Leading Our Lives

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I confess I’ve crossed the floor to open the door to 2017 with a wariness not experienced during my short span on earth, stepping with more of a reluctant trudge than airy leap, but still standing. Last year’s events did not portend a new year I’ve longed to meet. It has not signaled its desirability as a traveling companion for 2 days, let alone 365.

The knock has come and here is the new year, on my porch, waiting on my greeting. My impulse is to love it, as I always have, expecting the best, demanding nothing in return, pushing through my doubts and embracing it, trusting that this will flood me with tingling, joyful hormones and a happy ending. But this year, I’m hesitant, thinking about the fine line between a wise woman and a fool.

I cannot help but feel we’re circling each other, this new year and I, and I note the sadness welling in my heart’s response. I’ve always embraced my new years so genuinely; this inability to feel or sustain a sense of happy welcome makes me wonder what has been lost and how I might retrieve it. Or if I should. Sometimes, sadness needs remedy, but I think it can also signal a change that’s needed and grieved because we’ve had to release an “easier” way of being for the hard work of behaving more maturely. Wisdom is earned, not given.

So, how to proceed? And then a question occurs: Am I truly leading my life? Have I ever?

I think I’ve given my trust and adjusted the depth of my needs too readily, inviting others, including people and chance, to lead my life, because I feared abandonment, or a loss of friendship and companionship. Or I thought I’d become cynical, or develop a hardened heart and closed worldview. Now, I realize these aren’t necessarily the only options to taking back the leadership of my own life. Intelligent centering, and a kind of gentle seriousness call me to marshal my energy and disperse it more deliberately, and to intentionally ponder my choices.

 I’ve too rarely met the new with pronounced expectation or demands. I’m quite certain previous New Year’s Days have considered me a dim and slobbering puppy. “Hi! Wanna play? Oh, you wanna run over there? Sure! Let’s go!”   

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And so we would travel through the next 12 months, the year leading and I following, wagging my tail and slobbering.

But last year, things happened that changed me, personally, politically, globally, and eternally. Or last year, the lessons of a lifetime finally began to coalesce into practices I choose to acknowledge and follow. I am more centered and balanced. And ready to lead my life.

Now, I am an abbess and this life is my monastery, and I am unwilling to allow the year’s foolishness or misery to dictate the path my life will follow.

So I open the door and gesture the new year to sit at my table. I seat myself across from it and fold my hands upon the tabletop and look directly into its eyes and ask what it will expect of me and tell it exactly what I expect of it. It may slide out of its chair and shapeshift, but I will call it back, over and over, for 365 days, and meet it and demand, as many times as I need to, that it behave decently, that it treat those in need kindly, that it allow my monastery (which is everything I love, which is everything) to feel safe, blessed, joyful, and hopeful. Able to create what is new and necessary. I am older and wiser than this year.

We will be equal partners in the dance, this year and I, for I’ve learned how to organize, and to lead my life, and to control my precious time (and that I must, if it’s to accrue to a day and then a month, and then a year that I value). I have many gifts to offer, but they’re mine to give, if and when and how I choose. I am the gatekeeper now; this has not always been the case. Last year granted me an advanced degree of consciousness. I earned it. I claim it. I will put it to use. I will hold myself accountable.

Perhaps this new year will surprise me in wonderful ways. But it will not fool me. My heart will be open. But so will my eyes. My intuition has never been keener, my gullibility so restrained, my words more direct, or my needs so little.

I will even retain belief in the possibility that the year and I will part as friends, but that won’t be determined for 365 days. I am leading this life.

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A Blessing for the New Year

This blessing comes with the New Year

To remind you of your power

To say yes,

To say no,

To give,

To receive,

To begin,

To conclude,

To resolve,

To surrender to mystery.

May we be present to wonder

And equally to loss.

May we be beacons of hope

And harbors of healing.

May we be open to surprise,

Abundantly delighted,

And measured in judgement.

May we defend the weak,

And speak truth to power.

And when we are weary,

May Love guide us home

And send us forth renewed,

Scattering joy

And sharing gentle peace.

May we be the leaders

Of our lives.

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The Finest Music

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There is an old Celtic myth regarding Fionn Mac Cumhail, the hunter and warrior who’d eaten the Salmon of Knowledge when he was a boy. He was sitting with his followers, the Fianna, one day, listening to their earnest discussion about what they believed to be the world’s finest music.

