here; we know it. life imperiled, imploding globe poisoned, oh perishing whale pods and flashing schools in the seas, butterflies, bees, and beings unnamed, unnoticed species, vast and vanishing, ancient, noble, hidden insects, reptiles, fungi, birds, and plants, love’s endless invitations refused, the kinship of life denied and dying, reaching for hands reaching only for power, hearts blind to the binding that might have been— perhaps the web has torn beyond mending; perhaps it was all a dream.
but here we are, hope-filled not helpless, an infantry of two, a coup fueled by yearning and what we know is true, armed with our tulip bulbs, hyacinths, daffodils beating back fear, scattering promises of rainbow explosions where others threaten bombs, planting resurrections in the dark to remind us who we are and may be when the light returns, and knowing it will.
Surprisingly synchronous with the arrival of the equinox, our temperatures have fallen to cooler degrees and, as the year continues its turning, our daylight diminishes in its hours. This shift is felt on every level, by each of the senses and all of the inhabitants of our little cottage and the surrounding countryside.
We’re going to bed a bit earlier and rising later. Our business in the gardens and with house projects has actually increased during our briefer days, however. We are definitely the fabled diligent ants rather than the idle grasshoppers. We know the time of closing in and shutting down is rapidly approaching, and the ancient instinct to harvest before the arrival of killing frost is as great a motivator to us as to the squirrels gathering their seeds and acorns.
We’ve cleaned the house from top to bottom, literally, with Phillip climbing the ladder to get at lights, fans, artwork, and very high transoms. Closets and drawers have been sorted and winnowed along with the houseplants, who have returned indoors after their summer vacation. Boxes of clothes, dishes, accessories, books, and duplicate plants have been donated to local resale shops. My former writing area is now an indoor greenhouse, and the seldom-used smaller guest room is now designated as a writing, reading, and dreaming haven.
The gardens are being trimmed as necessary; we’re still waiting for a sustained nighttime temperature of 28 or so to get the new tulip bulbs planted. I thought I ordered 100. Surprise: 200 beautiful bulbs arrived! Call me mystified. Or forgetful? (Call Phillip something else.) I am earnestly, daily (and sometimes in the wee hours, sleeplessly) seeking every available spot to plant these, and am quite certain The Great Tulip Adventure will be one for the books. Something we’ll laugh about.
Autumn and spring, its counterpart in the seasonal dance, are usually hectic times for readiness and attending to checklists, so this bustling energy is not unusual, but it is perhaps a bit more driven this fall because I’m scheduled for a procedure called a “total reverse shoulder replacement” at the end of the month. It seems my autoimmune diseases and age have rather dramatically decided this year to create arthritis wherever I’ve had former injuries, so the long-ago shoulder repair needs updating, and the opposing knee will be replaced several months later. These changes are welcome for the relief and renewed strength I trust them to deliver, but to call them an adjustment easily accomplished would be a lie. They’ve presented a depressing struggle against a reality I’m only beginning to accept as necessary and am still wary of befriending.
But I will.
I’ve spent my adulthood working out and honoring exercise, eating healthily, enjoying physical activities, and trying to tend my spirit. I resent the hell out of this physical weakening and am ashamed to see and present myself as an invalid. I hate the ways I’m now dependent upon Phillip and how it’s increased his chores. His kindness and gentleness have been remarkable. I’m tearfully grateful and then feel guilty about the imbalance this has caused. I’m not useful in this partnership. I cannot walk the dogs, or lift a lot, or clean or cook, or hike as far as I like, or engage with yoga or go for a bike ride, or plant the damn tulip bulbs I ordered months (and a lifetime) ago, without assistance. I’m tired of adapting everything I do, and I’m scared that these surgeries and the endless healing they require may not succeed.
And then I recall my parents’ illnesses, and those of all my elder beloveds, and my hospice patients, too, all of them struggling with their pain and suffering, all the crosses borne and none of them deserved, and how little I really understood when I offered these people my comfort and presence. I wasn’t insensitive or ignorant and I tried to rest in compassion during our time together, but living through the role of the other this time around is a new experience in deepening awareness. Which is always a principle lesson in our suffering, isn’t it? That it makes observed pain vividly experienced and real. It’s humbling and leveling and changes us and the ways we offer comfort forever after. Or, at least, that seems one of the great invitations to me.
And, although I lapse and occasionally/daily indulge that tiny, tension-releasing and rewarding fantasy of slapping people like Donald Trump and Ginni Thomas upside the head, this jarring experience of being dependent and feeling my life held in a kind of suspension more often makes my judgments soften and my acceptance of “what is” gradually reveal a clearer path.
All those wisdom nuggets about loosening resistance and accepting what’s given as gift (if not the gift at the top of my Christmas list) widen the way before me. I read some markedly evolved person’s suggestion that if we can accept these unplanned and certainly undesired events in our lives as experiences we’ve consciously chosen, everything about our relationship and journey with the experience will change. Not only will resistance cease causing greater suffering, but how we make and explore the meaning of these events will be far more loving, buoyant, and deepening.
