The Yin Turning Yang

 

As I step outside before the sun comes up to go for a walk in the woods, I am met by a bright moon on the waning side of full. The moon is setting in the west, while the sun has yet to come up in the east. Standing between these well-known polarities is also as it is now with the season. For while we are still moving towards the darkest depths of winter, at the same time, minute by minute each day, we move towards more light.

And yet, even with the light steadily, noticeably and undeniably increasing, we are still not even at the half-way point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. I see all of this reflected in my own internal process where I am not yet “out of the dark” with some longstanding issues, while simultaneously I cannot deny that ever more the light is making its way back in. The Celts might call this a “betwixt and between” time and space. Not really exactly somewhere just yet. Not really on the other side of something, but somewhere in between.

All of it continues to show up in my mind in that I am both excited to be getting into the woods before sunrise, and also a little apprehensive. It is still dark after all. Who knows what moves in the dark? There is a back and forth between sensing the mystery of this time of day, and a fear of the dark and what it holds that ping pongs around in my mind until I stop on the trail in an attempt to stop the match in my mind.

Right next to me is an enormous boulder, a symbol of those things that are steady. Those things that are not subject to the made-up machinations of the mind. Directly up and to my right is the moon, and directly up and to my left is the sky just beginning to brighten. I cannot help but see the metaphor in standing exactly between these two powerful and primordial forces; the light and the dark. Neither good, nor bad. Neither one better than the other. Both with its own particular sets of gifts and challenges to offer.

And while many of us might prefer the light, there is so much to be had from the dark. So much to be discovered in the depths of Winter’s shadow. Thinking all of this I round some bend, and suddenly there is just so much more light. A small part of me is relieved, while a part that longs for something more grieves the loss; not just of the dark but of the time I have spent being afraid of it. For I recognize that in my fears of being in the dark, and wishing it were light-filled, that I am missing something when I wish it was other than it is. That the dark is not a place to be missed, avoided, feared, wished away, or navigated half-heartedly. But instead, something to be deeply honored. Accepted. Welcomed in even.

Good news. We are still in winter where darkness prevails. Which means we still have plenty of time to gather the teachings and the healings that are only possible in the darkest of times. While never easy, it cannot be avoided. For as sure as there is light, there is dark.

Memory

 

We memorize ourselves into existence. And we do this through all that has come before; giving us a sense of solidness and known-ness. A kind of comfort and stability that comes with years and years of thinking and doing our lives in the same way, leaving us in the position to say “This is who I am.”

And as much as we all desire this place, it is ultimately limiting.

For what if there was something more? Something beyond what you were told, and what you now go on to tell yourself? Something that somewhere deep down inside you yearn for? More to the point: You Are. Or could be.

It would mean, of course, learning to know yourself as more than the familiar concepts and constructs. And it would mean taking a chance. A big one. It would mean being curious and open. Brave and alive. It would mean being nothing less than who you truly are.

But given the filled-to-the-brim and fast pace of so many of our lives, this can be all too difficult to tune into, never mind respond to. Luckily though, we are in the season that knows all about this. Winter. The deepest, stillest and most essential of all the seasons is right at our finger tips. And if we can learn to align with this powerful rhythm, we will be naturally drawn into its downward and inward ways.

Try being with this kind of energy for just one minute each day throughout the long winter months ahead. You can do it by intentionally sitting yourself down and allowing yourself to be. As you are. Do not try and do anything to yourself. Do not look to fix. Do not even move. And when you feel a settling all the way down to your bones, wonder gently to yourself about your relationship to nothing-ness, stillness, and quiet.

At first it can feel like a kind of death; some kind of intolerable exercise in the painful. And it is. But if you look deeply enough, what is dying are all of the things that get in the way. What is dying is the noise. What is dying are the ways we have memorized the wrong things about who and what we are.

I think the reason that winter can feel so long to us, is because of all that it asks. Because of the way that it calls for a kind of reckoning. And because it can leave us crawling our way to the end. For sure it is a task master. But it is one that will gift those courageous enough to be with her, with many, many insights and blessings for years to come.

Strength Beneath The Surface

 

I want to talk about winter and why I love it so. I want to talk about it through the walk I took this morning after a two day snow storm, that had dumped upwards of two feet, was finally over. And I can sum it all up in two words: depth and stillness.

