In contrast to what news shows and bosses and commercials and your own dear ego might be telling you, and for the sake of us all
March 26, 2012
I’m taking a break this week from the typical posting routine. I’ll be back on Friday with another stand-alone sketch.
Until then, and with so much love,
P.S. Is Deep Listening something you might need? My heart is wide open and I’d love to listen to you.
P.P.S. My warmest welcome to all who are new! This post from last week is a great distillation of the reasons behind everything that happens here.
Scandal reduction, or How to be less plussed when shit happens
August 24, 2011
This is the last of a four-part series (tagged “chicken wisdom”) that explores overtly what trust tending means. Click here, here, and here to read the first three articles.
Have you ever slogged through a really rough season – maybe post-natal depression…or ANY type of depression, a tragic loss, a harrowing relationship, a child in deep struggle – and found yourself on the other side?
When I was in my early 20s my whole world tilted toward Rough and I found myself in one of the longest, darkest tunnels I’ve known. The catalyst was an unraveling of my childhood faith (I was raised a leftist, evangelical Christian), but as that particular unraveling started, I felt as though my very being tore apart. My systems for knowing what was real and true – about myself, about other people, about our world, about EVERYTHING – were clanking and clunking and sputtering and shooting smoke and broken parts all over the place, and once they gave it up completely, I was left in a pile of rubble miles high.
As the breakdown was happening and then for years afterward I cried and flailed and railed and just generally resisted what was happening with every fiber of my being. It felt AWFUL. (And I’m sure was no joy-ride to watch.)
And then there was light.
Just writing that makes my heart BUZZ with resonance. Because when the Hebrew Bible opens with lines like,
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.
…I feel them in my bones. As I flailed through my darkness, I was without form and void. Darkness was over my deep.
And then there was light.
It wasn’t like a switch turned on, but more like day arriving after night.
It was like a rough, gravel road with potholes and poisonous snakes and rock- and mud slides and treacherous ravines on every side and my own screams and cries and wailing gave way to…the quiet of a meadow mid-day. Wind through wildflowers. No more road.
My cosmic questions hadn’t been answered and I didn’t have a clear sense of identity or direction yet, but my deep darkness and intense need to flail just weren’t there anymore. Such a strange and welcome quiet!
And I could look behind me and see the road I’d traversed and remember viscerally the yuck of it all, but with a different set of eyes and a new kind of distance. A distance that said: I did that. I made it to the other side.
Maybe you’ve lived some alternate version of this story.
My story continues, of course, and I’ve traveled on new roads and taken shortcuts and longcuts and experienced struggle and fear and frustration and confusion and every other emotion and route that’s normal to us all.
But I carry that utter-darkness-turned-to-light experience with me now, and it shapes how I feel about new darknesses I face. It adds hope to them. And patience. And a hint of a slowly-nodding, knowing, squinty-eyed expression that says with almost a warmth of recognition, “I know you. I’ve seen you before.”
Totally NOT what I felt in my Season of Flail.
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After our chicken died, and death’s reality stared us all in the face for a time, we decided we needed some chicks. Three of them.
And, good lord, these chicks are cute!
Their names are Cookie, Lovely, and Lucky and their presence felt and still feels like a dawning. A day after night.
I made this video for the grandparents soon after we got them, and since almost none of you are my kids’ grandparents and can’t be expected to watch this much footage of someone else’s children, maybe go to the 9:44 mark to hear the song/see the images that capture the reason why I’m posting this video at all. Substitute “new hope” or “fresh life season” for the “you” in the song:
(If video doesn’t appear above, click here to watch.)
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There was a season after my flailing when, like the day we brought home our chicks, life took on a golden hue. I didn’t have kids and I was spending most of my time writing a novel and I had time to exercise regularly and journal and eat well. I started my first blog and used that as a practice of naming, via essay, who I WAS, rather than always who I WASN’T (as had been the case through all those years when life looked grim). And I was attending fascinating lectures at the nearby university, and taking writing and spirituality and Tai Chi classes, and reading wonderful books.
It was an amazing season. Mhm, it was good!
And then, of course, as life tends to do, that season shifted and I was deep in young motherhood, feeling lost and lonely and low. Completely unprepared for how UNdomestic and unskilled at household management I was turning out to be. Trying still to write and feeling more blocked, on every level, than I ever thought possible. And feeling incapable of understanding my blocks, let alone finding pathways around them.