The long days of summer that pull us up and out and keep us so very actively doing and thinking naturally give way to winter’s darker hours of dreaming and being, of going inward and exploring the heart’s and the spirit’s geography. My wish for us all is that these transitions flow smoothly and that our autumn and winter dreams bless us with awareness, healing, and a readiness for the light of spring. May we adapt to the seasonal adjustments in our lives with good grace and eventual acceptance, sifting always for meaning that enlightens us and deepens our relationships.
I leave you with this image…I was dressing, and happened to look up as the sunlight danced through the side yard’s maple leaves, which made their shadows flicker across and through my indoor plants…perhaps I’m easily amazed, but I found the moment stunning. I thought that sometimes we offer our dear world a disinterested glance, and she flashes back simple, utterly breathtaking miracles. Simple, small reminders that we live always amidst wonders if we look to see them. A much kinder wake-up call from Mother Nature than the ones offered by alarm clocks. May we be as kind to ourselves and others. Gentle Peace.
the pause illuminates all that’s come before; creation must gestate, a measure’s rest empowers hearing to deepen into listening, it allows our hearts to arrive at the place where the music has taken us, holding the notes in stilled and settled embrace, inviting their beauty to be known in lyrical relief against the absence of sound; noise without quiet– movement without cessation– task without respite–yield only spent energy, wasted gift, and dreamless sleep; oh silence, heal my pace: ease me into the signature of your time; hold me in your peace; keep me at rest till I must sing my new song and from all the music of my life, make meaning.
All along the trail these past few weeks, nature’s revealed her readiness to set and release her seeds back to the wind and earth, before she settles down for her own period of rest and regeneration. It’s made me realize that while–for most people–the pandemic was initially a long enforced rest, for me it was quite the opposite, my writing having “gone viral” in early March, 2020, and the ensuing invitations, requests, connections, full schedule, etc., has kept me VERY occupied rather than at rest. So, it makes sense to me, I suppose, that despite the pandemic’s persistent presence, it’s safer management and the availability of better protection have caused most of the people I know to re-engage with the world with all that pent-up energy, while I am exhausted and ready to be at rest for a good, long period.
I will continue to post from time to time, but with no enforced regularity. Other writing is simmering and bubbling away, and I choose to spend more time in my quiet, private creative kitchen for now.
I am so very grateful for those who have visited The Daily Round and taken time to share their responses over these past few years; you have enlightened, inspired, and comforted me greatly. Gentle Peace.
Have you ever walked into an old church or another identified sacred space, and felt the accrual of holiness? Layers of fragrance and energy stop you and draw you to a pew, or a nearby rock, to sit and be bathed in ancient and echoing voices seeking answers and the quest of satisfied hearts connecting with Love. At its core is utter stillness.
Sacred spaces invite our deep listening and bring us to a readiness for enlightenment, however fragile. We know we were meant to be here, in this place, and that we’ll leave changed.
For twenty-five years now, the trail beside my home has been an intimate sacred space for me, a human-scaled reminder that the universe is all sacred space, inviting us to dance with Love, but we need our little churches to personalize such profound relationship, to learn the steps to this infinite dance. I bring my questions, my sorrow, joy, anger, dreams, and yearning to my walks along the trail and it always leaves me changed and grateful. This is how I pray. (“How I pray is, breathe,” wrote Thomas Merton. Yes.)
Early this morning, Phillip and the pups had to circumvent another fallen tree blocking the bike trail heading west. A huge limb of a cherry tree had ripped from the main trunk. When I went for my walk, in the opposite direction, I stopped on the bridge to scan for birds and glanced back towards the fallen tree. A helmeted biker, decked out in a team uniform with a number pinned to his back stood, perplexed, dragging his bike around the tree and possibly wondering if he could move it. But it was far too heavy and he seemed intent on continuing his ride, quickly passing me on the bridge with a friendly, “Good Morning.”
Then, I remembered this was Day 2 of a biking event called Ride Across Wisconsin, and our trail was part of the course, depending on the riders’ choices. I’d missed the bike traffic yesterday while visiting a friend in Madison.
It was early, so bikers were scarce, but as I continued east, in the direction of the Ride, they began to pass in two’s and three’s, or the occasional blitz of bikes zipped by in a line, their riders chatting back and forth, enjoying the beautiful morning. Most greeted me and I, them.
By the time I turned back toward home, the traffic had increased. Every few yards, I was offered a “Good Morning!” and returned one with a smile. Then, there would be a break, and soon another “Good Morning! What a beautiful day!” would be shared. Waves of peaceful connection were flowing up and down the trail. Joyful people.
And then I felt the shift within. That moment of insight, of naming the change that’s happening. When listening meets meaning. I stepped to the side of the trail to greet the next bikers and felt tears in my eyes. The stream of bikers abated, and I had a few minutes alone to realize I hadn’t had this much steady contact with strangers for well over two years…and we were blessing each other. The authentic grace of wishing someone a “Good Morning” was so present and alive, and offered so freely and joyfully. These were not those early morning mumbled, half-aware greetings I recall from school entrances or office and hospital hallways. These were exchanges between people seeing each other, true namastes.
