March Resource Round-up

March 31, 2011


Hi everyone! Beginning today, I will be concluding each month at Trust Tending with a round-up of trust-nourishing resources related to each month’s theme.

Can I just say after gathering this list that the wind in my sails is HUGE? Good heavens! There are lots and lots of people doing amazing, trust-inducing, Earth-loving things!! I could fill pages with wonderful links!

Instead, I’m going to offer the ones that I know personally and the ones that shone brightest in my recent wanderings. Karah Fisher Madrone, my dear friend, directed much of my wandering this week, and is someone I hope you get to know much more of in weeks and months to come. She and her partner Lorrena, along with many brilliant collaborators, are soon to launch a new site called greenjump, which is a sustainability homepage: positive news, green directory, and local networking hub. I will let you know when that launches, but for now, offer thanks to her for sharing some of the resources she knows about through her work there and her years of deep love of our planet.

I want to give quick voice to the reality that for some people, the links below might do the very opposite of their intent, which is to nourish trust. While some people can click through a list like this with growing joy and even move on to make lists of their own, others – myself included! – can get overwhelmed by how much they (or people they know) don’t know, how many blind spots they weren’t aware of having, or simply by the SEA of good things in our world to learn and care about.

Here’s my best advice if you’re someone who responds to lists this way: channel your inner turtle. If you’re drawn to earthy things, pretend you aren’t capable of moving more than an inch an hour in pursuit of them. Click on one link from the list below. Enjoy what you discover. Be proud that you discovered it and then move on with your day. Do that again another day, leaving adequate space in between.

There is no race to learn everything possible in one day or one session at your screen, and if you let yourself get overwhelmed, you’re much more likely to make NO steps in whatever direction you’re wanting to go.

Okay, so without further adieu:

Writers and Poets:

  • David James Duncan I love all of his stuff, but his novel, The River Why, and his two collections, My Story As Told By Water and River Teeth, are particularly nature-y + trust-inducing.
  • David Whyte Whyte is not a nature writer per se, but his works are often deeply informed by nature, and I can’t recommend him enough. He writes poetry and prose, and has some wonderful CDs of his teachings.
  • Mary Oliver Her poetry is some of the most nature-full, trust-inducing, and accessible I know.
  • Wendell Berry My personal readings of his work are not extensive, but everything I’ve read has left me more rooted. Highly recommend.

Magazines:

  • Orion Orion’s mission is to “inform, inspire, and engage individuals and grassroots organizations in becoming a significant cultural force for healing nature and community.” Awesome publication!
  • YES! “YES! Magazine reframes the biggest problems of our time in terms of their solutions. Online and in print, we outline a path forward with in-depth analysis, tools for citizen engagement, and stories about real people working for a better world.” Always inspiring for me.

Movies/Short Films:

  • Winged Migration A breathtaking documentary of the migration of many types of birds. Heavy on imagery, light on words. Perfect.
  • The Shift This is a documentary film about the shift underway toward global consciousness. It’s still in production, but if you click on its Twitter link, you’ll stay up on some wonderfully hopeful happenings.
  • The Story of Stuff Project This project is multifaceted, and aimed at educating not only about environmental issues, but also social and economic. Their whole website is worth exploring, but their short films are particularly accessible and informative.
  • Queen of the Sun A just-released documentary about the future of bees.

Courses/Ebooks:

  • Abbey of the Arts Christine Valters Painter – interviewed here this month – has some wonderful resources at her site. Here is a page devoted specifically to nature-related offerings.
  • Living in Season Waverly Fitzgerald’s whole site is wonderful, but I have particularly enjoyed her holiday ebooks, which offer history and ideas for celebrating seasonal holidays from around the world.

Food, etc:

  • Michael Pollan Thoughtful writing about the food industry and healthy moves we all need to make.
  • Slow Food “A global, grassroots organization with supporters in 150 countries around the world who are linking the pleasure of good food with a commitment to their community and the environment.”
  • Local Harvest A website that helps you find organic food grown near you (…if you live in America).
  • The Regenerative Design Institute “A non-profit educational organization with the vision that all people can live in a mutually enhancing relationship with the earth.”

Lifestyle:

  • SouleMama Amanda Soule and her husband are raising 5 kids (so far) on a farmstead near Portland, Maine. At her blog, she chronicles her earth-conscious lifestyle, which includes lots of homemade everything, gardening, knitting, raising of chickens and more.

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Have more resources you’d like us to know about? Please share in the comments below!
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Month-end conversation

March 29, 2011


As we come to the end of our nature theme, I’m thinking so much of all of you. I’m so curious who you are and what’s been happening in your hearts as you’ve been reading here this month.

I had no idea going in that an earthquake and tsunami would so shake our world. No idea how grateful and tender I’d feel toward everyone seeking hope and trust in their wake.

I’ve been pushed to listen more deeply than I usually do to the lessons of nature around me – not only the ones taught by its peaceful states, but by those in its tumult: its disasters, both human-initiated and not.

I keep thinking about Christine’s words about winter calling us deeper into unknowing, about Carol’s call to slow down (slow down, slow down…), about my own heart’s call to step further into the wilds of my life and to honor each season I find there without constant comparisons with others’. Your comments in response to that seasons post have sent my thoughts in so many helpful directions!

It’s been a month of much growth for me and I’m so grateful for this space and for your presence with me in it!

But what about you? What’s happened in your relationship with nature this month? What pulse do you have on the growth of your trust?

