Sunday, February 28th, 2021

Here in the northeast of the US, it will be winter for a while yet. It’s still cold and there is a lot of snow on the ground.  And yet, the first week of March is around the corner. Change is in the air, even if it will be a while before we have truly left winter behind.

On my daily hikes, I hear birdsong from the smallest of birds – calling to each other.  And in the rivers, Mallards seem to be busy swimming around in large groups and generally making a lot of noise. 

This reminds me about how I have experienced change in myself.  Sometimes that change has occurred quickly, but mostly it has been a gradual process.

Change is inevitable.  And although we all know this, we actually find it hard to experience because it implies letting go.  It turns out we are wanting creatures, we desire things, and we like to hold on, long after something has passed.

Change can be exciting, and it can be unsettling.  Change can be destructive, and it can foster new beginnings.  Change is usually accompanied by a sense of being destabilized in some way.  When change is exciting, there is a lot of positive energy, we are amped up.  When it is unwelcome, we find it hard to settle. 

I learned some time ago, that when I feel unsettled, there is no denying it.  If I can,  I go for a walk.  If there is a friend available, I ask if I can talk with them, either then or sometime later.  Putting words to those feelings, no matter how inadequate they seem to be, is helpful. If no friend is available, I write down a few words on a piece of paper.  Writing long hand, helps to slow the process of thinking and supports identifying the emotions.

When I can, finding time to practice meditation, to sit, paying attention to my breathing and to the physical sensations of the body, helps to remind me of the experience I am having in those moments, rather than what has occurred during the day. In this way I am learning to let go, over and over again.

  Sligo Glen: Walking Into Silence, David Whyte.
 “Imagine a path before you 
 and imagine as you walk it
 the path worn deeper and deeper
 into the ground so that
 as it beckons you further 
 into the narrow valley and 
 under the roof of spreading trees,
 the sides of the path 
 rear up to hold you 
 and enclose you and the walls
 of this path are white stone covered 
 with ivy and lichen and green moss 
 and that by walking this path 
 into the enclosed earth
 you had entered a pure,
 innocent and hidden silence 
 for which you realize
 amid the noise and tumult
 of your own creation, 
 you had waited years.” 

Change is part of the rhythm of life.  It takes love and courage to acknowledge that part of change, is letting go.

Sunday hike. No hat needed – temperatures in the mid-30’s F!

Sunday, February 21st, 2021

How often have we felt that we’ve missed out, or been misunderstood or lost our way? How often have we felt inferior? Shamed? Alone? If you’re like me, you’ve had these moments. Maybe many of them. So what is there to understand from these experiences?

One thing I have learned about these moments, is to stop and stand still. It’s hard to do this, as in many ways, it’s counter intuitive. Everything else tells you to do something about those moments. To avoid feeling the way you feel, angry, isolated, grief stricken. To try to push away those self-critical and judgmental thoughts.  Those moments when we would wish the ground would open and swallow us up! And then those very real moments when we feel there is no one to turn to.

Let me tell you a brief story about a hike I took with my daughter in the Grand Canyon. We woke up at 4:00 AM. If you’re going to hike in the desert, you need to get up early, before it gets too hot. So we got dressed, in the darkness. Packed our backpacks, made sure we had enough water and snacks, and met our guide. We had a guide because we were going to hike on a trail not commonly used.

As we trekked along the trail following our guide, it was easy to settle into the landscape. The air was still and cool and there was very little ambient noise. Just the sound of our feet hitting the trail, our breath, and any occasional words we offered to each other as we moved along in single file, as the path was very narrow and steep. Mostly we were quiet.

On the return journey, climbing out of the canyon, our guide suddenly  told us to stop. She looked around, and then quietly said, “I’ve lost the trail. Stay where you are.” With that she moved above us, climbing up the slope. She stopped several times as she clambered up the steep and rocky terrain.  I watched her, wondering. There was something deliberate about what she was doing and the way she was pausing from time to time to look around her and take in the landscape.  After about 10 minutes or so, she came back down, and said, “I found it, the trail. Let’s take a break.”   

We sat down on the rocky, sandy ground, ate some snacks, and drank water.  I was curious and asked, “Why did you go above us?” She replied, “I learned a long time ago, when I am lost, I stop. Then if it is possible, I try to get a different vantage point.  Here in the canyon, by climbing up to look down from where I came, gives me the bigger picture. I can see possibilities, options, choices, I can pick out the trail.  And I find it calms me down.  Buys time.”

I have not forgotten those words. And I try to remember when I feel lost, uncertain, to stop and look around me.  To rest awhile. To not push away the feelings of anxiety, of fear, but rather to acknowledge this place for what it is, reflect on where I am, steady myself and then when I am ready, to take the next steps.         