I know some of this happiness was generated by our “weekend joy,” the calls of relieved people pursuing their passion outdoors in all the surrounding beauty. Kindness sometimes comes more readily from the high created when we can indulge in the freedom to choose how our precious minutes will be spent. But still, good medicine for all can heal all; the spirit boost from these encounters can keep flowing when we give ourselves such time in sacred spaces. (And perhaps we could examine more earnestly why our weekday hours are designed to so deplete joyful connection.)
And when I arrived home again, I asked Phillip if he could get his saw and we could remove the fallen tree, which we did, chatting with riders coming through, and receiving their “Thank you’s!”
We walked home and I considered the fruits of my morning walk. Like all sacred spaces, the trail had offered my heart’s readiness a dose of insight, and it had renewed my spirit. I felt lightened by all those shining exchanges with strangers. I held them in my heart.
We are not what the media tell us we are. We’re neither hate-filled towards the other or interested in a civil war. The extrapolations the media make from some-to-all are false. We’re mostly kind, friendly, grateful for a beautiful day, and happy to share its blessing with others.
There is serious work to be done on our planet, and in our country and communities, but today, I felt great hope that we can accomplish a lot together by greeting each other with genuine blessing and parting with gratitude for the chance to spend even a moment together in the sacred space we share. May all your “Good Morning’s” be genuine and may all your mornings be good.
A few of the wildflowers blooming on the trail this week:
How strange to observe what our final harvest yields and what falls away; to notice what treasures the winnowing spares and lifts for a lifetime’s revision: not tension, but its release, not sorrow, but its relief; reviewing the flickering epiphanies when we were seen and known in our fullness; revisiting the creation we enfleshed with our singular energy, lit with our tiny light and waning time, and yet there it spins, shining in the world.
Here is our bushel of realized produce: we loved, and were loved; made of ourselves an offering that spread and grew ever wilder, closer to true; remained always grateful for given and chosen kin, teachers, those who eased a hard day’s passage with green wishes for our peace.
I think they all came true.
That night the music opened doors we’d closed or had missed in the foolish speed of life lived too small; the wonders that came of curses; the endless garden growing from discarded seeds; the surprises born of loss; the willingness to seek and grant mercy, to thread gratitude through suffering, to discover, recover, uncover, to see.
Maybe our wisest instinct was to keep turning, looking beyond, revisiting chances with wider hospitality, reducing caution to nothing but welcome; tenderly sheltering questions, renouncing our inheritance of ancient fences planted to confine the fertility of our joy– all the old voices we silenced forever; we were never what they wanted us to be, those shoulds that inhibited flowering, incarcerating gift.
And how we rose, primal and pure in the pollinating songs of possibility, the choices we set to our own chorus of yes and now. And still we turn, and still the wounding walls fall and the waiting fields widen, and we become the soil that bears our being, imprinted forever.
Harvest is the cutting back to essence, seeing and then seeing again, deeper and below, a readiness for death, knowing its womb gestates life. It is all mystery and then there is finally none, but the need to reach, connect, and grow, to answer calls planted solely in our love-fashioned cells, to hold each breath as gift and set it free, like this, this time of harvest, this moment of autumn skies sighing with geese crying farewell in language that knows us by name.
Here’s a link to an interview I did for our local PBS station, Channels 10/36, WMVS, in Milwaukee. It will air on Portia Young’s wonderful program, 10thirtysix, on Thursday, August 18, at 7:30 P.M. https://youtu.be/QJT-IXKx1oQ
And, I’m so very happy to share the news that Zeltner Publishing, an Israeli publishing company, will be publishing The Rare, Tiny Flowerin both Arabic and Hebrew. This is truly joyful news.
It has been a good month at Full Moon Cottage. Aches have been healed, beloved friends have been visited and entertained, and gardens have come to their fullness and are currently aflutter with butterflies. Last night, rain fell with such force and velocity that flood warnings were rampant, but here the thirsty earth drank in over an inch, eagerly and happily. She deserved it.
The thunder and lightning made such a show of it that several pups asked to leave their crates and join us in the bed, not because they were afraid, of course, but to reassure us. At any rate, today, with more rain coming, I’m dedicating time to reading, watching a movie I’ve saved for a rainy day, and–seriously possible–napping, to recover from all that 4-legged reassurance.
I’m also sharing a story I wrote last winter. I hope one day, in some form, it will be a published book. I can just imagine the beautiful illustrations a gifted artist could create. But for now, I hope it pleases you, just as it is. (Clothilde [klo-TEELD] is a family name I’ve always loved, from my French/French Canadian Lessard ancestors.)
Become what you love.
Gentle Peace, my friends.
Miss Clothilde and the Trees
For all of her life, Miss Clothilde lived in the stone cottage in the forest beside the river. She had many friends. Some had two legs, some had four, some had wings, and some, like the river, just flowed. But the trees were always her dearest friends.