Comments are wide open for anything you’d like to share.

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Finding trust at Earth’s bedside

March 27, 2011


One of the topics that’s been on my heart all month, and that I can’t leave this nature theme integrously without exploring, is that of human-caused ecological destruction. That phrase alone has sent me to the kitchen for chocolate numerous times this month, and, much to my dismay (and maybe not surprisingly…), my wanderings haven’t once written this post.

Tonight I’m not leaving my seat, though. We’ll see where Spirit/Universe/my own little heart lead.

Here’s the honest truth: I’m sad and frightened by what humans are doing to our planet. I feel sick when I look out at the LA horizon and the sky is the color of mud. I’m shaken by the signs on the piers in my area that warn fishermen and women not to eat the muscles or many of the fish that feed in our polluted waters. I read exposés on what Exxon Mobile is doing and planning to do in Alberta; on oil spills and failed promises to clean them up; on scientists’ best attempts at understanding the trajectories of global warming; on cleaning chemicals the average American uses unquestioningly in their home every day and…my dear heart. It wants to climb into bed and shake.

I don’t do that most of the time, though, and, in fact, live mostly in denial about how sick our planet is. I’m guessing that most of you do, too. To do otherwise, without growing a hearty kind of trust beforehand or right alongside, is to walk deep into miring sludge.

I don’t think I’m capable of finding a pathway toward trusting that we will collectively change our ecological course. If you know of such a trail, please – PLEASE share it with the rest of us! I very much want to hear.

I do, however, think I’m capable of finding other pathways that lead me away from denial-producing fear and closer to an open-eyed, peace-inducing trust on this topic.

So here goes. Let’s give this a shot…

1. Read about efforts people are making to reverse the harm that’s been/being done to our planet.

If all I know about our planet comes from news headlines aimed at shocking and terrifying people into reading them, I will unwittingly assume that doom more aptly characterizes everything than hope. I will assume that brilliant minds and every day folks are not working very much to reverse real-world, ecological problems.

Maybe even better than reading about these efforts would be to spend time with someone whose life is devoted to them. Someone who’s excited about what they’re doing and tickled by the discoveries they’re making.

2. Get out of my house and car and spend time with Earth.

While this activity can and does break my heart sometimes, given the signs of pollution I so readily find, I think it also works a kind of magic. All the lessons that Carol and Christine spoke of in their interviews, and the ones I’ve been reflecting on this month: they really do tilt me toward trust. And they’re there at our fingertips, literally, if we take the time to look, listen, touch.

3. Take heart-centered, earth-friendly action in my day-to-day life.

This one is tricky because I think most of us go numb or put our denial glasses on the second words like “action” come into play. We’re overwhelmed with our lives as it is; adding one more set of inconveniences or duties or responsibilities – especially when they’re associated with tree-hugging fanatics – feels like just too much. (For the record, there is a tree hugging fanatic in me who wishes often for more air time. I’m not critiquing the lot by any stretch!)

But here’s what I mean by this one:

What if instead of making earth-friendly choices because I’m trying to do my part to reduce or offset the destruction humans are causing our planet (this would be my typical reason), I instead made such choices as small acts of defiance against the forces of apathy, greed, self-centeredness, ignorance, and despair in our world. These are forces that cause and perpetuate the destruction of our planet, but they’re responsible for so much more. And (dare I say it?) for far more devastating losses than the health of our physical earth.

The shift in perspective here is significant. It’s away from dependence on making physical changes in our world in order to have hope, and toward a focus on protecting and emboldening and maintaining the health of one’s own and our collective heart. The stronger and healthier our hearts, the more physical/ecological manifestations of health and healing we’ll see (I presume!), but that’s less the point than the health and flourishing of our hearts for their own sake.

The thought of hundreds and thousands of people – heck, the thought of only one or two! – making small and daily acts of defiance – not because they think they will solve our earth’s problems, but because they’re unwilling to let their hearts be occupied or wilted by the powers that harm our planet and souls: I find this tremendously hope-inducing.

4. Notice the resilience of our natural world.

Again, this doesn’t mean “look at how our earth heals itself and take heart that no matter how much we destroy her, she will survive”. I’m sorry, truly sorry, that I can’t do this.

Instead, I think I’m nuancing this one toward heart things again. Soul things. There is wonder, for me, in recognizing what land and bugs and people and animals and bacteria and plants and air and water do in the face of destruction. As long as they’re able, they keep trying to survive. They keep adapting. They keep devising new routes and new devices to lead them toward what they need. This is amazing to me! It makes me want to bow deeply to life. To the miracle of it all.

Focusing on this wonder and this miracle – these trillions of miracles: this not only allows me to look with open eyes, rather than denial, at what we’re doing to our ecosystems, but makes me WANT to do so. Open eyes are the only way to experience this kind of wonder.

5. Get more comfortable with death.

Huge parts of me don’t want to go here at all because of our collective agreement (in my country, at least) to avoid talk and thoughts of our own inevitable deaths. We give billions of dollars every year to products and surgeries and medications and advertising aimed at helping us avoid death and all signs that we’re headed there. And even without these cultural norms, apart from the small percentage of people who want to take their own lives, our lizard brains are hard-wired for survival. Scenes from books and movies and our own imaginations of a world so polluted and contaminated that sickness and illness and suffering and early deaths are far more prevalent than they they are now can make us so scared – for ourselves and for future generations – that our only option is to push our fear underground.