Can you guess, by the pattern so far, what sort of season happened…is happening…next?
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The day after we brought our chicks home, our dear Charlotte stepped with boots on one of our chick’s feet. Poor chick limped the rest of that day and all of us felt sick when we saw it.
And of course the irony wasn’t lost on my husband nor I that the chick whose foot got stomped was named Lucky.
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Tending trust is, among other things, the practice of noticing life’s pattern. Which invariably involves stretches of darkness and turmoil and gut-clenching fear – and for many of us, the feeling of being completely undone and remade through some of those stretches – and moments or days or full on expanses of beauty and joy, peace and light. Sometimes ALL of it – the darkness and the light – are rolled up in the very same Now.
And tending trust, in that noticing, is nodding with increasing recognition at life’s hardships, learning to be less and less scandalized by them. Less and less surprised that shit of all kinds happens.
But more than that, it’s learning to hold all of it – the glory and the grime – loosely. Not unfeelingly – because glory is worth celebrating, and grime really does suck (pretending like it doesn’t is not what trust tending means) – but with streaks of hope and patience and levity striped through it. Streaks of “at-some-deep-level-I-know-this-too-shall-pass”. In greater and greater measure as trust takes deeper root.
It’s nodding with tears sometimes, and laughter at others, that yes. YES. I, too, am Lucky.
Thank you so much for being here! As another month winds down I’m feeling such gratitude for you! I recently sent a note to my subscribers that described how wobbly-kneed I’ve felt this month as I’ve seen with greater clarity the Movement I feel called to join and help lead – from fear toward trust. I asked for your good thoughts and prayers and cannot tell you what an ENORMOUS difference your responses continue to make in my world. THANK YOU.
If you’re at all moved by what’s happening here or know of someone else who would be, please help me spread the word! I believe in this work with every fiber of my soul and want everyone who needs it to find it! Every post link or sidebar link, every tweet, every Facebook “like” and plug is one more possibility for that happening. And if you’d like to host me in your space in some way (interview, post, sketch), please be in touch, too! kristin t noelle at gmail dot com.
I love you. And I have all hope that the healing and strengthening and wisdom you need are near. I’m rooting for you – for your heart to unfurl and your trust to grow deep and wide.
The secret of success
August 17, 2011
This is the third of a four-part series that explores overtly what trust tending means. The first and second can be found here and here.
As many of you know already, my family moved in early June to a rental home that came with five chickens. My husband had chickens as a child, so he immediately picked these ones up and held them with ease. The kids and I…well, it took us more time.
Chickens don’t stand still when you move toward them, so there’s an art to getting near enough to catch them. Eli (our 6-year-old) learned this art quickly, but when it came to the decisive SWOOP necessary to actually hold them in his arms, he’d balk. He’d get the chicken right at his feet and then freeze.
Charlotte (age 3) spent the first couple of weeks watching the rest of us play with the birds, petting them when they were in some else’s arms. But once her courage grew big enough, she took off. She was less about the art of anything and more about persistence combined with reaching, mid-sprint, for good, firm fist-holds of tail feathers.
The magic of it all has been ALL of us have learned to hold chickens. These birds are BIG, and their beaks and talons long. Honesty they STILL intimidate me. But by spending enough time in their presence…or watching other people doing so…and testing out our own methods of getting near and making contact, all of us can hold them in our arms.
I think fears are a lot like chickens. They’re often big – or appear to be with all those feathers – and their beaks and talons long. We know they’re in our yard (our bodies, hearts, minds…cities, nations, world) – we hear their sounds and scratchings and step often in their poo – but we haven’t learned to be with them comfortably. So we do our best to ignore them, or turn the volume up on everything else to drown them out: we drink wine and eat chocolate and schedule and surf ourselves silly. We stare at our smart phones and plan for trips and weekends and pour self help and creativity and positive thinking and entertainment and drugs en masse down our throats.
Because fear scares us. We want to keep it at bay.
My sense is that (unlike chickens) fear is the heart of every problem on our globe. And since big problems are echos of little problems and individual problems the pebbles whose ripples roll out into national and international and even galactic affairs, the ability to get comfortable enough with our own fear to look at it squarely and develop the art or persistence necessary to hold it in our arms until it’s size and beaks and talons terrify us no longer: this is the hope of our future. This is the skill that can take us to new and wonderful places – as a species, and, if that feels too grandiose a view, then as partners and co-workers and families and friends.
And absolutely not least, as individual people.