When she was a little girl, her friends came to her parties beneath the willows. They played hide and seek, running through the forest. The trees’ leaves whispered, and their branches waved in the wind. “Here, Clothilde, here!” And she would hide behind their massive trunks, high in their branches, or in the holes used for nesting by the squirrels and opossums.
At sunrise and sunset, she sat privately with one of the trees, usually on a low-hanging limb, so they could have quiet conversations.
Clothilde asked the oak, “Do you miss traveling to distant lands?”
“Oh, no,” it answered, “I love being rooted, watching the seasons change and all my saplings slowly, slowly growing. And those who nest in my branches and forage beneath carry my acorns to distant forests. So, you see, I do travel, in the way of trees.”
Clothilde stood very still and watched the cottonball clouds puff across the blue sky. A squirrel friend sat at her feet and climbed to her raised hands. The owl flew into his nest high in the oak. “I learn so much when I am still,” she said.
She asked the maple, “How do you breathe?”
“Through our leaves, mostly,” it replied. “Trees breathe in what you breathe out, and you breathe in what we breathe out.”
“You mean, we are always breathing trees,” said Clothilde.
“And we are always breathing you,” said the maple. “And so, we become what we love.”
Clothilde breathed in and out with her tree friends. “I love you,” she said.
The hushed rustling of leaves murmured, “We love you, too, Clothilde.”
She asked the beech tree, “How does it feel when your roots burrow into the earth?”
“Infant roots are shy and cautious. But then they grow stronger and more confident, seeking water and tunneling toward the roots of others. There’s quite a lively kinship of roots, fungi, insects, and soil all working together underground.”
Clothilde wiggled her toes, pretending they pierced the earth, digging, and probing all the way to water. “It tickles,” she laughed, “like my fingers in the garden, when I help my parents!”
Clothilde asked the pine tree, “Why do trees’ branches reach up to the sky?”
“Our branches rise to the sunlight and raindrops, so our lives will be long and healthy, but we also raise our limbs in praise.”
“What do you praise?” asked Clothilde.
“Life. The Earth. The beauty of the world and our part in it. The goodness of which everything is made.”
Time twirled the Earth through its seasons and years, and a day came when Clothilde was grown and alone in the cottage, tending her garden, the river, her friends, and the trees.
When she went to town for Market Day, she always took time to sit in the village park to be with those trees, too, and to feed the birds and listen to the music of people bustling with life. The village children called her Miss Clothilde, and they loved to hear her stories about the trees. They raised their arms with her and praised life, the Earth, and the beauty of the world. And when they grew up, their children listened to Miss Clothilde’s stories, too.
She said, “Each of us must tend and protect our Earth. Every part of it, the animals, the water, my dear trees, and each other, too…all of it is precious.” And she taught them how to plant trees and flowers and care for them. “It is an honor to participate in the mystery of life becoming more life, and to do it well, we must offer our attention and love.”
Every spring, she readied her garden, sowed seeds, and greeted the tender unfurling of leaves in the trees. When the migrating birds returned from warmer lands they had flown to in autumn, Miss Clothilde welcomed them with food and fruit as they settled in new nests. And to all the new life around them, Miss Clothilde offered her attention and love.
Her days grew longest in summer. At dawn, the birds sang the forest awake, and Miss Clothilde went out to tend the garden, weeding and trimming its growing vibrance. And in the afternoon’s late purple shadows, Miss Clothilde sat with friends beneath the trees, and they shared stories. At moonrise, the trees’ branches swayed to the lullabies of the frogs, crickets, and owls. “Sleep sweetly, dream deeply” whispered the forest.
“And you,” said Miss Clothilde, “you sleep sweetly, too.”
In autumn, the low bronzed sunlight drew in from summer’s bold expanse, the garden earned its harvesting, and the trees dropped their brilliant leaves to ready themselves for the season of cold and silence. The trees stood bare and brave, awaiting winter’s embrace.
Miss Clothilde asked the maple, “Why, oh why do you drop your leaves when you most need warmth?”
“It is an interplay of love, Clothilde. The leaves feed us sunshine all their short lives, and our roots draw up water for their health that flows through trunk and branch to every leaf. But leaves are too frail for winter and we cannot offer energy to sustain them. We must release them to remain strong enough to withstand winter.”
“Such brief lives and gone!”
“Not gone, Clothilde. See how they cover the forest with nutrients that will feed us all for generations. Forests and animals survive because leaves are willing to fall. Look for all the ways they rise in new lives.”
Winter brought its deep stillness and rest. Everything lived within itself, listening, it was a time of recollection, sifting, and gently opening dreams to plan how they might live. Miss Clothilde pondered what she had learned of the world’s goodness and beauty, and how her gifts could best offer praise in the new year. She sometimes sat beneath the oak as snowflakes sifted down, sparkling in the moonlight. “May I open my dreams to you?” she asked.
“Of course, Clothilde, and I will open mine.”
And, in the way of friends, their dreams already knew each other. They dreamed of a world where all the Earth made music of its gifts and relationships. And Miss Clothilde and the oak whispered how they wished to be always together, falling and rising in new lives.