We aren’t only our lizard brains, though. And it is possible, with the help of journalling, meditation and wise teachers (this book has been one such teacher for me), to grow increasingly more comfortable with the fact that all of us are going to die.

Can you imagine how liberated you would feel if death wasn’t something to fear? How much more possible it would be to maintain equanimity – levity, even, at times – in the face of Earth’s human-made disease?

When Buddha and Jesus and sages from across the millennia speak of losing our lives in order to gain them, this has to be what they mean.

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These are the paths I’m finding tonight. If you know of or can think of others, I would love to hear them!

And more generally speaking, I’d love to hear how you feel about our earth and what you tend to do with your feelings. Your company around this topic in particular – one I have few conversations about in my offline world – would mean the world to me.

This month’s theme at Trust Tending is nature. Click here for a description of the theme, and here for a working list of themes in months to come.
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Seasons are universal. Treat yours uniquely.

March 23, 2011


One of the lessons of nature that has simultaneously tortured and buoyed my heart in the last decade has been the lesson of seasons.

My second pregnancy was definitely a winter for me, where everything I had come to identify as being “me” lay dormant in the soil of a pregnancy-induced heart condition + trying to simultaneously care for an active 18-month-old.

When that second baby was born, I mistakenly assumed spring had arrived and I would finally get back to my old “normal”: writing and exercising regularly, engaging in public life, feeling in touch with my family, friends, and inner world. Winter hadn’t finished, though, and I often looked longingly out across miles of “snow”, completely consumed by the tactile tasks of caring for kids and trying, often unsuccessfully, to get just enough sleep to stay sane.

I’d compare myself with other parents through that time, wondering why I seemed so snowed under by my role by comparison, why I couldn’t just push through and produce!, return emails!, be creative!, have FUN! So much about my life felt like bare branches and leafless, underground bulbs – completely foreign to the “me” that I liked and longed for.

I’m not in a winter anymore – I think I’m in spring – but I’m noticing that as I look out at other people’s lives, especially people in full bloom, I feel similar things to the way I felt a few short years ago: envious and mystified and wondering whether I need to be ashamed of my lack of full bloom, or somehow resigned to a whole life of fewer blossoms than others seem to have.

And I wonder, as I look toward next month’s theme of Starting New Things, whether any of you are feeling similarly. Are you content when you’re in winter? – when your circumstances have you holed up in a long season of private, maybe a season of intense inner work, or intense parenting, or study, or some other block that prevents you from pursuing Life as you ultimately wish it could be?

How do you respond when you feel good things stirring in you, too – new buds getting ready to open – and you look across the lawn at someone else that’s fully flowering? Maybe they already have the skills you wish for, the business, the connections, a circle of supportive friends. Maybe their shit is more together than yours and you wonder whether yours will ever be anything close to that.

I’m wondering whether it might serve our trust well – yours and mine – to realize how unhelpful it is to compare our lives to others’. To compare seasons.

Your life is uniquely yours. The blocks that you have, the wounds that you carry, the challenges in your circumstances; and conversely, your heart, the gifts you have to offer the world, the things that bring you great joy or spark your deepest wonder: these can’t be helpfully compared with any other person’s because there isn’t anyone else that’s YOU.

We can’t know how long our winters will last, or how quickly they’ll switch to spring. Sometimes the very day you’re most convinced that snow will last FOREVER is the day new growth pokes through. And in your own or others’ most colorful, flamboyant successes, none of us can know what inner or outer circumstance will plunge us back into dormancy, privacy, darkness.

Maybe the most trust-inducing thing we can learn from nature’s seasons is that they turn, and the most helpful thing we can do with that information is to apply it not to some combination of us-and-the-person(s)-we-most-want-to-be-like-when-we-grow-up, but rather to ourselves alone.

Let others’ lives turn as they will. Let your winters and the buds and blossoms of your summers and springs – in quantity, color, and type – be the miraculous, holy things that they are. In their very own right.

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This Weepies song, Hideaway, was a light for me through the winter of my earliest years of parenting. Though its metaphor isn’t seasons, it just as well could be. (If you’re reading this via email, click here for audio.)

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This month’s theme at Trust Tending is nature. Click here for a description of the theme, and here for a working list of themes in months to come.
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Life is more than a mess

March 21, 2011


Life is messy. I’m not sure how many times I’ve thought or spoken some version of that phrase but I’m sure if I did I’d be staggered. There is just so much about everything – every person and animal and plant and organization and institution and season and minute of each day that won’t be packaged easily, that smells, that has dysfunction, that grows beyond borders, hopes, or expectations of what we think or assume it should be. Even the good stuff – the most wonderful stuff we can hope for or manifest – is striped with disarray: bad breath, goof-ups, poorly placed lines.

Life is messy. There’s no question about it.

When I dropped my kids off at school this morning Carol showed me a nest that had been shaken from its towering tree in a storm last night. A truly impressive abode! It measured a full foot across, and was woven sturdily with sticks and fabric, string and straw.

My first thought was for its architect(s). I wondered how they’d fared last night, where they were now. I shook my head at yet another example, in this month of so many examples, of nature’s fearsome, troublesome ways. Just when you think your home is safe…

But then my mind walked on, past that thought, to a new one: that nest was anything but messy. It was gorgeous, symmetrical, strong. It existed long enough to be fully formed, too. Fully functional. Fully home to what looked like more than one bird.

