Bon Hiver, We Greet the First Snow

dscf2860One of my favorite episodes of one of my favorite TV programs, Northern Exposure, unites all the episode’s sub-plots beautifully when the townsfolk of Cicely, Alaska, step outside on the night of the season’s first snow and greet it, and one another, with the cry, “Bon Hiver!” (“Good Winter!”)dscf2863The episode, like the others, deals with longing, loss, guilt, memory, wisdom, peace, and a deep appreciation for life and its co-creator, death…and always, with gentle humor and love for humans and our charming follies. Never preaching, the scripts always honor the characters’—and our—desire for sacred meaning to attach itself to our brief moments and so guide us toward making sense of our lives, and living peacefully with unresolved mystery. I’ve always found the program profound in its simplicity and deeply endearing.dscf2673dscf2747dscf2765dscf2755
Here at Full Moon, the past few weeks have been filled with long days featuring the meteorology beloved by the Brontë Girls. The pups and I expected to encounter Heathcliff on our daily walks, but only discovered a variety of interesting fungi, and an elusive blue jay (who would be offered in better focus had I not been entangled by the leashes of two leaping, pulling puppies).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As a friend pointed out, the season’s absence of leaves very cleanly reveals the glacial land formations: eskers, kames, kettles, and drumlins abound in our neck of the woods. But the unrelenting dreariness of sunless days began to wear on my spirit.

The only way to counter it has been to get rather over-sparkly indoors.
Micky, after his initial surprise, seemed to enjoy the holiday music, decorations, and merriment; Malarky affected a subdued air, as if to show-off his worldliness. After all, it’s his second Christmas season. Sigh.

The cats, as always, have just enjoyed having their annual bit of fun with shiny globes and sartorial correctness. dscf2889dscf3216
Today, though, we received our first snow, and the magic inside now plays second fiddle to the glory of snow-gowned trees and grasses. The world looks so enchanting…a perfect setting to wander in wonder and bid others a most tender, “Bon Hiver!”
We admired the snowfall from inside, beside the fire, and then outside, walking, running, looking, and being amazed, an altogether perfect day.dscf2883dscf2870dscf2830dscf2874dscf2827Here is a blessing, perfectly pure and floating down softly, right into your hand: Let us decorate our hearts with gratitude and forgiveness, with sweet acceptance of the meanings we’ve made and been given, and those we’re reaching for, and those we’ll never have, for the stunning miracle of a snow-frosted world reminds us that mystery, too, is a treasured facet of all that shines in our most beautiful lives, in this most beautiful world.
Bon Hiver, my friends! May all the gifts of the season be yours, those lovely surprises that are both simple and profound, given and received in love, from heart to heart, in reverence for who we are and who we are becoming.dscf2886dscf2835

Advertisements

Happy Halloween From Full Moon Cottage

dscf2496May you be blessed with the lovely gifts the dark months bring: Stillness, centering, introspection, orientation, and gentle peace. And may all the spirits who gather round you bring their sweet memories and commune with your heart, reminding you that love never dies. May all things that go bump in the night be us, tripping over insights the season offers. May we walk merrily into our darkness, willing to embrace the mystery that always surrounds us.dscf2520dscf2461dscf2451Let’s grab our mugs of cocoa (or glasses of wine, or both); sit by the fire; tell stories; share wisdom; dream out loud; and locate good chocolate. Autumn is my favorite time for dancing. Shall we? Maybe I’m not a nasty woman, but I’m definitely one who cherishes her wild side and shakes hands with her shadow. Darkness is only scary until we enter it and listen for its invitations. Let’s welcome it. Let’s show it a good time.dscf2386dscf2518dscf2490Let’s release the anxiety the world is pushing so very intently these days and create what the world needs that only we can offer it. There is so much to notice and love in the world, and so much in a day to treasure. Let’s gather in the souvenirs the days offer us and build a gratitude altar, a tangible sign that blessing and hope are more plentiful in our lives than what many in power (or who are seeking it) would have us believe.dscf2567Here’s an idea: Let’s elect ourselves and put ourselves in power regarding the way the world will work: See what it can be? Look! In so many little ways (that can become the only way)…Joy is winning. Love is winning. Kindness is winning. Peace is winning. Take heart.dscf2539Happy Halloween from Full Moon Cottage!dscf1409dscf2380dscf2504

To Walk in Balance

 

dscf1259

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.

dscf1256

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.

dscf1406

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.

dscf0852

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

dscf0887

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.

dscf1709

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

dscf1232dscf1241dscf1245dscf1204dscf1248

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

dscf1639dscf1748dscf1305dscf1274

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.

dscf1472dscf1468

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.

dscf1368

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.)

dscf1152

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.