And so the years danced in their circles. Because they knew one another so well, Miss Clothilde and the trees often sat in silence together, sharing their peace. Sometimes, she stood in the middle of the garden, lifting her arms, breathing with all the life around her. From a distance, it could be hard to tell them apart, the trees and Miss Clothilde. Her arms raised skyward like branches, and the trees’ branches reached for her in tender embrace. Her long white hair shook like dancing leaves and the trees’ leaves waved like long, flowing tresses. And the wind gathered their songs and made them one joyful melody.
Now that she was very old, Miss Clothilde could no longer run in circles with her friends. But one morning every week, she gathered pails of river water, and then nuts, berries, and vegetables from the garden. She opened the door to the stone cottage and set the table for a feast.
There were dishes of sunshine for the tree limbs curling through the windows, and a little channel in the stone floor, so the river could flow through the party, too. Everyone came to Miss Clothilde’s parties, friends from the village and friends from the forest, and each guest brought something to share. As she looked around the table, all she could see was joy. “We’ve become what we love,” she smiled.
Miss Clothilde had grown too frail to climb the trees, but every day she placed her chair beneath one of her beloved friends and they would listen to the music of the river splashing over stones.
“I am so tired. Why must we grow old, dear oak?”
“So that we can rise, young again, in new ways,” said the oak. “Everything we are and have been feeds the Earth.”
“Life is truly a circle, isn’t it?” asked Miss Clothilde.
“One that doesn’t end,” said the oak. “We travel the circle of loving and becoming forever.”
“Like leaves,” said Miss Clothilde.
“Like leaves,” said the oak.
One summer night, as the stars twinkled and twirled, and the great moon danced its light across the flowing river, Miss Clothilde came outside to stand with her trees. Together, her arms and their branches raised in praise, as the trees had taught her, so long ago.
Miss Clothilde could feel her toes lengthening into roots, tickling down through the soil, stretching and curling across darkness towards moisture. Her body tightened into a firm trunk, all her years forming rings bound by silver-brown bark. Her hair fell into winding limbs, joining the strong branches of her arms, reaching up and up, as green leaves sprouted, uncurling in the moonlight, through fluttering moths and the soft scents of nightfall.
In the morning, the wind sang through the lifted branches of all the trees in the forest. Miss Clothilde’s friends gathered in her shade, breathing her as she breathed them. Together, they raised their arms, paws, wings, branches, and songs in praise of life. They praised the Earth. They praised the beauty of the world and their part in it.
And they praised the goodness of Miss Clothilde, the goodness of which everything is made, how everything that falls rises, how everything becomes what it loves.
It started with mystery; it always does, called out of my dreams by the fog-piercing rays of earliest light stirring the layers of mist dust sky river, kaleidoscope greeting of gold rose and amethyst-colored music, and the muted rustle of resettling geese; I intook the outflowing perfume of night scents, distilled and released, redolent of hay, decay, promise; life stood at the edge between summer and fall, drenched in the gifts of farewell and welcome. Still, on the bridge, I breathed myself into all that, the all I am part of, and then there was movement upriver, distant and haze-softened, as though a piece of land had dislodged from the bank with sentient intention to cross the water in shadow, harboring secret desire to witness the world from the opposite side. Squinting, my stunned vision sun-cleared, surrendering fantasy for the magic of what is: a deer silently fording the river, traveling through blue and green into the dawn, wading to the gold-leafed shore beyond. He moved as one in prayer, bowed down, communing, aware of being known and beloved, his journey held. And everything transformed again. Tell me what you believe or do not; I’ll honor it, but know that for me there is a voice and it is Love, just Love, urging me to be its constant pilgrim calling me awake every moment, asking me only to open my eyes, to meet the world as kin and allow it to fill me with peace and feast on my entranced and grateful joy.
If we listen, opened wide, there is music in the tide, there are tones beneath the tones, there are dreams within our bones, there are riddles in the earth, incantations for rebirth, there are omens in the air, sending answers to that prayer we keep silent in our heart, if we’ll only choose to start. Only choose to sing our story, ease the world of crushing worry, love is energy and light, and the source that fuels sight, go within and share without, bravely shout our needed shout: we are here, we are here, and astonishingly now, to connect some holy how, to create, again and more, from the magic at our core, what was always meant to be, what was always there to see—we are artists meant to fashion an existence of compassion, here to heal and cradle pain into fire once again, we’re alive and we flower, joyful anger is our power, we will rise, we will grow, balance stillness with our flow, and we’ll listen, opened wide, to the music in the tide, hear the tones beneath the tones, and the dreams within our bones. Intuition sent its note: synchronicity, it wrote, is awareness of the real and the truth it can conceal. Spirit whispers on the wing that the world’s a changing thing and the new calls to the new: who we are is what we do. There are riddles in the earth, incantations for rebirth, there are omens in the air, sending answers to that prayer we keep silent in our heart, if we’ll only choose to start. Go within and share without, let us shout our needed shout: We are here, we are here, and astonishingly now, to connect some holy how, to create, again and more, from the magic at our core, what was always meant to be.
