Day Two of Forty

So, for 40 days and 40 nights—one or the other—I intend to post here in word counts in increments or multiples of 40, so from 40 words to 1,600, but probably somewhere in between most days. My intention is to “write through the Divide”—we all know…the one that we Americans apparently are split between. But I call bull on that, because we are not so divided as we think we are. I’ll keep this paragraph of my intro for each post, so if you’re seeing this for what feels like the bazillionth time, sorry, but someone else may be seeing it for the first time.

Accelerated Medicine for an Accelerated Year

Our negative emotions are not meant to be maligned, but rather to push us toward how we’d like to spend more of our time feeling—joyful, peaceful, calm or elated, with a sense that all is as it should be. But when sadness, anger that morphs into simmering frustration, or depression come on, they can feel hard to dislodge.

The best antidote is free: To shift back into feeling well, express gratitude—quite literally, in your head, aloud or on paper, state those things and people for which or for whom you feel grateful. This can be small or grand—from gratitude for the mother who gave birth to you to, or, if you are adopted, the one who raised you…or, if you have a troubled relationship with your mother, other women who’ve helped support you along the way; for the father who’s been there for you when times have been tough—or, if you don’t know your father or don’t have a good relationship with him, other men in your life who have been there for you; for your overall well being; for having a roof over your head, food to eat and clothing; maybe you feel grateful for a skill you’ve developed over many years—or for a talent you came in with and have continued to nurture. Or maybe, it’s just the sun itself, knowing that it’s there, even behind those clouds.

If this feels hard, the truth is it can be. Sometimes—this is true for me—some prep is needed before turning on the gratitude. For me, the preparation is sometimes singing and dancing to a favorite song, taking a shower, or going for a walk and admiring the trees and laughing at the squirrels. Just something to dislodge doomist thoughts that too often seem to be on a continuous loop.

Once you get the gratitude going, it may be necessary to stay off social media and avoid the news—not altogether, but long enough for you to truly feel appreciation, so that you might, unlike Hansel and Gretel, lay smooth, bright stones along your path so that you find your way back easily.


Keeping a gratitude jar is a simple way to cue up appreciation. (Photo by Leigh Glenn.)


Happy Transitions Year!

In Chinese medicine, every being goes through cycles of yin and yang, one mode arising as the other fades, always a little yang in the yin, a little yin in the yang. A being cannot be all one or other. YinYangAnd yet, for me, 2014 was a “yin” year, full of a delicious, nourishing inwardness, a pause that, with every passing month, became more pregnant with possibilities—an endarkened ripening, maybe like what a crystal feels as it grows within the Earth.

The year was marked by a lot of work done with a coach, especially around migraines and perceptions I’ve held—perceptions long ossified—since childhood; contact with archangels, thanks to this coach; the loss of some part-time work; the creation of possibilities for work on my own terms; and, most recently, the rather sudden death of my oldest sister, Teresa.

If I were in any frame of heart other than gratitude, I’d say that 2014 basically stunk, as far as years go. But that feels off to me. Because I’ve also grown closer to myself/my Self in this period, and I cannot think of anything more important, not just for me, but for anyone.

One of the biggest markers of change is the deeply felt, experiential knowledge that there are beings here to help us and we need not hesitate to ask. Like many people, I’ve always wanted to do everything on my own. If I couldn’t do something on my own, then there was something amiss with me. This thinking neglects certain realities, of course, namely that Renaissance-Womandom is a mighty hard, if not impossible, state to attain (at least in one lifetime), and the work involved exhausts resources that are probably better utilized in other ways. So, I’ve started to ask for help whenever I need it, whether it’s a particular physical ache or the onset of a state of mind or an encounter with activities or energies that don’t serve me or anyone else.

Something liberating there is in the asking—a reminder that I am not alone, that it is okay not to have to feel I have to know everything, be everything, do everything.

This year has also brought about greater awareness around priorities—what are mine?