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One said it was the call of the mourning dove at dawn; another the baying of hounds in hunt; still others said, no, it’s the laughter of a child, or the sigh of a lover, or the rush of wind across the sea.

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Finally, they turned the question over to their leader and asked for his response. Fionn considered in silence and then replied, with a customary enigmatic smile, “The finest music in the world is the music of what happens.”

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I’ve been carrying that story in my heart the past few weeks, along with Seamus Heaney’s comment that in creating his poems he tried to “stay close to the energies of generation.” Both Fionn and Seamus seem to be inviting us to bring a focused awareness to the present moment, nothing new in wisdom literature, but stated in ways that caught my attention and pleased me, so both “listen to the music of what’s happening,” and, “stay close to the energies of generation” have become new mantras throughout my days.

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I was reminded of the old question, “Do you want to be a human doing or a human being?” Accomplishing tasks and reaching goals show we’re using our gifts, and hopefully, to help the earth and her creatures survive another turn with kindness, creativity, gentleness, and humor, but we can sometimes “do” without pause, as a distraction from just being, and miss hearing the finest music of our lives.

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Considering events as the music of what happens keeps me from judging them too quickly or labeling them as good or bad. It’s much more peaceful and pleasing to listen for the music they create, and how these chords fit into the established melodies of my day and life.

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I’ve taken a new job, working with seniors at a large facility a far distance from home. I love the people, the place, and the work, but was hesitant, initially, because saying yes meant crating the pups three days a week. (The job is just 28 hours a week, at this time.) Up to now, they’ve only been crated for a nap during the day and at night, for sleep. We were both very concerned about the pups spending long work days so confined.

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But I listened for the music and focused on discovering the best possible outcome.

A dear friend gave me the number of the woman who provides dog-walking services for her. I contacted Jill, who came and met with the pups and me, and we were all smitten with her energy and spirit. She is enthusiastic about visiting Mickey and Malarky at midday, and taking them for a walk, so that has eased my heart greatly.

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The damage from the roof leak I spoke of in the last post will require extensive remodeling: a new roof, some drywall repair, ceiling work, and perhaps some roof beams will need replacement. We decided to forego replacing the skylights that led to the leak, and I’ll miss the added indoor light they provided, but I’m going with lighter paint colors in the rooms, and that will make a difference. Thankfully, our insurance will help pay for all of this, and Phillip can do a lot of the work. And we wanted to update those two rooms (the dining room and kitchen) anyway. So, what began as something akin to discordant crashing and banging has been untangled and quite nicely woven into the music of what happens.

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 St. Clare of Assisi is reported to have said, right before she died, “Thank you for letting me be a human being.” So often, we go through life pinning joy to “someday, not this, not yet,” waiting for all of our expectations of the way life “should be” to simultaneously occur, fall into place, and remain perfect from then forward. Yet, all the while, the finest music, the symphony created right here and now, where the energies of generation in our own once-in-a-lifetime human life are happening, is being played.

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So, let us attend, listen to, and love the music of what happens, my friends, and be grateful for every note: the sweet, the sour, the out of tune, and the surprising grace notes flitting through all.

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Blessings on your week and the music of what happens.

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To Walk in Balance

 

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Wakan Tanka, Great Mystery,
teach me how to trust my heart,
my mind, my intuition,
my inner knowing,
the senses of my body,
the blessings of my spirit.
Teach me to trust these things
so that I may enter my Sacred Space
and love beyond my fear,
and thus Walk in Balance
with the passing of each glorious Sun.
~ Lakota Prayer

 The autumn equinox seems a fitting time to contemplate the balance we manage to hold and honor in our lives.

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And the currently overused word, “literally” does seem to apply to my sense of balance: Since July 8th, most of my time has been spent lying on a bed or couch with my left leg elevated and the foot iced, following surgery. Prior to the surgery, the doctor had repeatedly stressed that the recovery would be a long slog, but the foot wasn’t working well, so I chose the misery for improved quality of life. I’m fairly active and need to be for my joy to flow.

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The past few weeks, I’ve been going to therapy and am now free of the walker and boot that accompanied the majority of my healing. But I’m still working on regaining my balance. I can’t yet support myself standing on the left foot alone, which impedes (excellent word, meaning “to shackle the foot”) my yoga and work outs. The foot still swells to a stunning circumference if it’s down too long. I call her Hindenburg.