Tending trust is, in part, the practice of getting comfortable with fear. It’s the practice of looking at fear so intently that you learn to see beyond it, past its jagged teeth to a landscape of hope and possibility. Not a landscape painted over top of all our yuck, but a landscape that exists in all dimensions, right in the midst of that yuck. An environment within ourselves and in the world we inhabit that supports the changes we want and need to make, that offers the wisdom we need when we need it, that tends to our wounds and catches us when we’re in free fall.
Looking at fear, rather than running from it, is the doorway to this world. It’s the powerful threshold where hope and despair meet. It’s the possibility of living more and more of our lives in the Light.
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If you’d like to read more about this angle of tending trust, here are some related posts:
And if you’re new here, my warmest love and welcome to you! If you haven’t noticed the free sketches in the side bar, they’re a wonderful introduction to what trust means here. I’ll be taking them down in September and folding them into another project, so if you’re interested in receiving them this way (30 days, by email), sign up by the end of this month.
Coping with death, in all forms
August 9, 2011
Within the first week of our move to a new rental home, one of the chickens that came with the house threw up. On and off she did this that first week.
When she stopped, we thought: great! Problem solved. All of us get sick sometimes, right?
We held her, and stroked her, and secretly loved her uniquely – her gentle spirit, her soft, caramel color, how readily she’d let us pick her up.
So when she grew lethargic weeks later, spending entire days in the cool shadows under the coop rather than moving about the yard, the lines on our foreheads deepened. Eventually she stopped leaving her roost in the coop altogether, and the day I decided to call the bird doctor for advice, I noticed flies – LOTS of them – buzzing near her body.
It all happened so fast, and by the time we got a good look at her underside, it was clear she had an infection far beyond repair. She was gone within the hour.
In retrospect, we could have taken her to the doctor sooner. We could have checked her body diligently. We could have listened to our intuitions that something wasn’t right with her and then acted on those thoughts to try to right it.
But we didn’t. And she died.
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Bad things happen. Bad in the sense that they feel awful. And there’s no Grand Book of Awful to say what awfulnesses are how bad for whom. Loss is loss in a subjective way, as is betrayal and disillusionment and physical pain. You know when they tear your heart or body apart. Observers can only guess at it.
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When our chicken died, Charlotte (my 3-year-old) went quiet and gripped my hand hard. She needed a couple strong hugs, but mostly gripped my hand and wouldn’t let go.
Eli (now 6) wept. At first his flow of tears was steady, but then words and questions punctuated it, then conversation, then silence, and then it came at unexpected moments throughout that day and those following.
My husband climbed the hill behind our house and dug a grave.
I moved instinctively toward flowers to adorn it – gold roses because our chicken’s name was Goldie and we remembered her grace and beauty; pink because we loved her; white because she wasn’t suffering anymore. This was our family’s first graveside experience together, so we explored what it meant to honor Goldie this way, to consider how her body would become part of the earth again and the life that grew there, to wonder whether her spirit might return as something else completely. Eli asked if we could bring a bit of Goldie-earth with us if we ever have to move.
It was a sad, sweet experience that felt good in a way I can’t explain. Through the whole thing I felt such love for all involved and such tenderness for life’s losses and the different ways we find to cope with them.
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Trust tending (the name of this site) is a practice, much like yoga, meditation, exercise, or prayer. There are long-term goals one can have with it (peace that runs deep, hope that can weather life’s storms), but every bit as key is the process. The “meantime” spaces. The day-to-dayness of it. Without attention to these, one can’t know the depth of it. One can’t come to trust the enoughness of right now, or of being a mess, or of being an oscillating mix of weak and strong, childlike and adult, terrified and comfortably at rest in Life’s arms.
So before we “get our shit together” and before we have years of therapy and before we have enough experience with loss and healing to know they can, in most cases, be parts of a whole, there is tending we can do.
When it comes to death and other bad things happening – bad in the sense that they feel awful – here’s what this type of tending can mean.
- Receiving tears like a gift (ours or someone else’s).
- Doing this again and again for as long and as often as they come. (This can feel metaphorically like doing sit-ups or squats to the point of muscle failure sometimes, so strong is our rush to make sadness go away.)
- Consciously holding tender space for our own numbness when we wish we could have access to feeling.
- Holding tender space for someone else’s “lack” of feeling (it’s there; it just hasn’t been able to the surface yet).