As I stepped out onto the road, the hush that came through the snowy cushioning on the trees and on the road was palpable. More than palpable, I could feel it to the depths of me. I felt it in the sound my boots made as they met the un-plowed road, and I felt in the quiet of the forest with animals hunkered down and un-moving. The power of this cushioning came into full relief when I did not even hear the car that had come up behind me. Even with a big, weighty, noisy machine, winter and its ways had dampened and subdued its impact. It is times like this when I almost have the feeling of traveling under water. Of moving at the bottom of a big, white, beautiful ocean of space and stillness.

And then there are the trees, and the way that you can see right through them. The space that opens up once the foliage is gone, offering the opportunity to see right down to the bone. Both inside and out. And the way that the sound then both travels differently, and is lessened; giving rise to a feeling of immense spaciousness both within and without.

At my turnaround point, I laid down in the road. It was so still. And this is why I do it. Why I make it a point to get outside all through the winter. For out of that stillness comes healing, creativity, inspiration and a deep, deep knowing beyond the push-pull of the mind. Beyond the inner and outer expectations. Beyond the noise of the world.

Align. Align with this energy and watch what happens. There is a reason for phrases like “winter wonderland.” A reason for why we have stories that talk of the magic that only comes out of deep and wintery places.

In the room where I do my daily practice, the wall behind where the wood stove will go has not yet been finished with the stone that will eventually cover it. Today, sitting on my mat after my walk, I looked up to read the words, “Strength Beneath The Surface.” And while this is the motto for the drywall company, in that moment I knew it was also the motto for winter. For that is what resides in the roots; beyond the dressing of the foliage and beyond the activity of doing. A kind of deep, still, quiet strength that can only make its way to the surface when we choose to align with the depth and stillness of winter.

What would it be like for you to take a cue from this season and all that it knows?

Unsubscribing

 

In the span of one week, I unsubscribed from two newsletters, and bowed out of an online group. I had signed up for the newsletters because I was interested in learning more from these two people. However, one bombarded me so often with so many tips about living better that it would have made me sick just to keep up with the sheer volume of suggestions. The other newsletter turned out to always be selling me something, hard, and all under the guise of ancient wisdom. It was gross, exhausting and deeply unsatisfying to wade through.

Then there was the online group. In theory, it seemed like a good match. But ultimately, I decided that it fell short of what I actually need and most yearn for when it comes to community. That being, person to person contact in real time; gathering over something meaningful and significant with people I value.

While you would never know it to look around you, this is the season for slowing down, doing less, and perhaps most importantly of all, cutting away what weighs you down. This is the time for turning inward, reflecting, thinking deeper thoughts, and living more simply. It is the time of naked trees, root health and bare essence.

But who could possibly find their way there in the midst of the buying, the shopping, and the keeping up? Always the keeping up.

Which is why, despite my typically clear boundaries around my inbox, I had signed up for the newsletters and online group. I wanted to keep up in the areas I am passionate about and find inspiring. Areas I want to be proficient in for myself and those I work with. Only, these days even the “healthy” stuff, the inspiring words, the worthwhile topics, the must-sees can be a source of overwhelm. A false reflection of how you are not keeping up. A false reminder that you are not enough, not doing enough, and that other people are more together than you are.

Long ago I read something from a famous sage who said that you do not need to know everything. You just need to make use of what you do know. Can you imagine that as your guiding light in the Information Age? In a world enchanted by volume? Can you imagine choosing for what you can actually digest and make use of? To actively and consciously choose to know “less”? As in less is more.

What if, for the next several months, until the first growth, smells and movement of springtime, you just didn’t. Didn’t try and stay up to date. Didn’t try and keep up. Didn’t. Didn’t. Didn’t. But instead, chose to watch Nature and her quiet, inward and simple winter ways.

And if you would like to put this into action, what could you unsubscribe to?

Calling

I am unexpectedly drawn to sit on the back porch this morning. This is an unusual urge as I have my list of things that I need and want to do. There are chickens to be fed and watered. There are raspberries to be picked. There is the curriculum that needs revamping and the submission that needs to be completed. In my to-do list mind, this is the abbreviated version.

Sitting down though just feels so right in this moment that I can’t imagine engaging in anything else. In the stopping I have the chance to tune into what is all around me. The biggest part of that being the bird song; there are so many voices out there. One in particular rises to the surface. A female turkey. I hear her call over and over again. I cannot see her, though I know she is close by. I begin to wonder about her and what she is doing. Why is she calling? My question is answered when several minutes later I begin to hear the sound of another turkey answering in the distance.

Though I will impose my human interpretation here, risking projection, I believe she has been calling to find herself in the presence of another like her. One who understands who she is and what it is that she needs. One who can accompany her through the woods; understanding her ways, while naturally supporting her. One that allows her to be fully herself.