The view during my confinement didn’t inspire too much photography.

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I appreciated the 4-legged companions and the friends and family who stayed in touch through visits, messages, and calls. These made all the difference in my healing. The days became static, drifting one-into-the-next, and the world diminished to the size of a bedroom. By week three, I felt like Grace Poole in Rochester’s attic. Highly imbalanced.

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Caregivers are the saints of the earth, and mine was the best. Phillip made Mother Teresa look like an insensitive thug; he was that great a support. There’s a lot to do at Full Moon, especially in summer when the many gardens are in need of tending, and he managed all that, the 4-leggeds, my needs, the housecleaning and laundry, and full time remodeling jobs…I think, for once, he’s very happy summer is over and he can get back to the cushy job of teaching high school students. (!) A good friend visited at least twice a week, sat and chatted, helped clean, made meals…Challenges always reveal so many blessings in our lives, don’t they? And the blessings help to bring our spirits back into balance.

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For a time, I felt guilty that I wasn’t doing more with my enforced free time…I could have written an entire book series in the time I sat and watched old movies and read several mystery series that others wrote. I could have taught myself to knit, or taken up some other craft, or bettered myself in some laudable way, despite the pain in my foot and the humiliation of being utterly dependent on others.

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But those feelings led to one of the great gifts of my healing time.

 I’ve always powered through my schoolwork, my jobs, my chores, and my days, and done more than I should (I think, trying to make Sr. Mary Someone take notice and validate my wonderfulness) so the second-best gift I’ve received from this experience (Phillip is always the first), is the chance to finally learn how to stop and say, “Enough. For now.” I think I’ve always feared I’d just slide into indolence and never rise again, but I think I’m discovering a better rhythm for my days that allows me both productivity and peace. Both can call upon our creativity.

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For my first outing, we went to the dogpark. The weather was grand and, although I sat at a picnic table with my leg raised and iced (sigh), I cried, just to be there and enjoying the lovely world outside my room.

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I’ve managed a couple trips (again, literally) down to the bridge since then.

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And I’ve even spent time weeding gardens, although the first time I overdid it, and Hindenburg rebelled. Learning the parameters is tricky, but being in the garden heals other parts of me, so not a loss, but a lesson.

I’m also back in the kitchen, making candy, roasting veggies, baking treats and feeling like myself again.

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So we roll around our lovely sun to autumn. The combines in surrounding fields are running from dawn to dusk, when they’re able, and the birds are emptying the feeders maddeningly fast, preparing for migrations. The gardens are nearing the time for cutting back and cleaning, harvests drawing to an end.

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We’ve received 15.5 inches of rain since the beginning of August and more is coming tonight and next week. The river is high, but we’re not experiencing the flooding that others are. A roof leak has led to drywall damage we’ll need to rectify, so that will be the Next Big Thing. (At Full Moon, not nationally, as we all know.)

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Autumn, the time when our world becomes a thin place, begins, and my spirit feels strengthened and ready for the sweet encounters with mystery it always brings. We make commitments and then we make them again, revising, reviewing, respecting (to “look again”) them, honoring the challenges they present and gifts they yield. The equinox is a lovely symbol of the balance that’s come to me, finally, and which I hope to integrate more profoundly into my life’s dance, however inelegantly executed it currently is. I have faith I’ll be pirouetting on the left foot one day soon.

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The Light That Fills the World

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I think over again my small adventures, my fears, those small ones that seemed so big, all those vital things I had to reach and to possess, and yet there is only one great thing: to live and see the great day that dawns, and the light that fills the world.  ~ Old Inuit Song

These days, the pre-selected and formatted news of the world comes to us whether we want it or not, it seems.

It seeps through the pores of our days, flashing its dire warnings, keening the earth’s death song, screaming the antics of strange players, interrupting the flow of our choices and preferences, and scrolling across the bottom of our daily round. You turn on an information source to learn the weather forecast and you’re flattened by the psychic attack created by some media celebrity spewing hype about the latest battle between police and citizens, or vying political candidates, or warring countries. Somewhere, a city’s exploded, a plane has crashed, and another murder has robbed us of someone’s gifts. In the wake of what was once journalism, the circus entertainment that’s replaced it never sleeps.