I thought instantly back to moments of awe I’ve known in the presence of spider webs, dew drops, layer upon interlaced layer of rose petals, opening toward sun.

And of my own house on those rare occasions when everything is put away, the dishes are clean, and two rambunctious babes are bathed and asleep in their beds.

Or times when I’ve answered all the emails and phone calls necessary, completed a project, prepared for a trip. When the food is ready for guests on time, I arrive at an event on time, the birthday cards are in the mail before the days they’re sent to celebrate.

Or that one, short breath during meditation when my frantic, monkey mind has stilled and I feel totally here, completely now.

In all of these thoughts, in all of the awe, I’m moved to say this: these things are real. They aren’t just icing on life’s cake. They’re every bit as much cake as the messes that surround them.

I’m wondering what would happen if, in our fearful, anxious-leaning states, when our houses are literally or metaphorically tilting and we don’t know which way is up, we told a new story about life – one that names and honors the mess, for sure, but, with every bit as much fervor, names and honors the order and the moments of peace and calm that are woven all the way through it.

This month’s theme at Trust Tending is nature. Click here for a description of the theme, and here for a working list of themes in months to come.
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On interconnection

March 19, 2011


I’m struck this week by the moon. By its brightness and constancy. By the power it has to move oceans. By the ways it pulls at them, and us, in ways we often don’t notice, even when its light becomes a sliver and our nights are so dark we can’t make out the shape of our own hands.

And I’m struck by the sweetness and the strength that I’ve been gaining through conversations with people about Japan. Even in our fear and our restlessness and all the ways the events there and elsewhere, too – sometimes inside our own homes or circles of family and friends – make us feel small and vulnerable and aware of how little we can know about what tomorrow holds, let alone whether we have the inner or outer resources to deal with such things well: these connections have made a real difference in the courage and hope I’ve been able to find. They’ve given me more patience with my restlessness and more motivation to offer what strength and trust I do have for the strengthening and en-courage-ment of others.

So I’m thinking today about how connected we all are, and how our words and actions and demeanors – whether within our own homes, or in public or online spaces – both for good and sometimes ill, are like the moon’s light. And the sun’s, for that matter! They pull and shine on all of us. They have the power to do great harm, but also to heal and nourish and light the way of all.

I’m particularly struck by this as I go about my mundane tasks: preparing food, dressing and bathing children, interacting with store clerks, talking with folks at the park. I do these things, and I follow my heart and hands in this online space, and am amazed and a little wobbly-kneed and teary eyed by the thought that my life, my vulnerable, tenuous, minuscule existence is a moon and a sun. Is a light that is made bright by all of yours and that pulls on and is pulled by the suns and moons that all of you are.

Thank you for the ways that you’ve strengthened me this week. Thank you for the ways you’ve showed love to people around you and courage when you’ve had courage to give. Thank you for doing what you can to live peace, and grow trust, and learn a thing about love.

And if you’re gasping for peace and trust right now, may the moons around you pull you quickly and safely back to shore…whether they or you know that’s what they’re doing or not.

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Moon In My Body, by Cyprian Consiglio, from his album Compassionate and Wise

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This month’s theme at Trust Tending is nature. Click here for a description of the theme, and here for a working list of themes in months to come.
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Interview: Carol Tatsumi

March 17, 2011


I am delighted to introduce you to Carol Tatsumi. Carol is the director at my kids’ cooperative preschool, and from our very first meeting I was drawn to and intrigued by her calming, heart-centered, stable presence – not a list of descriptors readily applied to most of us! Her connection with nature was apparent within minutes of that meeting, and now that I’ve read what she’s written here, I see how significantly that connection has shaped all the things I love about her.

I hope you find this interview as calming, hopeful, and trust-inducing as I find it to be, and all the more so, given the fear, dis-ease, and dis-trust that’s filling so many hearts as news from Japan continues to flow darkly. Consider your time with this, and the good things it does inside of you, a gift not only to yourself, but to our traumatized world.

This month’s theme at Trust Tending is nature. Click here for a description of the theme, and here for a working list of themes in months to come.

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I’ve been fascinated by the connection I feel between you and the natural world, considering you were raised in such an urban environment and continue to live in one. Can you talk about the role that nature has played in your life, and how this has come about?

If I could consider times or places that formed my earliest relationships with the natural world, they were strolls when I was a little girl around the countryside in Wisconsin, with my mother. My mother grew up there, on a small family farm, and our trips ‘back home’ in the summer involved mostly time spent at a lake cabin, almost exclusively out of doors. On walks my mother would tell me about the trees and animals we would see; birds that were nesting, animals that were bustling around. Often she would share what she had learned from her own mother, who loved the natural world, and who was herself a fierce protector of critters around their home, from red ants to raccoons and bees to badgers. No natural phenomenon was considered a threat in these stories, nor in my upbringing. Bees could be trusted to leave you alone if you left them alone, snakes could be trusted to go about there own business, weeds could be hid in when escaping cousins on a mission; most things had a purpose and it was our business as humans to let them have at it, step in if they needed our help, and admire, sometimes from a distance.

Now, while those were some of the earliest memories, all my other memories of growing up are tied to nature: the Chinese Elms that grew in our yard, the tall weeds in the vacant lot that we hid in from boys, the lizards in the planter that someone said would turn into alligators, the pets that we had (not the guinea pigs-why oh why did we have guinea pigs), sitting on the front yard under the Eucalyptus trees watching neighborhood boys walk by, stepping on the acorns during 4th of July parties, getting stung by a bee in high school.