A pleasing night past summer’s rise, the fireflies draw closed day’s curtain; we note how purple dusk flows into darkness earlier each evening, and faintest smells of autumn begin to interweave with all the garden’s ripened fruits. The heat retreats before the cooling air’s relief and hushing stillness grant their peace. And then, across the dozing river, out beyond the farmer’s field, sudden music detonates, to bruise the night with noise. “The County Fair,” we say, accepting shattered silence, and listen to the program beneath indifferent stars. The drummer pounds and hours pass and now we are in bed awake, and longing for the concert’s close; it comes at last, a slower song, and gentle end; we sigh and still, to welcome waiting sleep. And then, along the river’s bank, Coyote’s pack begins to howl, piercing, clear, poetically; a choral gift, an answer to the raucousness endured. My spirit fills, I bless the song, its aching reclamation of nature’s right to sing the night into her fragile dreams.
I remember a mild early summer day spent reading an ancient copy of Under the Lilacs, sitting beneath my grandmother’s lilacs, great drooping branches of swaying purple and amethyst blooms surrounding me and scenting the air with their heady perfume. The memory never returns without the fragrance of lilacs and the sensation of pages so browned with age they felt crisp and fragile in my hands. I remember my peace, enveloped in words and sweet smells and the feeling that the magical possibilities of summer had just begun. And I recall the embracing music of security and love, as the laughter of my parents and grandparents carried from the kitchen and across the lawn to my secret lilac-veiled haven.
Deep, clear, and precious recollections like these–small moments of my life, really–float down memory’s corridors and come to me like returning dreams. I can enter and rest in them and feel my spirit and energy completely restored.
And it intrigues me that very few of these memories that gift me with such peace are connected to or evoked by photographs. In fact, I can often look at old photos of myself, of family gatherings, holidays, college friends, past jobs and colleagues, and not recall a thing about the time or place they were taken. That’s not always the case; there are photos that instantly capture and flash deep memories, but many do not, much as I may enjoy seeing them.
I’ve been taking photos since I was 9, when my grandfather gave me his then-obsolete box camera, so I’ve spent a lifetime deeply pursuing the ways film can immortalize what I love and treasure about the blessing of physical existence in a material world. I’m an extremely visually-oriented human, thrilled by all the artists and art-related posts I can follow on Instagram, where I can also share photos from our little daily round at Full Moon Cottage. But I think, especially with the advent of digital cameras and the evolving human appendage formed by smartphones, we have begun to neglect the wholly holy and deeply full moments of our lives that retain their intimacy and magic precisely because they enter and reside only in our memories, sans photographic perpetuity.
Photographs can deceive. They may obscure more than they reveal, and can now be manipulated so adeptly they reflect fantasy more than any reality. A picture’s worth a thousand words but may conceal a million. Perhaps. The constant selfies and interruptions and poses they require are excessive and, for me, can intrude upon the lasting joys of being present to a personal and sacred encounter. Every moment of our life does not require or benefit from a corresponding photograph.
Yesterday, one of my dearest friends visited after an absence of almost two years. She relocated and the pandemic has kept us apart, so I had been anticipating this visit for months. When you share more than 20 years of your life with a friend and then can’t meet face-to-face, such reunions are a very. big. deal. For me, anyway. While I’m grateful for Zoom, it will never touch the light that yesterday offered my spirit.
We were blessed with a temperate day and cooling breezes, so we could sit on the back deck beneath the maple tree, remaining safely distant and yet near enough to spend the day together, maskless, laughing, crying, sharing our stories and feelings, and celebrating her coming birthday. I’ll always remember her bright sundress, the way the breeze lifted her hair, gentled the wind chimes into music, and made the maple leaves dance. I recall how the hummingbirds darted to the feeder and rested on the tree’s lower branches, and can revisit the memory of my darling Phillip serving us champagne and cheesecake, joining us for lunch and conversation and then allowing us private time together. The day could not have been more perfect.
As my friend drove away, heading back to her family’s home, I felt the day’s joy diminish and familiar sadness tugged at my heart, as it does with such partings, especially as those limitless years of our youth telescope down towards their inevitable end. We say we’ll meet again, but realize that truthfully, the odds are not ever-in-our-favor regarding such future meetings. And, for a moment, I regretted I hadn’t taken a photo of us together, a sweet memento of a wholly holy day.
But then I realized the day had held no room for a photo; there was no moment I’d have yielded to a smartphone’s intrusion or surrendered to photography’s inability to capture the day’s joyful fullness. It would have broken the flow of perfect presence we’d been gifted to breathe together in the two years that have made sharing space and breath too rare. Not every treasure needs to be exposed to the world’s scrutiny; not every experience has to be reduced and confined to an image. Some moments can be held intact solely by the gratitude felt for them, for the peaceful and profound embrace they offer when we return to them in memories only our hearts can ever truly record and preserve.
