Wonder and Mystery

Hiking in the woods three days ago, the air is soft, the sun warm, the snow retreating.  On the ground, patches of brown and green colors revealing themselves. Birdsong.  The slow signal of seasonal change. 

Today hiking in the woods, snow is falling.    

Nonetheless, I stop and take a deep breath. There is space around me, no other moment than these moments. Time stretches – it feels more elastic, less caught in a never ending cycle of twists and turns, that can become tighter and tighter.

With this tangible sense of space, I can explore, wonder, inquire, and reflect. I see the individual shape of the trees, their outline, their strength, their brokenness.  I see the space between them.

We are not used to the freedom of space, of not needing something else; its potential for liberation; releasing us from the tyranny of wanting.  Of desiring more and more, until we feel satiated or equally sick.

Practicing mindfulness creates the possibility of space. Finding a place to practice where we will not be interrupted, where we can feel safe. As we come to stillness, we experience tiny spaciousness moments revealing themselves in the mind and heart, uncovered on the breath and then gone. Fleeting. But with continuing practice, these moments return, again and again.  In this way we build foundations of care, and trust as we step into new territory. We sense moments of lucidity, of calmness.  And when we do this, we prepare the ground for new experiences of wonder and mystery.  

Spring is this time for letting go all of all that is no longer necessary or useful.  Mindfulness practice helps us with this, creating connections and pathways in our hearts and minds towards our better selves.

A calling , a beckoning, here, now.

 In Blackwater Woods 
 by Mary Oliver 
 Look, the trees 
 are turning 
 their own bodies
 into pillars  
 of light,
 are giving off the rich
 fragrance of cinnamon
 and fulfillment,
 the long tapers
 of cattails
 are bursting and floating away over
 the blue shoulders 
 of the ponds,
 and every pond,
 no matter what its name its
 name is, is 
 nameless now.
 Every year
 I have ever learned
 in my lifetime
 leads back to this: the fires
 and the black river of loss
 whose other side
 is salvation,
 whose meaning
 none of us will ever know.
 To live in this world 
 you must be able 
 to do three things:
 to love what is mortal;
 to hold it 
 against your bones knowing
 your own life depends on it;
 and, when the time comes to let it go,
 to let it go.  
Snow lingering

March Morning: Change & Solace

For this coming month, I thought I would continue with the theme of change.

Here in Vermont, March is a month of unsettled weather. One minute we are having snowstorms, cold temperatures, and the next, springlike weather. The sun is warmer, the days are longer and there’s a sense that Spring is beginning to challenge Winter. 

The cycle of the seasons is a reminder of the movement of life.  Winter is generally time of going deep, of reflection, and of waiting.  Spring brings with it, vision, and hope. The vision of new life, of growth, and the hope that this will be sustained.

We too have cycles. We are acted upon by the weather of our lives. This means there are times when we feel settled, comfortable, at ease.  And then there are other times, when we sense that we are being called to change direction, to do something differently, to let go of old patterns and behaviors. And with those moments, if we choose to, we try out something that feels a little brave.  When we make these choices, a step at a time, there is the possibility of new growth and a different perspective.     

Experimenting with doing something differently, moving into some new experience, a new behavior, takes energy, intention, patience, and the willingness to know that it is likely that missteps will be made.

There is no shame in making mistakes.  What is toxic are the feelings and thoughts that can be associated with these moments, of feeling less than.  This can take over the mind, creating critical thoughts and destructive emotions moving in an endless loop.  Sometimes those missteps will be interpreted as failures by you and by those around you.

Buddhist teachings describe these moments as …

Pleasure and Pain

Gain and loss

Praise and blame

Fame and disrepute.

Come and go like the wind.

to be happy, rest like a giant tree

in the midst of them all.

When we feel buffeted by these storms, our meditation practice supports us by inviting us to find a place to rest – to be quiet – to be still.  To spend some time noticing sensations in the body, the movement of breathing, a way to stabilize the intention to be present. And when we feel ready, we recognize and experience the movement of the mind and the heart, acknowledging critical thoughts, and challenging emotions, with understanding, kindness, steadiness, and patience.  It’s like wrapping a warm blanket around ourselves. 

We find solace in stillness.  We find strength in steadiness.  We access kindness and find hope and resilience in an awareness that understands the movement of letting go, and that nothing stays the same.    

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?