As an adult, when I visualize the place where I am exposed to “the natural world”, it really begins just beyond my own physical self. It is the world that I move through, and it exists in little pockets between buildings where a flowering plant is growing, it is the air that is above me, it is the puddles by my house that I can walk through during the rain, and it is other inhabitants of the planet, so it is not really a place I need to ‘go’ to, but it is in my day to day existence.

That said, there are places where I go that are exquisite examples of the natural world, where there is a very wonderful flow from one organic surface to another, from one clump of sage to a clump of poppies, to a patch of dirt disturbed only by a monarch butterfly and where this natural world is left unbroken by cement surfaces or synthetic materials. There are places locally that I love like George F Canyon Preserve up in Palos Verdes where weeds abound (weeds are my favorite things, especially after a rain, soaking your jeans as you walk through them).

When our family lived in the big cement city that is Manhattan, NY, and our daughter was about 9, she and I were struck by the lovely trees around the Natural History Museum, the tulips that popped up around midtown, and Central Park! While a highly structured and planned natural environment, in Central Park there were beautiful piles of leaves for her to jump in, squirrels running around, and red-tailed hawks flying overhead, our first cardinal in red plummage during winter. There seems like there is nothing to worry about in the moment, and you can get lost examining a little bud on a tree, or a patch of dirt. I have walked in Central Park at night, ridden a motorcycle through mountain passes, walked in the desert far from marked trails, and I trust. What are the alternatives?

Maybe related to the last question: What are some of the lessons that you’ve learned or continue to learn from the natural world?

Things take time. Things grow slowly, and sometimes you cannot imagine what they will turn into, you just have to (no amount of strength will stop these forces) let go and trust that they will turn out as they are intended. You are going to be constantly surprised when you are immersed in the natural world, and sometimes you have to get out of your car, and get on a motorcycle, or walk, or bike, or skip to see things and you most definitely have to sit quietly for a long time until you hear things. Walking with a very young child is the most amazing way to putter along at the speed of nature.

That said, nature needs lots of support, advocacy, and protection in order to do what it does. Earth Day is coming up April 22, 2011. I often have used it as a day to reconnect with the natural environment just outside my door. I have learned that it is never too late to give something back to nature that trusts us with this place called earth.

How has your sense of trust been nourished by your relationship with nature?

Nature just is, and will always be. It might be manipulated, and parts of it might be irreparably lost, and yet sometimes it finds small chinks and openings to trickle through and thrive, and it can be counted on to surprise and thrill you. You can prepare, prepare, prepare and things just happen; jewels emerge from the struggles and between the cracks. This trust pushes me, leads me to venture deeper into untamed wild places without disabling fear. There, I have seen bison poking their noses into our tent in Yellowstone, there have been black bears on our path when hiking in Idaho, there has been cancer in our family, and loss, and scary nights in Turkey (one scary night in 6 months of backpacking through Europe and Asia), and they made the trip wonderful, magical, meaningful because in trusting, I took the trip. In the moment these surprises can be startling, and can throw you off balance. They make you feel fresh and awake and make you slow down. They had a smell, a feeling, a sense to them that is not there when looking at the static moments of the day.

When you’re afraid, are there things in the natural world that you turn to for comfort? Can you tell us a story about a time when this helped?

Nature is restorative for me. When I am not feeling well, or tired, and am not sure how to get back to homeostasis, I turn to nature. I get out of the house, I walk and look at places that have not been adjusted, or trimmed, or pruned, places considered ‘virgin pieces of land’. Places that have been left in their natural state to spread out, to get a bit rangey, to grow weeds. There is a ‘story’ that I am interested in here, that does not seem as rich of a tale when the lawn is manicured, or clipped, or sprayed to deter weeds. I read once that being in nature is really valuable, but the most valuable type of nature were those wild spots, where people had not arranged things….and this is hard to find. There are big wild places: National Parks like Joshua Tree, just a few hours from LA, are like that. There are places you can find that have not been explored for a long time, or that have withstood the touch of time. You can park your car and walk out to the desert and camp.

I can find some surprises, too, that have been created by humans, but have been left to their own devices: at our school’s neighbor’s house there are rose bushes where the rose hips have formed after the blossoms have dried. In my neighborhood there are sunflowers who have begun to drop their seeds in interesting patters. The other day a large hawk flew over our school on its way to building a nest further down the street. Trust me, nature is just outside our bodies, just outside the car window.

Some of us live in urban environments and, apart from long drives to the mountains or the country, aren’t sure how to connect meaningfully with nature. Are there any tips you might share with us for finding and nurturing this connection right where we are?

Slow down, slow down, slow down. Look down, look up. Change the angle of your eye, scoot forward in your car seat and peer out the top of your windshield, get out of the car and get on a bike. Wonder a bit: what do the clouds look like today and how has the wind affected them, what is going on with the leaves on the trees by where I park my car at school. What is laying on the sidewalk, and growing between the cracks? Ask someone who loves nature to take you on a walk so you can feel and sense their trust and so you can see differently. See and listen how they talk about the leaves on a Black Willow, or a Eucalyptus. Remember that video about the basketball passes where you are asked to watch for one thing, and then asked if you saw the second thing? Sometimes we rely on our moms to point things out we didn’t see before, sometimes our friends, sometimes a nature guide. I love being surprised. Trust that you will be surprised.