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And, truly, there are choices being made by leaders that affect us all and should be discussed, even argued against and protested. There is sloppy thinking, a loss of respect for fact and intellectual reasoning, and a backsliding of concern for the common good. Language is cruder and interactions are ruder.

But I think we can get mired in anger and fear, the result of over-exposure to these things, and lose the ability to think our own thoughts and remain focused on our next creative action in our own little corner of the world. The rush of bad news accelerates our anxiety, and we surrender the time and space necessary to locate the inherent peace and stillness within ourselves that allow us to move in the world with balanced energy and perspective, doing the good we’re here to do.

Happily, Full Moon Cottage has been offering us a lovely summer of sunlight and rain, fireflies and flowers, June’s gorgeous solstice and full moon, and social gatherings that reinforce the light that fills the world and renews our spirits.

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Last week, our buddy Jax was our guest once again, and he seemed quite certain that 4:30 A.M. was the best time to wake and enjoy our morning walk. We thought otherwise, but had to agree the sunrises were amazing, making our hesitant efforts to offer hospitality worth it, and far more sincere on subsequent mornings.

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The fireflies have been surprisingly abundant this summer, and their nightly show invites meditation and peace. We turn down the indoor lights, grab a window-seat and 4-legged companion, and watch. And breathe. And benefit greatly. Malarky and I enjoyed both fireflies and the solstice together at about 1:00 in the morning, when nature called us, in many and different ways. I’m sorry I’m not a more skillful photographer and lack a better camera, but here you can (kind of) see the full moon and the blinks of fireflies.

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Like the early walks with Jax and the pups, this was an enchanting break in the routine for me. I don’t mind losing sleep when it’s surrendered for a silent stroll in light and mystery. These encounters bring me back to hope and joy.

In mid-June, a friend called and offered to bring an entire feast, and her little pup, for a visit to celebrate my birthday. (Well, I made the carrot cake!) It was such a kind gesture and perfect gift of a day; I’m still smiling whenever I think about the fun we had.

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Later in the month, I was asked to officiate at another friend’s wedding, a light-filled celebration, if there ever was one. Weddings fill my cup of hope to overflowing. I love creating the service with a young couple, and celebrating their joy with a community of people who love and support them. We’re all changed, every time, it seems, taken back to memories of our own partnerships in life and their deepening.

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We also had company visit for a few days, and the weather obliged. My older brother came south from the Twin Cities (although here, we just say “the Cities,”) and his daughter drove west from Milwaukee, and we had a merry visit indeed. So merry, I didn’t take photos, but just relaxed and laughed. A lot. You’ll have to imagine our visits to a local winery, restaurant, antique stores, and then a pub, where we brought a picnic and listened to wonderful music. And our long visits on the back deck with the pups chasing around our chairs, the fireflies seeking true love in the trees and gardens, and the river flowing by in peace.

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The gardens are making a comeback from last year’s devastating storm; the freezer is crammed with berries; the bird feeders have been very active; this year’s turkey nursery parades through the yard most mornings; and, except for the annual onslaught of Japanese Beetles, peace reigns and sustains at Full Moon Cottage.

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Blessing and gratitude keep me going when the world’s noise and fear crowd in. The light that fills the world shines through, shines on, nurturing our hope, peace, and love, and that is the only one great thing: To let that light lead us into our days and through our lives. Gentle peace to you and yours.

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Naming Blessings

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While I am not sad to see the backside of 2015 (“Too much loss; too many lessons,” as I told a dear friend), I am overfilled with gratitude heading into the new year, due to the way the old year and I parted company…Malarky’s arrival in October changed the energy in our hearts and home, and we’ve continued to be inundated with blessings, simple and surprising, the way we love them.

We spent a quiet, peaceful Christmas, enjoying old movies, good meals, hikes and—hooray!—a snowstorm.

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Friends visited, called, e-mailed, and texted, blessing us with their presence, their conversation, and their good wishes, reminding us that relationship is where our real wealth begins and ends.