I once heard someone say that we live in a “Call and Response Universe.” A kind of format where when the call goes out, we are answered. More than answered, we are responded to on a level that defies the ways of the ordinary mind with all of its limitations, distortions, accusations, criticisms, and defense mechanisms. The very part of the mind that we must get past in order to send out our truest and most natural call. For in truth, how often do we not feel met, responded to or understood, simply for lack of trying? Simply because we have not sent out a genuine call?

Of course, we could all say what it was that made us stop calling. What harms were done. What neglect we suffered under. What lack of response we were met with. All of the rationalizations around why it is not safe for us to genuinely call out for what we need, yearn for, hope and desire in our lives. All of the evidence that we could give for why it is better to stay mute. And of course, all of that could be true on some level. Yet, none of that changes one simple fact; that call still exists within us. That yearning for our cry be met and received still lives on.

So, what would it take? What would need to change? What old story would you have to let go of? What courage would you need to muster to send out your call to those of your kind?

Our lives, and therefore the Life of the world, is in dire need of this. In need of all of us sending out authentic and life-affirming calls to action to not only say what we need, but equally, to repute that which we do not need. Calls that come up from our truest and deepest selves. Ones that are not hesitant, ashamed, awkward, diluted or distorted by “What will they think?” Ones that are unafraid of taking the chance of not being met, or of being ridiculed, dismissed or ignored.

The call can be so quiet as to feel like a tiny whisper within you, or it can be sent so loudly as to feel like a roar. How big or small, loud or hushed is not what matters. What matters is that you send out your call with both the knowing and the expectation that you will be responded to. Even if that means a shaking and a quivering in your voice as you call out.

Blue Sky

 

Last night as the snow started to come in, I couldn’t help but think of how blessed I was to be inside; warm, protected, able to enjoy the snow as a spectator sport, as opposed to it being some kind of a threat to my survival or comfort. It got me to wondering about times and places where we as a people had to live much, much closer to the truths and realities of the natural world with all of its raw power, strength, beauty and struggle.

And so I guess it should have come as no surprise that when I stepped out to go for a walk the next morning, so excited at the prospect of being in the woods in what I had imagined in my mind as a magical fairy tale stroll through a beautiful, white, lacey forest experience, that I would run into another reality.

Because the 6 inches of last night was soft and powdery, it did not protect me from sliding on the ice that was below it. Nor did it keep me from breaking through a hard crust in other places; creating this jarring experience where I kept thinking one of my knees was going to shoot out the back of my leg each time I broke through the upper crust. And because I had so many layers on to combat the cold, and had not anticipated working so hard, the effort, stress and heat of it all was kicking off hot flashes in my body which then went on to trigger intense inflammation in my mind.

Why I am here? Why did I do this to myself? It is not supposed to be like this. Oh, my God, this again?? I was so hot and bothered on my “magical” walk that I could barely  stand myself.

And then, in the midst of all the heat, somehow it occurred to me to stop. Just stop. And that is when I saw the sky; that kind of clear and vibrant blue that only comes in after a storm has cleared everything out. Seeing that cool, cool blue cooled me out enough to realize: I had a choice. So I took off my coat. Things began to change after that.

I slowed my pace to compensate for the conditions. I started noticing tracks: deer, moose, rabbit, and coyote. I looked at the sky. Again and again. I talked to the trees. I loosened my legs and softened my shoulders. And each time my mind would jump to how it should be other than what it was, I stopped; standing there until the truth of what was around me brought me back to where I actually was. So much so that when the noise of the chain saws of the loggers down the road made their way to where I was, it did not alter one bit the magic of the forest.

We believe that things have to be just so, so that we can be OK. This is one way to live. But there is another. One that says; be here just as it is. One that says; learn to include it all. One that says: teach yourself to pause and make the necessary adjustments. One that says; get out of your comfort zone so that you can see the sky.

Truly, there is no finer teacher than the natural world. If you really want to line up with what is; get outside. As often as you can. And as often as you can, let yourself be moved by something real, raw and beautifully uncomfortable; knowing that there is truth in discomfort. But only if you can remember to pause long enough for it to reveal itself to you.

Doubt

 

I should have known. Any time I create a big, bold version of what I want to manifest in the world, what shows up first, always, are all of the ways that I am keeping myself from what it is that I am asking for. Or wanting to express, unveil, claim, or experience. So, I guess that it should have come as no surprise to me that only 2 days into the New Year, “doubt” has found its way into my mind.