 Missing the Trail, David Wagoner
 “Only a moment ago you were thinking of something 
 Different, the Sky or yesterday or the wind, 
 But suddenly it's yourself 
 Alone, strictly alone, having missed the trail,
 Bewildered, now uncertain 
 Whether to turn back, bear left or right, or flounder ahead 
 Stubbornly, breaking new ground out of pride or panic, 
 Or to raise your voice
 Out of fear that screaming is the only universal language. 
 If you come to your senses , all six, taking your time, 
 The spot where you're standing
 Is your best hope.”           

Meditation practice can help us to stand still, locates us in the here and now.  Grounds us in our being.  Helps us to see the bigger picture. Then the next breath is a new moment, which is the next step.   

St Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2021

St. Valentine’s Day.  A day we celebrate love; the wonder of the human heart, and the feeling body. The mystery of it.

It seems to me, that perhaps we have forgotten how to wonder and how to make room for mystery.

We are such complex creatures, capable of great courage, love, and kindness. And we are equally capable of great destruction. In fact, put into very challenging circumstances, none of us know how we might behave.

Just like our minds, our hearts learn through experience.  To be a human being requires a certain trust in keeping our hearts and minds open, vulnerable, and uncertain. This is not easy when we feel fear and uncertainty, when we feel attacked or isolated. We are fragile human beings and to be open to self and other requires courage, love, and practice.

Mindfulness helps with this journey, ever asking us to remember, through connecting to the breath, in sensing the physical body and by being aware of thoughts and emotions. When we acknowledge the full landscape of our experiences, we know what it is to be present and what that invites us to do, which is to be present. In this way, we are reminded to visit and rest inside a compassionate, wise heart and mind; to re-making those connections, again and again because, well, we forget.  In this process of recalling, we soften the hard edges of protection, bringing us out of separateness and into connection with life, it’s changes, its struggles and challenges, its joys and grief.  

  Passion, Gunilla Norris 
  
 Because passion is an expression of love, 
 it encompasses suffering as well. 
 Love and suffering are always intertwined. 
  
 When we suffer what is truly ours to suffer, we move 
 into union with ourselves. We want this experience
 of love, and we are afraid of it.
  
 On some level, we know that the true meaning 
 of suffering is found in allowing each moment to be
 what it is, remaining open to the vastness 
 -the life – that wants to move through us.
 Where, but in silence, can we be present enough
 to witness that urge of life within?
  
 We discover these depths through silence, stillness, 
 and the simple act of being attentive with others. 
 As we enter into exquisite awareness of the life
 that wants to live as us, we learn to love deeply.
 We claim our passion.  

On this day of love, let me sit quietly wishing for myself and others, happiness, love, safety, freedom from harm, and wellness.  Can I reach into the depth of my heart and claim my passion for love?  Can I answer that invitation?  

Sunday morning

Thoughts on this winter morning take me to thinking about all the journeys we have taken personally and collectively over these months due to the pandemic – the fears, anxieties, losses, and grief. The demands of changed home and work life – the challenge, the stress, the boredom, the profound tiredness, the financial hardship and job loss. The inability to be with loved ones and friends. How has all of this played out in the corridors of our minds, in the warmth of hearts and within the envelope of our environments?

What do we dare to ask? What is the invitation beckoning us?

I look back, reflecting on what has been. I cannot be unencumbered by everything I have experienced, witnessed and read. It all feels too much. And yet …

There is a sense of light. At some point during the next months, we will all be vaccinated (if that is your choice, and I hope it is), against this virus. I am glad and grateful to the science and relieved that those most at risk from this virus will be given protection. So, for now, I will continue to take care to protect myself and those around me, by following the guidelines for wearing masks in the company of others, socially distancing, and washing my hands frequently.

Poetry has always played a big part on my life. Poetry is like music. It has the power to evoke our better souls. It captures essential moments, distills them into words that resonate with sound and meaning.

A poem I have on my desk for this coming week, as part of my meditation practice, is this one from David Whyte, titled, Just Beyond Yourself. Here are the lines from the beginning of the poem.

"Just beyond 
yourself.

It's where
you need 
to be. 

Half a step
into
self-forgetting
and the rest
restored
by what
you'll meet.

There is a road
always beckoning." 

As David Whyte so beautifully captures, can we stretch beyond ourselves? And when we are there, what is beckoning us? Dropping the need to know, to stretch beyond the sheath of our identity. To welcome the unknown path. Otherwise, we stay within the realms of comfort and conform to our habits of safety. In my meditation practice this week, I will ask the question, what is beckoning me? You?