I have found myself at mid-life homing in on some things I’ve always wanted to do, such as rug-hooking, but even moreso around ways I’ve wanted to exist: to embody such unconditional love that anyone around me feels safe enough just to be themselves.WoolenLeafinProcess

It is especially this feeling of unconditional love and the safety it engenders that has ticked up quite a bit in the last month, around the death of my sister, whose illness came as a shock to all her family and friends. She was an anchor for all of us, but it turns out, she was also a canary of sorts in our particular coal mine. Her death puts me on high alert: Can we create enough spaciousness within ourselves to let go of our judgments, our attachments to outcomes, so that no one ever feels paralyzed by the perception of constant scrutiny?

In that vein—and with this gift that my sister could give me maybe only with her death—I end this yin year with more questions than answers and the hope that the courses of action I take in 2015 will begin to light the path toward answers—ones that satisfy not only me, but many others as well.

How can we transmute what feels icky into love?

How can we best find peace at any time?

How can we create loving relations with all our relations—not only other humans, but also everything in, on, and around Earth itself?

How can we become adept at nonviolent communication?

How can we best practice nonviolence?

How can we set and lovingly maintain good boundaries?

How can we best tend the gardens of our thoughts and intentions?

How can we create vibrant, resilient communities?

How can we change our conception of time?

How can we best learn how to breathe in sync with Earth and with one another?

And, how can we heal the illusion we labor under that we are each and every one separate beings?

A Beautiful Death

It is a near-perfect autumn morning. The mild air offers a hybrid of drizzle and very light fog. Elder and sumac berries, ginger, cinnamon and a single clove bud simmer on the stove. Despite the despair that comes and goes in me, I feel at peace, growing calmer in the knowledge that there are few consistent processes in this life, that everything changes, maybe especially the things we think—and hope—won’t change.

Some of our neighborhood trees have already lost all their leaves, including the maples, which are duller this year than last. The ginkgoes, which tend to drop their leaves in one fell swoop, are Meyer-lemon yellow. And the beeches are cloaked in orange.

Pokeberry, Phytolacca americana, takes on colors only nature can do this time of year.

Pokeberry, Phytolacca americana, takes on colors only nature can do this time of year.

In our own yard, the hazelnut leaves are the first to drop and this seems a consistent pattern. The leaves of the pokeberry I refuse to dig out are more wondrously colored than anything Pantone might conceive. They range from mild yellows to bright, from deep magenta to blast-me fuscia along with a wide spectrum of greens. Speaking of greens, the chickweed is pure green, ready to pick to add to salads. Its die-back will come in late spring when the heat starts to take hold. The sweet gum that shelters the few “permaculture zone 5” woodland medicinals I planted five years ago never fails to delight this time of year. Its five-point starry leaves convert into a finery I am not able to replicate in a hooked rug I’ve been working on.

The visible parts of these plants are dying back, sending their energy underground for the next several months. And yet, at this time, they are among the most beautiful beings that capture my attention.

Chickweed, Stellaria media, doesn't comes on in the cooler temps of autumn.

Chickweed, Stellaria media, benefits from the cooler temps of autumn.

This time of year is often a time of grief for humans. We have much to mourn, not just in our personal lives, for who among us doesn’t know someone who’s died this year—many tragically too soon, though who are we to judge the timing? But the multiple stresses we feel seem to be reflected in the world “out there”—and probably will continue to be, so long as we maintain the illusion of separation between “in here” and “out there.”

Even as I have grown weary of the apparent lack of kindness that humans visit upon one another and the planet, I see, I take part in, and I hear about all sorts of gestures of kindness. But most of these are invisible, except to the beings involved. Yet, it is just these small acts that remake the world, that heal the pieces that we split off from ourselves because, for whatever reason, we are ashamed of them or we believe they do not fit or do not serve.

What are we meant to serve, anyway? What ideals? Will we let fear rule more and more of life or will we choose to help expand the consciousness of love?