PS: Happy Full Moon from Full Moon Cottage! Enjoy tonight’s third Supermoon of the year. And, if you haven’t yet seen the images shared from the James Webb Space Telescope, they are enchanting and awe-inspiring!
And if we are living in darkness let us trust its goodness and power, for life uncoils in unlit wombs and black cocoons. In the Stygian depths and dampness of soil, or bodies, seeds erupt, pierce time, and find the light of new homes; our shadowed nighttime dreams bend thoughts, blend patterns beyond the known, invent-create-originate, but first there is the breathing in darkness, abiding in silence, awaiting language yet unformed, still traveling through unwinding insights and revelations; there are raw blessings and mysteries to name and shape, and there is the reaching for healing buried in chaos, the discovery of puzzles only loss and grief can place in our hands. All is change; all is gift. Do not call the beginning the end; release. Now is the moment we must transform. See what the darkness has made of us: we have become the answers growing in the light.
A farmer and his son had a beloved stallion who helped the family earn a living. One day, the horse ran away and their neighbors exclaimed, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!”
The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a few wild mares back to the farm as well. The neighbors shouted out, “Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!”
The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the mares and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The villagers cried, “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!”
The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, recruiting all the able-bodied boys for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son, still recovering from his injury. The villagers cried, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!”
To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.” ~Traditional Chinese Wisdom Story
Where there is ruin, there is hope for treasure. ~ Rumi
My barn having burned down, I can now see the moon. ~ Mizuta Massahide, seventeenth-century Japanese poet and samurai who studied under Matsuo Bashō.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. ~ Yeshua, Bible, New Testament; Gospel of John, 14:27
Before we speak of the unborn, let us look to the living, to the web we have savaged, to the imperative mending we must tend, to the land, erupting in pain, heated by our greed, starved by our poison, burning itself to extinction.
Before we speak of the unborn, let us look to the living, to the rivers and oceans clouded and cluttered with our debris, to our need to devour and discard, to our companions on this limited spinning sphere: the none-and-many-footed, gilled, winged, and leafed, struggling to breathe, to thrive, to find their home and know it as their own.
Before we speak of the unborn, let us look to the living, the two we have made of our one, the hatred we offer our impulse to love, the mockery of Source we use to excuse the idolatry of self, the negation of any right to any life that impedes our insatiable desire.
Before we speak of the unborn, let us look to the living, to the blood on our hands, to the lies we speak, the promises we break, how we strangle peace and murder joy; let us cry our mea maxima culpa; let us finally speak the truth:
we are those who desire, seize, and deceive; we are those who do not welcome but destroy, who turn from healing, who choose decay.
Before we speak of the unborn, let us look to the living, how everything breathing and beautiful flees from our presence and brokenness, the scorn we have tendered relationship the ruin we’ve made of gifted bliss.
I am angry, sad, determined, and slowly regaining my hope for the restoration of democracy that the events and revelations of this past week have done everything to destroy. Not every poem is written from a perspective of hope; sometimes, we need to voice our anger and despair, verbally slap our human race upside the head and invite ourselves to wake up.
Every living thing has a potential right to life; human rights must be negotiated with that in mind, and they are not, currently or obviously, so considered or negotiated. Women’s rights are not now protected; minorities’ rights are not ensured; LBGTQ rights are imperiled; immigrants’ rights and, certainly, the rights of our wild spaces and wildlife are not safely and thoroughly encoded into our laws, while the rights of corporations, dark donors to politicians, and the owners of semi-automatic guns are. We need to change these things and quickly. Our democracy is threatened and our planet is careening towards destruction at our hands.
Vote and encourage others to vote. ALL life depends upon it.
My new book, The Rare, Tiny Flower, debuts this Tuesday, June 28th. It’s been a long, strange trip for her, but I trust the divine timing of her arrival, and hope she will be met with love and granted the power to encourage and inspire, maybe even open and change a few minds. The already heralded illustrations by Quim Torres are stunning, as has been the work and support of the entire team at Tra Publishing.
Another great gift in my life has recently and finally been realized! In December, 2020, I was contacted by composer Andrea Clearfield about creating an orchestral and chorale setting for my poem, Triage. (Visit Andrea’s site to learn more about her brilliant music, collaborations, and the way you can listen to her monthly live world music Salon/Zalon, now on summer break but beginning again with its 36th year celebration on September 18th. I cannot tell you how much Phillip and I have enjoyed zooming these amazing evenings of music!)
Andrea’s stunning setting for Triage, Singing Into Presence (scored for soprano soloist, chorus and orchestra), was commissioned and premiered by the University of New Mexico Chorus and Orchestra, May 5, 2022, following Andrea’s workshops with their gifted student musicians and chorus, under the brilliant direction of Matthew Forte.
I so wanted to be there. Since that wasn’t possible, Andrea graciously asked me to make a video of introduction, shared prior to the piece making its premiere.
I cannot tell you you how much I love this setting. It blew me away, made me cry, filled me with joy, and certainly inspired gratitude for the stunning collaboration of Andrea, Matthew, and every student involved.