- Metaphorically throwing away all clocks and calendars that measure how long grieving should or should not happen. Letting it take whatever time it takes. No matter what others’ comfort level with our grief is.
- Leaning into love whenever possible. This one bears repeating.
- Leaning into love whenever possible.
- When pain is so great, and love feels gone, or the expressions of it available to us frustrating or annoying or unfitting in some way, being gentle with our inability to receive it. Practicing saying, in such cases, “This, too, is part of what it means to grieve.”
- Viewing grief like the very best medicine, drug, therapy, exercise, relationship, sex, or dark leafy greens you could gift yourself with.
- Viewing other people’s grief this way, too.
- Using your heart as much as you can (rather than your head) to determine what to do with how you feel.
- When your heart tells you you feel stuck or need help, reaching out for help to someone who feels safe. This might not be the person who is clamoring to help you most.
- Not right at first, but with time, holding the possibility that this awful thing can unfold into something beautiful and deeply good. Holding this possibility is not the same as painting over your awfulness with it. It’s not the same as believing it whole-heartedly or all the time. It’s just letting it be in the room with you and occasionally, if you want to or feel ready, giving it a glance.
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When Goldie’s burial was through, we went back inside. My husband headed back to the office and the kids and I to the couch. Eli’s tears were intermittent by that point and Charlotte, still quiet, picked up a flyer that was lying nearby. It was an advertisement from an art store that showed a picture of a mandala.
Do you know what a mandala is? It’s an intricate, 2-dimensional image that represents the universe, enlightenment (or the process leading to it), or the mix of enlightened and unenlightened things. Hindus and Buddhists use them in meditation, and their beauty is so striking that people who assign no spiritual significance to them often have them hanging in their homes. (Click here or here for some examples.)
Anyway, as I glanced at the mandala Charlotte held in her hand, I remembered a video I’d seen years before of Tibetan monks creating sand mandalas. Painstakingly, and with much reverence, these monks create perfectly symmetrical chalk drawings of mandalas – maybe 5 feet across – and then spend hours upon hours shaking brightly colored sand through tiny metal funnels to fill the drawings in in vibrant color.
The end results are breathtaking. You want to sit and stare at them forever. And all the more so once you know what it took to create them.
But do you know what they DO with these mandalas once they’re through? After all that earnest work, and hours of backbreaking dedication?
They sweep them up. As a meditation on impermanence. They sweep all that sand into a large vessel and pour it out into a moving body of water as a blessing to the world.
“May this beauty,” they say, in effect, “and our releasing of it, bless everything.”
(Watch this 4-minute video to see the whole process.)
As I took in that image, sitting there with my kids after Goldie’s death, I felt the whole universe in our hands. I felt the beauty of the lives and relationships and experiences of all of us – right then, of my family and our bird at rest on the hill behind our home – and the painstaking process of reaching where we are at any given moment – the myriad decisions and factors and tendings that take us to each point of our lives – and how in an instant everything changes. All that beauty and complexity swept and wiped away.
And how that process – the jarring awfulness that it is sometimes – isn’t where the story ends. Ever. It never is. The beauty that surrounds the awful – the love, the connection, the flow of tears that aren’t only about the one loss, the learning we do about how to honor what’s dear to us, how to be together, how to grieve: the beauty in the awful is a gift that keeps giving. A gift that flows from our unique losses and touches everything.
A gift that as much as I wish could be otherwise, flows from the very sweepings up – the very deaths – of life’s greatest gold.
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P.S. This post is the second of a four-part series exploring overtly what trust tending means. Click here for part one.
P.P.S. For more related reading from this site:
P.P.P.S. My soul friend, Alana Sheeren, has a wonderful free resource for people at all stages of the grieving process. It’s called Picking Up the Pieces, and incorporates her deep learnings from the loss of her young son, as well as reflections on grief from many other contributors. It can be accessed here.
Tending trust as asking new questions
August 4, 2011
It all started with a question:
“Mom,” my 5-year-old asked, “how long are umbilical chords?”
I showed him with my hands and he went silent. Then he said, “Couldn’t that be long enough to wrap around a baby?”
“Yes,” I said. “It is.”
“Well does that happen?”
“Yes. It does sometimes.”
“And then what?”
“Most of the time nothing. It’s normal for that to happen.”
“But what about the other times?”
(Ah, son. You are my boy.)
“Sometimes it can go around a baby’s neck and make it so blood can’t flow to the baby’s brain.”
“And then what?”
I spoke gently. “Sometimes babies die when that happens.”