We gave and received gifts, small tokens of love and gratitude for these precious connections in our lives. So many lovely surprises and thoughtful presents came our way and decorated our past few weeks with joy: a sister’s chocolate-filled Advent Calendar; a neighbor’s tray of elegant sweets; delicious, authentic Milwaukee-Polish pierogi; a magic wand for cooling wine; cozy quilted pet blankets (love these!); nostalgic, retro Chritsmas light covers (pine cones! my favorite!); unexpected gifts for the 4-leggeds; and surprising gifts from afar. We never knew what the day’s mail, or UPS, would be delighting us with next: books, artwork, flower seeds, many tokens of a generous friend’s dedication to this animal rescue. (I mention this, too, if you are seeking an organization worthy of your own donations, because they would be so welcome and your gift would help so many.)

There must have been quite a star shining over Full Moon Cottage, because so much love gathered here, offering joy and contentment.

 My own true love gave me a fused-glass plate with poppies (another favorite!) that I’d wanted for a long time, and he received paintings I made for him.

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 There are many things I’m looking forward to in the New Year:

*Making art in the new room Phillip is building for us:

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*Continued détente between the cats and Malarky, perhaps even deepening to true companionship. Here, he’s trying to mimic their relaxed poses on the back of the couch, and, despite Mulligan’s withering critique of these efforts, we live in hope:

 *Travels and visits; the changing seasons; new gardens; hiking; biking; paddling; dog-walking and cat-cuddling.

*Reading new and old-favorite books

*Baking and cooking with new recipes. (I’m going to try pierogis, for starters!)

*Full moons and quiet retreats

The list goes on and on, and—of course—remains open to wonder, mystery, and surprise, as always.

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I know the phrase commonly used is “counting our blessings,” and it’s meant to reinforce the notion that we’re far more blessed than we realize, but counting seems tinged with both ownership and a competitive stance that I loathe. (“I’m more blessed than s/he is!”)

I’d rather name my blessings, for the unique gifts they are and the gratitude they engender, and I hope to continue being mindful about sharing these with you in the blog posts ahead.

Our attitudes and the ways we use our gifts and our energy create our lives and contribute to the lives others are creating…I hope this year will be one of joy, for us, and for you. I wrote a friend that I want to look back on 2016 saying, “I laughed more than ever this year!”

May I make it so. And may I live so that others name me as a blessing in their lives. 🙂

Joy to you, and gentle peace.

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Christmas Presence

 

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It seems I fall more deeply in love with Malarky, as I do with each of my four-leggeds, every day. These tiny pulses of warm fur come into your life, and you feed them, and tend them, and hold them close, and then one day, mysteriously, you discover you are forever connected—rooms, or fields, or worlds apart.

Of course, love and laxity, tempting travel companions that they are, won’t help Malarky integrate peacefully into the family of people and cats he’s joined, so we continue (trying to) devote conscious time to his training, especially now that we’ve entered his, “No, I’m the boss” adolescence.  

He’s doing well-ish. 

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Yesterday, Malarky and I went on our first trip to the wonderful local dogpark complex. 60 acres have been subdivided and intentionally created for our 4-legged companions’ pleasure and learning, so I took him to one of the areas designated as a playspace for small dogs.

He tentatively explored this new world, looking to me for assurance that he truly could run free. We had the park to ourselves, cold and windy as the day was, and that seemed a good thing for his first adventure.

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Then, a very large woman entered the same playspace with her older schnauzer-terrier. The woman was bundled in a quilted down coat, gloves, scarf, and knit hat. All I could see of the person so thoroughly winter-wrapped were her smile and twinkling eyes behind shining glasses. She carried a book, so I greeted her and met “Dungee,” and then, sensing the woman’s desire for solitude, I turned my attention back to Mr. Malarky’s anxious attempts to befriend 12-year-old Dungee.

The older, bigger dog pursued his own interests, allowing Malarky to chase and sniff and run beside him. I watched and then relaxed as they played together.

My mistake.

A large-dog acreage runs adjacent to one side of the area where Malarky was playing, and it was beside this fence that Dungee’s Mom had chosen to sit at a picnic table, engrossed in her paperback. A huge hound walking with his person passed on the other side of the fence. He howled and bayed at Malarky and Dungee, who—of course—were between him and the reading woman. (I—of course—was a few acres away staring at a plant or who-knows what, pretending to be a photographer.)

The wailing dog and its proximity alarmed Malarky. I heard his little bark and turned to see him leap to the picnic table’s bench, then tabletop, then up the woman’s quilted down-swaddled shoulders, and, within seconds, to the crown of her wool-capped head, where he perched, clinging like a circus dog atop a rolling ball.