I’m happily home again after spending 10 days in peaceful solitude. I’ve been on many long retreats in my life, silent and active, but all have been with other retreatants, an available spiritual director to meet with, and voluntary sessions of group meditation, or yoga, or prayer.
This retreat was different in that I was alone in my cabin and, since there were no current programs at the retreat center, I was fairly alone on the entire 250-acre property. Because the main building was receiving a new roof, even the day staff chose this week for vacation days, it seemed. There was an outdoor housekeeper for all the cabins, and I met her a few times, which were pleasant encounters, but really, I saw and “moved” with no other humans for those 10 days.
We’re each a pulsing body of physical, mental, and spiritual energy, and when we mix and adjust to the energy of others–even when we’re physically still and silent–there’s a kind of comfort and, usually, a willingness to flow together through the time we share. But we can lose our boundaries and fail to accurately distinguish our energy, our sense of self, and the clarity of our purpose and direction when we are constantly surrounded by others.
Some people drain our energy with neediness; others can be energy hogs who move into a space and greedily demand the energy of all; others depend upon our care and attention nearly all the time because of their physical illness, which is what leads to caregiver burnout. The ways we use our energy are often unconscious, unless we probe and bring them to our awareness, and while most of our energy dispersal is necessary, we need to pay attention to how our energy is exchanged, scattered, used/depleted, and restored, or we risk losing our balance, And right now, the world needs our finest energy. I think this is what all great teachers and world religions are asking of us: Use your limited energy wisely and compassionately: for yourself and then, always, for others.
But first, clarify your own and control how it’s used to honor your gifts and commitments. Unmonitored, our energy can become entangled with others’ and leave us feeling aimless.
And so I took this time to draw deeply within my own energy, and then I’d expand it out again, to test its boundaries. My awareness of its limits and flow became clarified and pristine. A few days in, I realized, I’d become more sensitive to the energy of the trees around me, the sounds and smells and touch of rain and breezes, of dawn and dusk. Encountering deer became a religious experience, breathing together and sharing our energy, then softly parting. (The etymology of “religion” describes being linked, joined, bound.)
I observed how I channeled my energy throughout the course of a day. Some unique combination of age, hormones, and autoimmune issues keeps me from sleeping for lovely long stretches, most nights. It was interesting to discern what I needed when I was awake, in ways I can’t “hear” when I’m at home and need to be sensitive to others’ sleep. Sometimes, I went out for a midnight–or later–walk. (Thankful for the full moon during my stay!) Or I got up to read, write, or focused on sending love to dear ones and to the world beyond, or I played Solitaire and let my mind drift. One night, I did an hour or more of yoga. One lovely aspect of such a long retreat in solitude is that there’s no schedule to keep. At all. Everything settles and choices can be made that feel natural, regardless of the time of day.
The rhythm of such a retreat is all yours to design for those precious days. I was able to unlearn some of the restrictions I’ve naturally set and followed because I live with 8 other mammals, 7 of them dependent on Phillip and me for food and care. I have gardens to tend, and housekeeping to co-manage, all the activities of daily living. It is good to set such regimens down, to unbraid your schedule and open yourself to none at all. Vacations aren’t quite the same in that they’re frequently filled with zipping around among activities with others, again creating that mingling of energies, with little time to tune solely into your own. And balance and health, I believe, do require that we dialogue deeply and richly with our own spirits, just listening to ourselves, observing our inner voices and how they respond and react, listening to the messages they send our minds, bodies, and souls throughout the day. At home, I walk, meditate, do my yoga, and garden, and try to listen deeply through these choices, but to have 10 days of such uninterrupted listening is a great gift.
I’ll tell you how clear my energy became. Because of some eye problems that have been restricting my driving, Phillip drove me to the retreat center and returned to pick me up. We really enjoyed this time together, as the pandemic has kept us so close to home, and I’m very thankful for his willingness to make a 6-hour round trip, a very fine birthday treat.
The day he picked me up, I was packed and ready to go early, so I moved through some yoga and meditation and then began to read and got lost in the book for a few hours. All of a sudden, I felt my energy shift; it was as though another source of energy waved through me, a kind of merging…and I knew it was Phillip, with that deep soul-knowing that sometimes blesses us. I looked out the window and he wasn’t there. What could it mean? And then he called. From the highway, he’d passed the turnoff to the road that led to my cabin and needed to be redirected. It was illuminating to realize that we can still our energy to such a degree of clarity and sensitivity.
And so began the days of readjustment, my double-dutch re-merging with all the energies I love surrounding me once more, the return of schedules and interruptions and needs not my own. I’m almost back in the necessary swing of these habits and rituals, and life shines all the more brightly because I was given and used my time alone. I’m trying to grant myself several “mini-solitude” breaks during the day, and I know that won’t always happen, but I allow myself the grace to be merry with the flow, whatever it brings, something I wasn’t feeling before my break. I’m grateful for the hours to write, for the many lessons, and especially for the renewed and clearer energy I was able to nourish on this retreat. May you each find the time and practices that best nourish your spirits, too! The world needs our finest energy as never before.