“Die?…” His voice trailed off. “They die before they’re even born?…”
His chin began to quiver.
“I think that’s very sad,” he said.
“It is, love. It’s very sad.”
He laid his head on my lap and wept for a long while. I joined him a little bit, too.
The next day both kids and I were a-buzz with a new stack of books from the library. We made it through one, I think, before Dr. Seuss’s Lorax was placed in my hands. I hadn’t read this one before, but soon learned it’s the story of a businessman whose lust for money destroys an entire ecosystem – trees chopped down for their soft, leafy tops, waters filled with factory sludge, surviving animals mournfully migrating in search of food.
It finishes with a teensy drop of hope – the last literal seed of the trees that were destroyed, held by an altar inscribed with one word: Unless.
You might guess my son’s next question.
“Does this actually happen, Mom? Like for real?”
“Yes, love. It does.”
“People do this to our earth?”
He looked out beyond our windows to the green on the hills nearby. And he wept.
(Lest you wonder, there was much discussion about this book and the still-birth questions the night before. We cry, but we process things verbally, too.)
So the next day, when one of our chickens disappeared, Eli’s heavy heart sunk through the floor.
“WHAT IF SHE’S LOST?” he panicked. “What if she gets cold tonight? She always sleeps next to Scritchy. Scritchy is going to be SO SAD to not have Scratchy next to her tonight. Mom, what if another animal tries to EAT her?”
The chickens are cooped up every night for warmth and protection, so all of us knew Eli’s fears could come true.
Eli cried himself to sleep that night, holding on to the tiniest, spider thread of hope that maybe – just maybe – Scritchy would find her way home.
I spent the next while combing through the yard again and my husband through the neighborhood, hoping for some lifting of the weight that Eli’s heart had come to bear.
“If Scritchy comes back, wonderful,” my husband concluded after our unsuccessful search. “But if she doesn’t, maybe that’s good, too. There ARE huge losses in life, and maybe it’s a mercy for the kids to be able to process some of them together like this, in safety, and at a time when they can learn to let the tears flow.”
Yes, I thought reluctantly. That’s right.
But in the morning, when Scritchy was calling on the outside of the coop’s closed door, half-crazed with hunger but every bit as well as all the days we’ve known her, something dove deep into my heart, past the joy and celebration, to a place where I hold my life’s greatest gold.
Life IS suffering, I thought. But that’s not the whole.
And that, right there, is one of the biggest boons to trust that I know.
Trust and fear start with innocent questions always, don’t they? How old are people when they die? Will I get what I really want? Is this owie going to get better?
And as we grow, the questions multiply. Will I ever find a mate? Can I ever land a job? Can I move past my blocks? Will my kids turn out alright? If I show you who I really am, will you still love me?…
We ask our questions and watch for life’s answers and since life really has a lot of suffering in it – hands down – we conclude in some private, inner place that expecting the suffering, assuming it’s most of what there is, is a lot safer and less disappointing than any other choice.
We wear this conclusion on our sleeves, sometimes, consciously checking ourselves when joy gets too close or big or hope grows too robust. We pull out a “See? I knew it would happen” when things go wrong.
But maybe just as often we wear it underneath a layer of optimism. A mask of, “Life is GOOD!” or “Things will be alright!” that sometimes feels to those around us like a threat, or an impenetrable shield they can’t reach or hold or hug our tender hearts through.
But here’s the thing. Those innocent, spontaneous questions that start our fear-cycles rolling in the first place? They can take us down a different road.
They can take us to Scratchy coming home.
And in light of that return (and all of your own equivalents), they can call into question the deep-down assumption that this new challenge that you’re facing or that new calamity or that other imminent change or likely loss – that any or all of it – will end or unfold in a way that’s inevitably tragic.
Tending trust, for me, is a lot about asking new questions in the face of life’s up-and-down game. Questions that sometimes feel like spider threads of hope in the face of sure awfulness. Questions that sound less like, How can I cope when things inevitably go poorly? and more like, What if this (this life, this tragedy, this unexpected fork in life’s road) unfolds into more beauty, more wonder, and more of what we really want than I could hope to imagine?
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Sometimes tragedy really does strike, and I want to honor that deeply and even devote the next whole article – another lesson learned from a chicken – to exploring what trust tending means in the midst of great suffering.
In the meantime, though, if you’d like to read more articles related to the angle explored by this one, here are a few from past months:
Life beyond fear