As I grow more conscious of these choices, I feel I’d much rather serve the ends of love than of fear. For love says, “This way lies sanity.” And anyone who steps up for love expands others’ ability also to step up.

From deep reds to chartreuse, sweet gums (Liquidambar styraciflua) have an autumn pallete all their own..

From deep reds to chartreuse, sweet gums (Liquidambar styraciflua) have an autumn pallete all their own.

What does this love entail?

I may be overthinking this, but basically, it means embodying certain ideals in our actions—the ideals of attention, gratitude and compassion, as psychologist Timothy Miller puts forth in his book, How to Want What You Have.

Attention means noticing—noticing a sunrise or a sunset, noticing someone’s smile or frown, noticing the beauty all around us and not running away when what we feel is unpleasant—whether sadness or anger or depression. Gratitude can encompass just feeling grateful to be alive and ties into attention, in that, the more you notice and the more you allow yourself just to feel—without judging what you feel—the more grateful you feel to be alive. And compassion means practicing first compassion for ourselves: We are human, we are imperfect, so why turn up the volume on the voices that criticize? Why refit those voices, which maybe initially in our early life belonged to someone else, to make them wholly our own? Rather, it is better to acknowledge these voices—maybe they helped keep us safe at some point, but for us individually and collectively, they have become maladaptive; they no longer serve.

Once we begin to feel compassion for ourselves, that feeling ripples out to myriad others, not just humans, but the whole of the world.

In my own family, we have a consistent thread: It’s called “not good enough.”

How do our judgments, which often carry the energy of disdain, affect others?

How do our judgments, which often carry the energy of disdain, affect others?

Many other families share this same thread and maybe all of humanity does. It is why when poets and writers like William Stafford describe their families and their upbringing, I am blown away. My impression of his childhood is one where the parents behaved with deep magnanimity and this led Stafford, in my interpretation, to become the person he became—where being fully human was more important than any accolades his writing or teaching may ever have garnered. His poems reflect his sense of just being.

What has broken this “not good enough” thread for me is the realization that, as in permaculture, the solution lies in the problem. And what problem is not an artifact of the illusion of separation?

It has taken me many years, but today I feel grateful for the influence of my parents, my mother for her overall generosity, my father for planting the seed of the ideal that everything and everyone has intrinsic value—whether a rock, a dog, or a human. Neither always behaved with generosity or acted in accord with the knowledge of the intrinsic value of all things, but then again, they are human and humans are inconsistent—at least in this phase of our evolution.

The pain caused by the “not good enough” can, if we accept it and allow it, shift us into a different, more whole/holy way of being.

Our value is not based upon how productive we are, how well we might satisfy someone else’s needs. People, plants, other animals, viruses and bacteria—they all have value just because.

Witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) flower about this time of year.

Witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) flower about this time of year.

I know this runs counter to what is presented “out there” among various media, in workplaces, in organizations, in government. The glorious sweet gum outside exists in part just because and in part, perhaps, because a seed chose to go along with a squirrel—nature’s forester—and be planted, chose to start growing and transformed itself into a tree, along with the help of others, seen and unseen. And this tree—Liquidambar styraciflua—was preceded by 20 others in the same genus, 20 others than are physically extinct, but metaphorically live on in this genus and species.

This particular sweet gum appears to be dying, however slowly. Two-leggeds don’t much care for the pointy fruits, especially if they have lawns and the fruits fall into their yards. Maybe people’s inability to see themselves in that pointy, annoying fruit influences the tree’s ability to survive. Maybe. I know scientists would probably disregard that notion as naïve or wishful, but science, like religion, operates from a particular set of frames—an often narrow set that accounts only for what can be seen and measured. Feelings can only be felt, and I will go with my feelings—not emotions, which are different from feelings—any day.