dscf1432

Deep Bows to the Earth

DSCF9175

Our difficult and very urgent task is to accept the truth that nature is not primarily a property to be possessed, but a gift to be received with admiration and gratitude. Only when we make a deep bow to the rivers, oceans, hills, and mountains that offer us a home, only then can they become transparent and reveal to us their real meaning.  ~ Henri J.M. Nouwen, Clowning in Rome

DSCF7926

March ended with a glorious full moon. I remember it, because that was the day our dear friend was admitted to the hospital. For a week or more, she had been suffering from violent bursts of headache, much worse than her usual migraine. We’d accompanied her to the ER one long night, when the pain was excruciating and, when it happened again, another friend got her to the doctor who (finally) admitted her. Over the course of the next two weeks, a nimbus of neurologists poked, sliced, scraped and analyzed her brain before concluding with a diagnosis that left her ravaged spirit and body heavily drugged and cautiously hopeful. The headaches continued, but gradually abated to an endurable level.

DSCF8083DSCF8465

As with any hospitalization of a loved one, our days slid into overtime. We drove back and forth to the hospital to visit and support our friend and her son, and twice a day, drove to her home, to care for her sweet, old, almost-blind, mostly-deaf pup, Jax. He seemed more at peace in his own familiar spaces, but clearly missed his “mom,” despite our attempts to comfort him. He always perked up for treats, we noticed.

Her son flew home from Brazil and helped mightily for a time, until his mother was discharged, but then, after she’d been home for a few days, he had to return to work, so she and Jax came to us for a week of rest and recovery. Their presence and spirits blessed us.

DSCF8561

Malarky, Jax, and I went for a few walks every day, while our friend rested. Malarky was a good host, leading Jax to all of our “treat spots” and waiting for him to catch up.

DSCF8301DSCF8502

Winter seemed to be tilting tentatively into spring. One day, we’d hike through a glorious snowfall, and the next, a sunny trail beckoned with robin song and wildflowers. All of it seemed to intrigue Jax, and his spirit and energy thrived.

DSCF8269DSCF8279DSCF8282DSCF8364DSCF8470DSCF8174DSCF8494

My friend fatigued easily and felt apprehensive about the thunderclap headaches returning, but, as the week went on and spring began to settle in, I noticed her spirit lifting and confidence returning. Every day, she set new tasks to complete that would support her return to independence after almost a month of being bedridden. She made a meal, did her laundry, came on a short walk. She weaned herself off the pain meds. (I can’t imagine the courage that took, after what she’d endured and feared encountering again.) The syndrome she suffered from is known to debilitate and devour energy, and it can require up to six months before the patient feels like her old self, or—more accurately—her new self, since these experiences always transform us.

DSCF8129DSCF8420DSCF8411DSCF7985

My friend deeply honors and tends her spirituality, and we had interesting conversations about the ways she felt herself transformed; the gifts she perceived had come to her through the ordeal; the struggles she anticipated in returning to work; and her hopes for healing.

DSCF7950DSCF8134DSCF8956DSCF8958

My heart filled with gratitude to see her strength returning, even in tiny amounts, and I loved how spring’s brighter days contributed to this. My friend blooms in warmer weather, and the sunshine and flowers, open windows, and sweet breezes contributed far more to her recovery than my vegetables and broths. I think I saw her blossom on one of our walks. It seemed like her spirit came back into focus.

DSCF8759DSCF8787DSCF8810

She returned home the night of April’s Full Pink moon. My tulips were just opening to the sun that day. We stayed in close touch, and I took her to a few appointments the next week, but her recovery since then has been glorious and all due to her own body and soul-tending.

DSCF8986DSCF9056DSCF8893DSCF8749

I missed her presence after she’d returned home. It was fun to have human conversations throughout the day. The 4-leggeds and I had to adjust to the unfilled hours and reserves of energy we now had to fill and spend. Malarky and I took long walks through county parks and marveled at a Great Blue Heron rookery. To see these huge nests tended by their prehistoric profiles, even at the distance we kept, took us deep into silence.

DSCF8666DSCF8688DSCF8693DSCF8699DSCF8709DSCF8713DSCF8724

We gardened and watched the spring birds gather at the feeders.       

DSCF9221DSCF9210DSCF9158DSCF9237DSCF8740

We watched this fellow court various ladies, it seemed with little luck, over the past few weeks.

DSCF9258DSCF9259DSCF9273DSCF9281DSCF9292

But we discovered that we still longed for another presence…and settled on Mickey.

DSCF8993DSCF8995DSCF9176DSCF9178DSCF9036DSCF9039DSCF9073DSCF9103

Two weeks later, we’re all adjusting to our new companion. We’re grateful for the hard, often heart-breaking work at the Houston rescue that saved Mickey, and for its local satellite that brought him to us. He’s sweet and feisty, and a good buddy for Malarky. Of course, we planned on a girl, about Malarky’s size (25 pounds) and age (9 months), and came home with a 4-month-old, 6-lb boy. Funny how love works.