Doubt, as in of lack of confidence and uncertainty about how to proceed. In other words, the classic definition of the word, along with the decidedly uncomfortable and undermining experience to self-worth that accompanies it.

I do not know why it is that we as humans are the only aspects of Consciousness on the planet that struggle with choosing to manifest our fullest expression in the world. I only know that it is. Sure, we can all name the personal reasons why we limit ourselves, and yet, truly we are no different than the trees and the wolves, the sun and the moon, even the spiders and the ants, who can only be fully and completely who and what they are; without hesitation or reservation. No matter what they experience along the way, they can only come back over and over again to their truest and fullest expression.

Yet, here we are as humans, having somehow separated ourselves from this Truth, choosing instead to follow all of our doubts and fears around what we are capable of, and what we believe we have a right to go for. Therefore, since doubt does exist, is a part of the human experience, how is it that we can proceed? How is it that we can recognize it without succumbing to it? Such that when doubt does come to visit, we can see it for what it is, and somehow include it in the experience. This as opposed to using it as a way to diminish or derail ourselves.

I find there are many possibilities when it comes to working with difficult emotions like this. The nuts and bolts of it always being the ability to name what the feeling or the thought is. As in, “oh yeah, here’s doubt.” The capacity to get into the habit of doing this offers the essential experience of separation from something that if left unchecked holds the power to get us going in the exact opposite direction of what is true. While simple to state, this first step requires a commitment to noticing and becoming aware of your inner world. Yet, it is so powerful that if you only ever went this far, you would discover a kind of freedom unknown to yourself before.

Why is that? Because, in the recognition of what is there, you become privy to the history, the memories, the sensations, and the stories you have attached to the doubt as it comes up for you. This arms you with a kind of debunking superpower in that you are now in a position to choose whether or not to feed this thing called doubt.

When I can do this with my own experience, I find that doubt drives me back to faith; to the absolute knowing that because I know doubt, I know faith. And because I know them both, I  have a choice of what it is that I will let drive me. Doubt reminds me that being uncertain, and not knowing what to do, allows me to reach out for more support; to do what I need to do to engage with a widening circle of meaningful and supportive friends and colleagues. Doubt reminds me to shift my perspective into what is more life-affirming and true. For me this translates into a regular referencing of the natural world which always, and in all ways, expresses itself easily, fully, and continuously.

And today, doubt has helped me listen to my instincts. The very same ones that took me to my dictionary to look up a definition. Where to my surprise I found that one of the descriptions of doubt is, A deliberate suspension of judgment.

I can work on that.

Mountain Signs

 

Recently, I was out in Seattle with my husband visiting my daughter. One day the three of us took a trip over to the majestic old growth forests of the Olympic Peninsula where we hiked for the day. As we were going along, and I was thinking my thoughts, my mind turned towards the book I have written, and am working on getting published. This is such an out of my league venture. It is one for which I have no past experience, nor some of the skills that will be required to make this happen. It is something I cannot figure out with just the rational mind. Therefore, I decided to put it out to the trail by asking for some kind of guidance or clue as to how I should proceed.

I walked for a very long time open to some sign along the trail that would give me information about what to do, or what to expect. Nothing. Only, it wasn’t nothing. On my way back down, when I wasn’t struggling so much to go up, I saw that the whole hike had been symbolic of what I am venturing into, what I already possess, and some instructions on how to proceed.

I saw that the hike up had been one where I did not know where I was going, having never been there before, nor possessing a map or given any markers along the trail to indicate my whereabouts. I saw how though the trail had been very strenuous, I was able to meet it. I saw that I was traveling in the company of those that loved and supported me. And I saw that I was in the presence of great beauty and a face of the mystery I had never encountered before.

All of this, every bit of it, was the guidance I had asked for. And it had been reflected back to me by the steep trail, the forest surrounding me, the company I was in, and my own efforts. I realized in that moment that though I was entering unknown territory, I would be able to meet it, I would be held by good company, and I would be known and supported by Something more than me.

So often in life, we are up against times for which we have no prior experience or knowledge on how to proceed. Or what it is going to ask of us. It could be a relationship struggle. A health challenge. An inner emotional turmoil from the past. Or all of those things in life for which there seems to be no possibility of changing what is happening.

But through it all, there is guidance. And it is everywhere we look. Try it. Hold a question in your mind of something you need help with. Be as open as you can as you move through your day. Notice what shows up. Maybe a bird flies by at a particular moment. Maybe the clouds take a particular shape. Maybe you have an encounter with an animal. Many traditions refer to this way of knowing as divination: the art and practice of discovering hidden knowledge by interpreting signs.