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A ritual for responding to natural disasters

March 14, 2011


I look with horror at what’s happened and happening in Japan, searching for clues that can lead me toward trust. I can’t ever trust that earthquakes won’t happen again, of course, or that tsunamis or other natural forces won’t again devastate masses of our planet’s life. At this writing it looks as if radioactive fallout will be part of many of our imminent futures.

I want to trust, however, that it’s possible to see devastation like this with compassion and strength, neither depending on sure-fire rescue/protection/healing-the-survivors missions in order to have hope, nor going limp and despairing in light of how small I feel in the face of such tragedies and the surety of our earth – and likely my own self – enduring many, many more of them.

I want to trust, too, that there’s a view, an outlook, that neither minimizes suffering, nor makes it out to be the last word on what really IS.

And I want to trust that suffering is and always can be more than awful. More so than a nevertheless or any platitude about the value of suffering could ever convey. Part of some kind of whole that is deeply, inexplicably good.

Here’s a ritual that, for me, is a path toward this kind of trust. I created it for myself, and offer it with those like me in mind: people more than a step removed from the heart of the devastation, but who are nonetheless moved and stricken by what has occurred and aware that no one is exempt from experiencing future disasters comparable, in some way, to these.

No magic bullets here. Just a pathway that’s taking me in a good direction.

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Water Bowl Stones
A ritual for responding to natural disasters
This ritual is designed to do four things:
  • Raise consciousness about what it is we’re actually feeling in response to natural disasters. Sometimes free-floating, unnamed, and often conflicting emotions are our greatest source of fear, and our sense of trust rises dramatically just by naming what they are. Naming our emotions is also an important step in knowing what, if anything, to constructively do about them.
  • Reduce feelings of smallness, helplessness, and detachment from any ability to help.
  • Clarify the work that is ours to do and consciously leave the work of others for them to do.
  • Give a tangible, visual metaphor that anchors the points above in our active memory.

This ritual can take half an hour or much more, depending on how much reflection you want to put into it.

To Begin

Find a bowl – preferably one that you like – and fill it half way full with water. Imagine that this water is the common human experience, and thus a symbol of that which holds and connects our species. A unitive force.

Set this bowl on a table or the floor, and sit in front of it for some time of reflection.

Begin by getting mindful of the water as a symbol. Imagine the ways that this force, this common human experience, is pulsing in and around your veins as well as every other human on this planet…including those in northern Japan, and all the folks who listen to news about what’s happening there.

All of us know life’s joy. All of us know pain.
All of us are intimately acquainted with fear and
all of us hope for greater reasons to trust.

Next, with pencil and paper in hand, take a few minutes to answer the following questions. Be as brief or as detailed as you wish.

  1. What feelings am I having in response to what happened in _________? (This week, that blank would be Japan. Other weeks, other devastated places.)
  2. In what ways do I connect compassionately with others? (This can feel out of left field, but connects deeply with the second goal above.) “Others” can include your connections with plants and animals, and be as close-in (your partner or dearest friend) or as broadly encompassing (relief and human rights work) as you wish it to be. The idea is to honor the ways that you already connect compassionately in our world and to see these connections, in light of the bowl of water in front of you, as inextricable parts of a broader story of connection.
  3. What is my heart nudging me to consider doing? This doesn’t mean in response to Japan necessarily, but it could. Just neutrally, what has your heart been nudging you to consider doing recently? This is a chance for you to get more clear about the work that is yours to do right now and to release the work of others for them to do (including, sometimes, relief work in places of recent disasters).

    It could be that your work IS to respond practically to what’s happening in Japan – by offering money, prayer/meditation, time, or other resources. If this is true, what an important thing to name! Naming it might be a doorway to an important new life-season for you.

    It could be that your North Star has been beckoning and beckons still for you to take some other heart-felt step, though. This is a chance to get conscious of what that call might be and to release all other callings to the people to whom they rightfully belong. (And by calling, I don’t mean something inherently huge and beyond your four walls. This could mean getting your finances in order; spending more or less time with your kids; buying some art supplies; simplifying; etc.).

Once you’re done reflecting, try to write or circle a word or short phrase for each of your responses to make them easy to count.

Here’s my list of emotions for the first question with my circled words in bold. Your list, of course, would include responses to the other two questions as well.

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Fear: I feel afraid of natural disasters harming me or people that I love. I don’t want to travel to places where they’re likely to happen, and hate the fact that I live right on top of where a massive earthquake is predicted to happen in the near future. I feel afraid of nuclear contamination and cancers that can grow in response to it, too. I don’t want to suffer their effects or have to watch others suffer them, either.

Horror: I feel horrified as I see what people have and are suffering in Japan. It feels too much. Too awful. To gruesome. Too terrifying.

Grief: I grieve that anyone has to suffer anything at all, and most acutely the suffering that’s being experienced right now in Japan.

Numbness: Sometimes I just don’t care or think about Japan at all. Sometimes I read a headline about it and brush past it like it’s nothing. Sometimes I avoid the headlines because I don’t want to think about them at all.

Relief: I feel lucky that I haven’t had to endure anything remotely like this and that my loved ones are not in Japan.

Anger: Life feels so unjust. I’m angry at the apparent inequity in the way suffering is spread across our globe.

Guilt/Shame: I’m not clear which one of these I feel, but there’s something here about the way I tune suffering out a lot of the time that feels shameful or wrong. There’s something here about me feeling embarrassed about taking my own life and struggles so seriously – how my hardships seem ridiculous when compared to what others are facing right now.