DSCF9071DSCF9141DSCF9144

And Mickey was in need of love. Full Moon is working its magic on his little body and spirit as it did on our friend’s recovery. And just as her presence blessed us, Mickey has brought gifts to each of us, completing a puzzle we didn’t know was missing a piece. Till now.

DSCF9125DSCF9120DSCF9131

And so I make deep bows to the rivers, oceans, hills, and mountains that offer us a home, and to the fields, and flowers, and birds, and 4-leggeds who teach us about resurrection and love, and the possibilities these hold for us in our brokenness and loneliness. May we be healed and offer our mended energy to the world.

DSCF8029DSCF8035

The Season of Black and White

DSCF3627Yesterday afternoon, I sat down to process a few photos taken this week and realized there was nothing new coming from my camera. The late winter landscape still offers the same colorless views.

DSCF3632The occasional red of cardinals is startling. There should be some kind of protective eyewear to withstand it. When cardinals flash in front of me, it reminds of the Polaroid bulbs of my childhood. I stare and readjust my eyes as red spots continue to superimpose themselves on everything, then dissolve, and my eyes readjust to the safe, known, black and white.

DSCF3718Regardless of one’s theological beliefs, this season’s lack of color seems to draw the spirit deeper within, the invitations for exploring our journeys and straightening their flow, or clarifying how and why they turn and twist, and where we’d like them to self-correct follow a natural path, in accordance with nature. The absence of sensuous distractions offers peaceful encouragement and the thoughtful presence of silence to companion our introspection.

DSCF3629As winter pulls us into deeper stillness, how natural it seems to devote greater effort to cleansing, reaffirming, and lightening our spirit through honest examination, forgiveness, and a recommitment of our energy to the gifts we’ve been given, and a journey that more honestly offers them, in service, to the world.

DSCF2459This is my time of year for assessing my journey’s progress and charting where I’d like my spirit to grow and flow in the months ahead. All around me, others are steering their own crafts, according to beliefs that guide them through the great ocean of life.

DSCF2481May we forgive ourselves and each other the grievances caused by our shortcomings and any clumsiness, rigidity, blindness, or cruelties that have clouded our ability to offer love or receive it.

May we hear the invitations for introspection and self-correction offered in these seasons of black and white, and bless the world with the colors they will resurrect in our hearts, allowing our own and other’s spirits to be authentically renewed and to blossom, fully.

duck eggs and birds april to may 2012 039 - Copy

Winter Spirituality: To See What Is Before Us

DSCF5119Sometimes I wonder if the constant complaints about winter—the cold, the snow, the darkness, the inconvenience—are a form of resistance to winter’s spiritual invitations. They’re challenging; they’re scary, they’re brutal in their honesty. 

DSCF4925They’re so worth engagement.

DSCF4626I’ve come to love the austere revelations winter offers, as I’ve come to recognize the wisdom of loving what I resist, opening to relationship with perceived obstacles, problems, roadblocks and impediments. Limiting my journey to summer’s merry, easy road limits my journey.

DSCF4622In summer, my vision is attracted by everything at once, overwhelmed by the impression of colors, mingled patterns and textures. A summer spirituality allows my mind to perpetually skip from pleasure to pleasure, one sensuous delight and self-affirming thought after another. But, as the season of winter allows me to focus on the singular beauty and unique mystery of the particular and specific, entering a winter spirituality allows me to be with my darkness and find that its augmentation to my spirit, if initially frightening, is eventually healing. Shadow and light are needed for the picture to be full and the spirit to be whole.

DSCF4827I appreciate the generous cloaks winter creates to isolate color and form. I can photograph one tree, one bird, one sunrise, over and over, and always see something new. In winter, it seems the world tells me who it is at its core and asks me if I can respond with my own true name. “Who are you?” asks winter, over and over, paring away, in loving patience, all the usual answers that satisfy such a question in polite, superficial society.

DSCF5008

DSCF4990

DSCF5016

DSCF4670

DSCF4677Winter spirituality helps me meditate more and more deeply on the gift and uniqueness of each part of myself and my life, each partner with whom I dance, each question with which I struggle.

Long years, a lifetime, of encrusting these relationships with projections and desires and hopes and discharged emotions and learned reactions and one-sided memories, can be stilled by winter’s gift of silence and long hours to re-visit and re-vision, The external shudders away, baring what is real, teaching me again that meaning is fluid but essence eternal.