And I feel this tree continues to choose to be generous in the way it grows, with an increase in lower-down branches that, in the last few years, have come to provide additional shade for those woodland medicinals I planted, because ideally, they would have more shade. And who can say, but this act of generosity spurs more of the same among those woodland plants, such that they are helping that sweet gum to live longer.

Recent lower-branch growth of the sweet gum gives more shade to woodland medicinals like black cohosh (Actaea racemosa).

Recent lower-branch growth of the sweet gum gives more shade to woodland medicinals like black cohosh (Actaea racemosa).

One thing I know for sure and that is that nature—our inner and outer ecologies—are ever entwined, and we can look to nature for so many life lessons, so many metaphors upon which to check ourselves. After all, we are nature and nature is us, and it is when we believe and then behave otherwise, that we court difficulties. When we aim to grow at all costs, when we desire more, more, more, we can look at nature’s tapestry and see that every year, she takes a break here and there for some months. What would our lives be like if we did so, too? Would we give death to that which no longer serves us? What would create more time for the kind of work that really matters, for the sort of care-giving that our world needs at this time?



Independence…and Interdependence

Today we celebrate our independence from Great Britain. Much has changed in the last 237 years, including many things that were unheard of and deemed impossible back then.

And one thing that seems to be changing now, with more momentum behind it, is the idea that life truly is a web, and we humans are but one strand. As naturalist John Muir is noted for saying, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

Skunk cabbages and beaver dam at Bacon Ridge, Crownsville, Md.

Skunk cabbages and beaver dam at Bacon Ridge, Crownsville, Md.

It is always tempting to pick out things by themselves. After all, the enlightenment period that gave rise to the ideals held by our early statesmen was also a period of scientific ideals that held the best way to study the “stuff” that makes up life is by reducing them to their smallest parts and observing them in isolation. So, we have been educated and trained to see parts in isolation. But is that the best way?

Certainly, it’s given us much, both on micro and macro levels, from genetics to cosmology. But how long can we continue to live if we view life as a bunch of discrete parts?

This issue seems to be unique to humans and arose with our ability to speak, to form words, to put those words together. As one who loves words, I have my own challenges around “escaping” them to really feel into, well, feelings wherever I am, whenever—at the sink washing the breakfast pan or in the yard collecting meadowsweet to dry.

Berkshires take a siesta at P.A. Bowen Farmstead, Brandywine, Md.

Berkshires take a siesta at P.A. Bowen Farmstead, Brandywine, Md.

Our saving grace as humans may be our capacity to appreciate, to feel awe, to share and show our gratitude. We did not create what we see around us. We have used things that are here—the iron that forms the steel that makes up the saucepan, the berries bursting forth in this season that we savor and feel nourished by. What should be our proper relationship to these things? This is a question we each must answer for ourselves, individually and collectively, if we are to survive.

More words come up…these from Japanese natural farmer Masanobu Fukuoka’s The One-Straw Revolution: “Why is it impossible to know nature? That which is conceived to be nature is only the idea of nature arising in each person’s mind. The ones who see true nature are infants. They see without thinking, straight and clear. If even the names of plants are known, a mandarin orange tree of the citrus family, a pine of the pine family, nature is not seen in its true form.

“An object seen in isolation from the whole is not the real thing.”

So, perhaps Independence Day needs to evolve into a different kind of day, one when we continue to celebrate our independence, but one also where we seek ways to celebrate our interdependence.

Summer's bounty: Who does not feel awe toward these miracles?

Summer’s bounty: Who does not feel awe toward these miracles?

Celebrating this can be something simple: giving thanks for the pigs and the cows and the bison that make up the hot dogs and burgers we’ll be grilling, the lifeforce in the potatoes that go into the potato salad, the hops in the beer. Or it can be more involved: Taking a walk in nature. Standing with a tree, a tulip poplar or an oak, and emptying the mind of its constant chatter to feel what the tree says. And then abstaining from attaching words to those feelings.

Happy Fourth! Happy Interdependence Day!