Aliveness: though I’m not yet sure what my practical response to Japan will be, I feel more acutely aware this week of my presence on our globe, and the many opportunities I have to participate in healing and nourishing trust.

++++++

With list in hand, or simply with the number of items on your list in mind, take a walk somewhere where you can collect one small stone for each item on your list. Be as symbolic as you wish to be in this – grabbing any stone you see to reach the right number, or mindfully choosing certain sizes or shapes to match each item on your list.

Return to your bowl of water and mindfully place each stone into the water, taking some moments to consider what each one represents. Notice the way each stone makes you feel as you place it into the water. Notice the way the water surrounds it. Consider what you’re seeing as a small representation of something vast – billions of people feeling their feelings, knowing their fears, observing suffering, hearing the nudgings of their hearts.

Consider the ways in which you, immersed in this water, heart and mind full of images of nature’s fearsome ways, are

uniquely positioned to follow your one heart,
connected to every other human, near and far,
responding compassionately to others on the planet,
honoring the full range of emotions in you.

Leave your bowl in a place where you will see it regularly, and give it a small, internal bow when you see it there, and whenever you think and feel about Japan (or whatever natural disaster is in focus for you now).

This month’s theme at Trust Tending is nature. Click here for a description of the theme, and here for a working list of themes in months to come.
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How nature heals us

March 13, 2011


*This post explores the ways that nature heals us. Recent events in Japan are a dark reminder of the ways it can push us to need healing. I hope to write about that next.

During my mid-twenties I went through an excruciatingly dark season. The catalyst was an unraveling of some of the religious convictions I had held to that point, but the more I pulled and untangled those threads, the more I felt personally unraveled. My self-understanding and life trajectory were being transformed and, looking back, I see that the shock and anger and despair and, eventually, the lessening of all of these things, were stages of grief that I was moving through. Responses to significant and disorienting losses.

Toward the end of that season, my husband and I moved to the San Francisco Bay for my husband to begin doctoral work. At that point I was out of tumultuous waters but new on my land legs, and healing, still, from all that had happened in the years prior. Once each month for a number of months I made the 3 hour drive back to where we had been living to meet with my therapist. Then, freshly encouraged to continue on my Way, I got back in my car and drove home to the bay.

Those late afternoon drives over California’s Coastal Range – a sea of soft, rolling hills, green in Spring, golden otherwise – healed me in ways I never planned or anticipated. The softness of those hills, and their constancy, soothed parts of me that, though cognizant that I had made it through a dark season, had come to fear because of it that life was only sharp edges and jarring change.

And the sun on those hills – the sun! It made me weep sometimes. I’d crank up Sting’s Lithium Sunset and put it on repeat, letting those words and the images out my window seep into my bones. After so many hours of therapy and so many journals filled and so many conversations with myself and my husband and close friends, it was the silent presence of those hills and that sun that I needed. They were a prayer and an answer, both.

I wonder whether that song, and a poem I wrote about those hills after driving through them one day, might spark your own consciousness of the ways the earth is healing or has healed you. Maybe ways it might heal you yet. I wonder whether you might see or even just imagine the ways the sun or the seasons have spoken hope or blessings on you already.

I hope that if you’re in a dark or painful night right now, you’ll find some comfort here.

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Lithium Sunset, from Sting’s album Mercury Falling. Lyrics here.

(For those reading via email, click here for audio.)

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Silence Speaking

I take a day trip through California’s Coastal Range:
rolling hills golden with dry grass
scattered with crumbling rocks and gnarled trees.
It’s late afternoon and everything
bronze in the lowering sun.

I love these hills –
the softness of their curves,
the vastness of their open spaces,
the constancy of their presence,
holding me, enfolding me,
enfolding all of us in our little metal boxes,
winding our way through them.

Looking up and out, my instinct is a surge
of gratitude.
“Thank you. Thank you,” I say inside,
not knowing to whom.
A stripe of pain streaks through
the wonder in my soul
as I think on this.
Is God a conscious being
as I was taught?
Or an impersonal force?
A construction of human minds and yearnings?
Every option is riddled with
things I want
and don’t want to be true.

“I’m here,” I hear, my gaze on golden hills transfixed.
“We’re here.”
What can I make of this singular? This plural?
Mysterious reassurances.

Ahead the gentle curves are
penetrated by an enormous chunk of
earth from deep below,
its horizontal layers turned
vertical in their thrust toward air
and light.
Something far more ancient,
yet here, also new,
confronts the weathered hills’ monotony.

A picture of the movement
in my soul?

Windmills spinning where hills meet sky
speak more to me of movement
in the otherwise stillness
of the landscape.
Around a bend a power plant
converts their wind to that which
lights and warms and energizes:
the blood of cities,
pulsing through miles of wire veins
that start here:
in the golden wasteland
of silent, stolid hills.

Barrenness –
suffering, yearning,
wounds, confusion, losses,
the silence of a Holy
I’ve wished more deeply than life itself
would speak –
this barrenness, the windmills whisper, can be a spring,
life-sustaining blood at pulse from its center,
its heart.

I assent, but not gladly.

The hills in my rearview mirror are pink now
in the setting sun
as the freeway lanes multiply
and all around are overpasses
skyscrapers
airplanes crisscrossing the darkening sky.