This way of knowing is not just for those with special skills. It is not just the sphere of children’s fairly tales or fantastical movies. Nor is it relegated to the domain of those “simple,” naive people who have no other choice; lacking, as they do, scientific or rationale ways of knowing about the world. In fact, it is a birthright of every human being to be able to tap into what we are inseparably a part of, and to make use of that as a way of being in the world in fuller and more supported ways.

“All” it takes is openness and some practice. You can even keep your skepticism. For when that information hits you, it will land so completely in every single part of you, that you will be left wanting more. And as they say, skeptics often make for the most faithful of converts.

“Contradictions” In Being

 

Multi-Flora Rosa is considered to be an invasive in Massachusetts. It is a plant known for the way it will spread, and spread, and spread; making its thorny and flower-laden way through the landscape, while crowding out other plants. Oddly enough, I love her for this. She is both delicate and ferocious. She knows how to give, and she knows how to take up the space she needs. And she is immune to the notion that she is a problem.

I love her hardy nature and her fragrant offerings. I love the powerful, deeply feminine, heart-opening medicine she so freely gives. I love how she feeds the bees in spring with her pollen, and the birds in fall with her rose hips. I love the shelter she provides for animals, and the beauty she so generously bestows.

Most recently, I have come to truly appreciate the contradictions she contains. She is both open and defended. Soft and unyielding. Generous and boundaried. I find it comforting to know that within one being, the pairs of opposites can co-exist so beautifully and so beneficially; not just for her, but for all. A kind of coexistence in the balancing act of containing all that one needs to be, while bringing yourself forth in the world. She provides me with a map about not only what is possible, but what is inherent, natural, and necessary in a life. A clear reflection that says you get to be everything that you are. No matter what.

Nature un-self-consciously embodies what we humans struggle to integrate within ourselves. What I mean by this is that without effort or apology, the natural kingdom takes on every quality it requires in order to live and to give; without judgment, shame, or conflict within. I find this more instructional than the beliefs and the ideas we humans take on about who we are and how we get to be in the world.

Is there something you struggle with regarding yourself? Maybe who it is that you allow yourself to be? If so, is there a plant, a tree, or an animal that you feel particularly drawn to? What qualities does that being naturally embody that you could use and relate to? And if you do not currently resonate with something in nature that could serve as a role model for you, would you be willing to look around and see if something speaks to you?

Can you imagine a life where all of your qualities were seen, affirmed, celebrated, and nourished? If you do, and can’t quite get there in the human realm, check out the natural kingdom for a more honest reflection about what a life gets to be without apology.

Everything Else Can Wait

 

The snow storm is just really getting under way by the time I make my way home. Somewhere between getting the groceries in, and sending out an email to cancel the evening yoga class, I feel a deep pull starting to build within; a nameless urge to be in the woods and in direct contact with the extraordinary beauty and power of the snow. I know I must respond. I know I will respond. But first, there are the overly rational and fear-driven parts of the mind that must be dealt with.

There are cold and frozen foods that need to be put away. Right now. They might go bad. Your husband is away, so if something happens to you while you are out in the woods, no one will find you for days. It’s getting dark. This is not a good idea. What if an animal gets you? On and on it goes. This part of me always has something to say. Always a fear, or a harsh reminder of my responsibilities, or a “what if,” that it throws out with increasing intensity to keep me in line. To keep me adding up to other’s ideas of me, the culture’s standards, and even my own worn out versions of who I am, and what I need to be.

But on this day I know better. And what I know is this. The rational mind with all of its demands, fears, and shoulds will never be enough to satisfy the longing I feel within. It will never take me to the magic, the mystery, and the freedom that my soul yearns for. Demands, in fact, and must have in order for me to experience the vitality and the connection of this one life to Something More. It is so easy for that hunger to get drowned out in everything that must be done, believed in, and attended to, according to the rational mind.

But on this day, the woods mesmerize me with their magnificence. All of Nature is outlined and lit up in glowing white against a darkening sky. Every edge defined in light. Tunnels made by heavy snow and bowing limbs create endless passageways for me to move through. Thresholds into another world. The air is brushed clean, and so is my mind. Every noise but the sound of snow and wind has been subdued into submission to something greater. Time takes on another quality, and a honed presence emerges. So deeply still is this place, that I am swept up into it; dropped into an effortless meditation that never wants to end.

Over and over, in this place, I am reminded of what I am. And though I know I will forget, every experience like this brings me a little closer to the Truth. I need this. I ache for this. Everything else can wait.