DSCF4817The local meteorologists call this the “coldest winter” in 35 years, and people complain, some unceasingly, about the hardships of enduring it. But I’ve learned to love winter as I love my shadow. They are beautiful; they bring wisdom; they lead me to rare and vital presence. And they are crucial to the springtime’s arrival; crucial, as in “cross,” as in the bloom of synthesis bursting from the thesis-antithesis of winter’s black and white…

DSCF4962I love winter and the spirituality she engenders for helping me to see, even a little more clearly, the truth before—and within—me. By uncluttering all the other seasons’ competing imagery, I can eliminate the chaos of color and form surrounding the pure beauty of a solitary squirrel, by muting all the rival noise muffling one blue jay’s cry, I can hear its once-in-a-lifetime once-ness, by stilling all my swirling mental and spiritual dissonance, I’m guided to focus solely on where I am in relationship to the Holy and all her streaming invitations. 

DSCF5111Spirit speaks uniquely in all of life’s seasons, in all of life, every moment; disregard this, and we miss vital communication, like tuning out another’s conversation. Only listen, says the Spirit, in winter’s guise; listen, and be led to silence.

DSCF5092

DSCF5084And when I can listen more deeply, winter is the one who whispers to my heart those essential truths that keep it beating: I am loved and lover, created and creator, co-conspirator (helpmate of Spirit) in fashioning these sewn-together moments called my life.

Peeling away the layers of projected need, repeated story, and entrained patterns of response, winter teaches me to see what is before me. To see what is. 

DSCF5143

DSCF5122

DSCF5121I am still becoming.

 

Life Review

DSCF0758

The circling world has returned me to the time of thin places and the Sacred has certainly permeated my past month, or perhaps age and effort have finally brought me to the place where the numinous is more apparent and the liminal invitations—to see thresholds into deeper ways of being—are more accurately and peacefully encountered. Of course, there are days I’m blind as a bat to the light surrounding me, and as out of touch with my spirit as I’ve ever been, but they are less, and since presence, listening, deepening, gratitude, and forgiveness have been qualities I’ve valued over material gain, I’m happy to examine my life periodically and discover if those traits I’ve treasured and quests I’ve set as worthy are being integrated into my life.

DSCF0634Maybe it’s autumn. There is something about its particular colors and quality of light that makes me more pensive than other seasons. It seems always to begin with a low-level anxiety, probably ancient, and I catch myself worrying if I’ve “gathered” enough to last a winter…and then the questions about precisely “what” I need to store and so be sustained come calling at my heart’s door.

DSCF0987Life review is a spiritual practice too often saved for the end-of-life journey. At that time, it’s a guided journey through life’s highs and lows, regrets and blessings, gains and losses, named by the one who is dying and explored deeply in order to bring greater peace and closure to the dying process. Rituals help ease forgiveness and augment gratitude, or opportunities may be revealed to heal wounds carried as painful burdens over a lifetime. I loved traveling the life review journey with my patients when I worked as a hospice chaplain, but often people are too weak, confused, or unable to complete the practice as they approach dying, and its benefits are lost.

And so I highly recommend we engage with this practice long before we face our final breath. A daily examen, a monthly meditation, or at least an annual dedicated time for reviewing our dreams and life goals, and whether the choices we’ve made are in alignment with our named purpose or will lead to imbalance, can help us live more fully and in tune with Spirit. And after the assessing, and emptying, comes the time of deep listening: what messages does Spirit bring to us for our encouragement and possible redirection?

DSCF1233Retreats can also help with this process, and so can a monthly meeting with a spiritual director. A friend of mine is currently writing her life Manifesto, and others have created Mission Statements to guide their journey…these are not carved in stone and can always be altered, but they serve a purpose in making their authors aware and committed to remaining spiritually aligned and awake during their time on earth. What, finally, is our Credo, and are we true to it?

Certainly, autumn brings me round to look again at who I’ve become and how true I’ve been to my gifts and spirit. The pull of the ego to conform, to “win,” to be the center of attention, to be perceived as successful by all the false measurements the world offers rather than the self-assessment I know after all these years will reveal the honest answers I need and treasure is relentless, but worth resisting. And every year, it gives me joy to see the path I’m on, the place I am, is where I’ve always wanted to be. Not that I have all the things I’ve desired, or perfect relationships, or a life without pain and disappointment, but that what I have is precisely enough and fulfilling.

DSCF1031-001

DSCF1011So I give myself time to sit, to walk, to be alone and realign myself with those goals I hold dear. I note my success and forgive my errors, and surround myself with friends who treasure their own paths and tend their gifts. I recommit to offering back the best of what I have and look for ways to contribute to the world more of what I believe it needs to come into balance. I listen.

DSCF0776The worries triggered by the autumnal urge to gather and store ease as I relax into the awareness that my life is rich. The sky shines silver and the leaves glow, burnished bronze and gold, calling me forward into mystery. I embrace it, knowing my life invites my continued growth and unfolding.

DSCF1341