In a sea of crawling taillights I feel strangely held.
You hem me in, behind and before
instinctually rises.
Golden hills now only inner rollings,
soul enfolding,
I inch my way toward Home.

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Interview: Christine Valters Paintner

March 11, 2011


Today we are joined by Christine Valters Paintner, the abbess at Abbey of the Arts. I first got to know Christine through an earlier incarnation of my blog and have since been filled with wonder and gladness by the heart- and world-changing work that keeps pouring out of her. The books that she’s written, the courses and retreats and resources she’s created, her writings at the abbey itself: all draw people into deeper, more meaningful, mindful living. I particularly love the ways her work so clearly flows from her own growth and practice.

I’ve asked Christine here today because of her deep connections with nature and the many ways her work contemplates and looks to nature as teacher and guide. (For a description of this month’s nature theme, click here.)

Thank you so much, Christine, for being here!

***********************

One of the things I love most about your work is its connection to the seasons – your photographs, your writings, the classes you offer – all seem seasonally oriented. Can you tell us how these connections first began for you?

I have always felt a deep sense of solace out in nature. I grew up in the heart of New York City, but my father was Austrian, so we often spent summers hiking in forests and mountains. When my mother died eight years ago in autumn, it was a very painful time for me. I found tremendous comfort in daily walks. As I moved through fall and into winter I discovered that the world around me was mirroring something about my grief back to me. When I walked I felt like the trees I love so much in our neighborhood park were bearing witness to the journey of release, of stripping away, and of moving deep into a place of barrenness and solitude that I was experiencing as a part of my own grieving journey.

You have written beautifully through the years about winter, in particular, and while many are chafing at its darkness and chill, your heart seems to be soaring. Can you talk to us about your love of winter? What has winter taught you? How has contemplation of it changed you?

We live in a very summer-oriented culture. We value perpetual productivity and fruitfulness. And yet living this kind of energy all year drives us to burnout and deplete our bodies. Winter offers an invitation into a space of contemplation and rest, of incubation and mystery.

In my own process of healing from grief I discovered the wisdom and depth of winter. I have learned to love it on its own terms – not just as a preparation and precursor for spring’s blooming – but for all the ways it calls me deeper into unknowing. Being fully awake and conscious in the dark days of winter can be challenging. Unknowing and mystery are often uncomfortable experiences. We have all had winter seasons in our lives when what was familiar is stripped away and we have to hold grief and open ourselves to the grace of being rather than doing. Winter calls us to trust that fallowness and hibernation are essential to our own wholeness.

Can you say a little bit more about being called “deeper into unknowing”? What does that mean to you, or can you imagine it meaning to the rest of us?

Ah yes, very good question. . .

For me, the spiritual journey is not about growing more certain about the world, but embracing more and more the mystery at the heart of everything. In a world where so many people are so very certain about the nature of things, especially in religious circles about who God includes and excludes, I believe unknowing calls us to a radical humility. As we mature, we must engage with what our own mortality means for us, knowing that we one day enter what I call the Great Unknowing. The season of winter helps us to practice for this. Two months ago I was confronted with this knowledge that I will one day die in a very immediate way – I had a pulmonary embolism while traveling abroad. There were so many layers to this experience, but ultimately it thrust me into the essence of what is important in my life, and also calls me to release any hubris I have over how things work in the world. Winter invites holding this paradox of the clarity that comes with seeing what is most important in your life and the unknowing that comes with engaging deeply with mystery.

Oh, thank you! That’s so beautifully said! I’m wondering…can you talk about the other seasons, too? Have these also been your teachers?

Yes, each one is a teacher for me, but with different wisdom. I love autumn for its call to release and surrender and I love spring for its abundance and profusion of blossoming. I love the gold leaves falling in a luminous cascade on a sunny fall afternoon and the vibrant green of new shoots emerging on branches as spring arrives. Summer is the most challenging season for me, in part because the days are so long in the Pacific Northwest that I find it hard to sleep enough so I often feel tired this time of year. I think we each have a season that we find more difficult and so I continue to especially listen for summer’s wisdom in my own life and keep discovering new layers revealed by being present to my discomfort.

For readers who may have little or no history of connecting with the natural world, and for those who live surrounded by it but so far don’t associate it with their growth of trust, can you suggest some entry points? What practical things could we do to find some of the trust-inducing gifts that you’ve experienced nature to give?

Daily contemplative walks are a primary practice for me. I live in the heart of Seattle now and each day I head to my favorite park and bring myself present to the trees and the crows, the feel of the earth beneath my feet. I allow nature to speak on her own terms and I listen for the invitation each season offers.

Tending the seasons can be a profound path toward the nurturing of trust. When we witness the rise and fall of the year with its cycles and energies, year after year, we may begin to discover that spring does indeed always rise out of winter’s darkness.

When I lead retreats I often have people begin with paying attention to their breath with its four movements: inhale, the pause between inhale and exhale, exhale, and the pause between exhale and inhale. These four movements evoke each of the four seasons: the awakening of spring, the fullness of summer, the release of autumn, and the emptiness of winter. By turning our attention to this primal rhythm of rise and fall, fullness and emptiness, which moves through us continuously, we can connect to a deeper trust in the rise and fall of the world around us and of our own experience.

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Thank you again, Christine, for being here!

For those who may be interested in more of Christine’s nature-led insights, check out her e-courses, Water, Wind, Earth, Fire and Seasons of the Soul. She has also created some beautiful reflective art journals that are filled with natural images.

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