The woman was trying to reach him, wildly swinging her cushioned arms overhead, but Malarky dodged and clung, steadfast, as she flailed and twisted. I admit, I really wanted to take a picture, but propriety won out and I dashed across the field to retrieve my boy, apologizing profusely, and expecting outrage and a well-deserved dressing down for my negligence.

 But she just laughed and laughed.

Dogs’ companions are so often the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

After I’d detached Malarky from her skull and he’d run off with Dungee, we conversed for a while. She told me about her recent job loss, worries regarding employment, the apartment complex where she and Dungee live…her life sounded to be on the brink of imminent upheaval, but there she was, taking time to exercise her dog, sit and read, and laugh at the unexpected intrusions and circus acts life throws at us with regularity.

I drove home wiser and more chastened than any angry reprimand might have left me. Four-leggeds and their people have been some of my best teachers. What a blessing they have been to me, especially as I seem to need to relearn the most basic of life lessons over and over…

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I’ve been doing some spring winter housecleaning, I suppose because there are dandelions blooming, woolly caterpillars crawling, mosquitoes buzzing, and my lilacs are budding. We’ve had so much rain that the river’s overrun its banks, so it even looks like late April. My daily round is seasonally-confused.

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Anyway, sorting through china and glassware, family hand-me-downs, books, old craft tools, or works-in-progress that seem to be in eternal unfinished states…it’s hard to sever the memories and dreams with which these things are encrusted and infused, from the lifeless objects they actually are. Am I giving away my family and personal treasures, or can I keep the treasure in my heart and give away the things?

Letting go of things is easier, I find, if I take the time to hold each item or box that presents a struggle, and allow it to conjure the times and places it evokes. Just to sit with the images and the feelings, set the objects down, and realize the images and feelings are still “there,” within, is helpful. Then, I imagine a new family enjoying these things, creating their own happy memories. It’s a tiny ritual of farewell that tangibly and emotionally reorders my sense of ownership. The memories are always mine; the object needn’t be.

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I’ve also been baking, and cooking, and candy-making, as though I were expecting a family that could populate a small country for the holidays, when really, a few friends and family members are passing through. Examining what’s fueling this bustle, I discovered I’m again trying to conjure the people and feelings of 1950-or-60-something, because everything precious that Christmas has come to mean for me involves those people and those memories.

On our way to the dogpark, an old Christmas song and the gray, cold day so vividly brought my childhood winters to mind that I could feel my parents and brothers beside me and almost had to pull the car over to let the sweet yearning and memories settle.

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So, I was blessed to meet the down-coated woman and Dungee. (It’s interesting how we dogpark people know each other’s 4-leggeds’ names, but rarely each other’s.)

The encounter was pure gift, reminding me that attentive presence to the moment I’m in is where the magic and joy of life generate. If you consider the creation of your life an art and yourself its artist (as I do), then what is there but the present and what we make of it? Love only happens, only comes alive, in the present, which seems the elemental lesson of Christmas. Love this moment for the gift it is.

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And then set it down and create the best of the next. Now, now, and now. There’s the treasure of life, right there, right here.

I wish you Christmas presence and—if you’re lucky—the four-leggeds (and their people) to keep you in it, always.

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 Many of us, at least internally, do not live in the here-and-now. We are consumed with what was or with what might be. A great deal of the spiritual anguish we experience is because we are not content to be, to live in the present. We are of the present, but not in it. It is by attentiveness in the present moment that we encounter God. ~ Bonnie Thurston, To Everything a Season: A Spirituality of Time

I can feel guilty about the past, apprehensive about the future, but only in the present can I act. The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.   ~ Abraham Maslow

Not the attendance of stones, nor the applauding wind, shall let you know you have arrived. Nor the sea that celebrates only departures, nor the mountains, nor the dying cities. Nothing will tell you where you are. Each moment is a place you’ve never been. You can walk believing you cast a light around you. But how will you know? The present is always dark. Its maps are black, rising from nothing, describing, in their slow ascent into themselves, their own voyage, its emptiness, the bleak temperate necessity of its completion. As they rise into being they are like breath. And if they are studied at all it is only to find, too late, what you thought were concerns of yours do not exist. Your house is not marked on any of them, nor are your friends, waiting for you to appear, nor are your enemies, listing your faults. Only you are there, saying hello to what you will be, and the black grass is holding up the black stars. ~  Mark Strand, Black Maps (adapted from the blank-verse original)

Live in the present. Do the things that need to be done. Do all the good you can each day. The future will unfold.  ~Peace Pilgrim

Welcome the present moment as if you had invited it. Why? Because it is all we ever have.  ~ Pema Chödrön

You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.  ~Thomas Merton

The slow life allows for the release of anxiety, to better focus on the gifts this fantastical moment offers. Choosing to go with mystery’s flow makes the present our continual destination. ETA: Now. No point in resisting what is. Gardening—and life—are always co-created with the surprises Spirit and nature offer; the best we can do is bring attitudes of joy and gratitude to the journey. Hospitality isn’t just something we offer guests; we can offer it to every moment of our lives. Hello! What have you come to teach me?  ~ Catherine O’Meara

Giving Up the Ghost

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Autumn has shaken out her flaming hair, lowered herself upon the hills, and settled in for her season’s reign. Yesterday presented one of those moody gray, metallic days that oversaturate the colors along the trail. The air was damp enough to deepen the perfume of a fallen tree smoking down to ashes. The scent flowed along the trail like incense, consecrating my walk. A strong wind clattered through the aspen and ash trees, and farmers’ combines rolled through the cornfields, harvesting food for livestock.

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Abandoned nests reminded me of spring’s bright eggs, hatching to chicks that grew to fledglings who have now flown away to warmer homes. The blue herons have migrated and the ghostly white egrets are passing through, another sure sign of autumn.

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My gardens will be dying back in the coming weekend’s frost; all the lovely blooms and vegetables have been harvested. This year’s turkey flock has matured and travels daily through the yard, feasting on seeds.

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All around me, it felt as though the spirits of the woods, gardens, and fields were rising, their annual works of art complete and their fruits ready to harvest.

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The expression, “Give up the ghost” passed through my mind, and, while I imagine it’s a euphemism for death, I thought about the ways the spiritual journey calls us to continually surrender our self-image, casting away what we’ve learned is false regarding who we thought we were, and trying to become more authentically true to the self our experience and seeking has revealed. This is a journey of compassion, delight, and gift, as we try to open to our eternal essence and live consciously from its light.

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It seems right that the bounty of autumn leads to celebrations of gratitude, feeding our bodies and preparing them for winter, just as our authentic life’s work is meant to nourish our spirits and those around us, to propel the circle of creation towards another cycle of excavating the truth of who we are meant to be: uniquely blessed and blessing.

I’ve been reading a reflection on Jung’s understanding regarding the “second half” of life, when we’re called to turn over the garden of our souls, weeding through the labels we’ve assigned to ourselves and digging deeply, sifting for the authentic meanings hidden in our choices and their outcomes. We can uncover the wisdom our lives have yielded and shine it back to the world, recognizing and living from the in-dwelling Presence that is unique, universal, and eternal.

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For Jung, and for me, this is deeply spiritual work, the most challenging, creative, and courageous of our lives, requiring us to encounter our shadows and all the unconscious ways we’ve eluded naming and becoming our true self, so that we may accept and make whole (as fully as possible) who we are, while we are.

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Although Jung speaks of life’s “halves,” I’ve always imagined this creative healing and whole-making to be accessible from birth, traveling in a spiral through all our years. Some hear the music and engage at a very young age, and some never perceive the song, or see the colors, or imagine the possibilities of becoming Who I Am…or they fear and avoid the invitations to explore around the corners and below the surface of the identity they’ve constructed. Self-generated masks protect us, after all, until we’re ready to set them down and become more authentically who we are, in essence.

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I believe that part of our human responsibility to each other is to take the time to lovingly extend the invitations to know ourselves better, through a companionship of presence, listening, and encouraging one another’s gifts.

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Autumn teaches me that giving up the ghost—the self-image I’ve fashioned and that no longer serves my growth or my gifts—is a way to become more fully who I am, as a rounded, evolving flash of creation. It’s a lovely season to search through my past year and name the times I’ve felt most and least like “myself,” and figure out why.

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Such lessons are the true bounty of life; the fruits and soul-food they yield help us to isolate the seeds our spirits need to plant and tend for the next part of the wisdom journey.

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