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.

Ice

 

It is a beautiful, blue, clear-skyed Sunday morning. It snowed several inches last night. My husband and I are going for a run, and I am pulling to do the “big loop.” Because it has been months. Because I am feeling it. And because with the snow topping everything, it will feel magical-mystical to be in the woods.

On the trail, there is so much beauty. And so much ice. I have already fallen once before getting out of our own driveway. It had not occurred to me that the trail will be a skating rink beneath a couple of inches of light, fluffy, easily moved past, snow, that will result in my footing being non-existent. But once I am in, I am in. Besides, I think, it can’t possibly be like this the whole way around. Oh, yes it can. As a matter of fact, each time I imagine I will get a reprieve, it only seems to get icier; at times so slick that it is near to impossible for me to move forward without falling. I stop counting how many times I have hit the ice-covered trail.

At some point I walk, which helps some, but not nearly as much as you would think, or more to the point, that I had hoped for. Even though I am crawling along, I am still wiping out. My husband has pressed on. I have thoughts that he may need to be coming back only to find my body shattered against some snow-covered rock. Mostly though, I am so frustrated. This is so not the vibe I thought I was going to be partaking in.

As uncomfortable as this is, I count on this. I need this. I need to be reminded over and over again that life is not supposed to line up with my version of how things should go. No matter how lofty my plans. And the natural world, with her complete lack of interest in bending to my will, keeps me honest, humble, and in my place.

With our need to control, with our need to technologize everything, with our growing fears and lack of tolerance for what is wild, free, natural, and beyond the scope of man, what will be big enough to remind us over and over again that we are not the most powerful force in the Universe? What will we have done to ourselves when we have eradicated everything except what we ourselves, in our limited vision, have created?

The Earth. The Sky. The Wind.

 

It is a Wednesday morning and I am taking a yoga class. Over the course of an hour and a half, the teacher repeats over and over; Give your body to the earth. Give your heart to the sky. Give your mind to the wind. I am swept up and carried away on this mantra. It feels as though all the instructions I need to live a grounded, fulfilling, and extraordinary life are contained in these three simple phrases.

Give your body to the earth. Can I remember to release into the support of the Mother when my head would tell me to keep pushing forward on my own? Can I remember that like the earth, this body moves in phases, is renewed in cyclic and circular ways, and is the very essence of Life itself?

Give your heart to the sky. Can I remember to look up and open up when life presses in with its diminishing pressures? Can I remember that despite the constraints of being human, there is a vast spirit contained within that is as brilliant and expansive as the sky itself?

Give your mind to the wind. Can I turn over the endless stream of thoughts to the recognition that they come and go like the wind itself; sometimes forceful, sometimes gentle, and sometimes not there at all? Can I let my mind rest in my very own breath, even when, and especially if, it is demanding that I react to all the wrong things?

Steady on the earth. Open to the sky. Free on the wind. Prescriptions for living.

Existence

 

The owl shapes its world without apology. Without needing a reason. Or permission. In so doing, it contributes to a more life-affirming ecology where its fullest expression benefits the existence of those species it shares space with; no matter what it looks like to the outside world.

This can happen only because in the animal kingdom there is no distortion around need. There is no past that warps an animal’s place in the world, or how it goes about expressing itself around others. And because it belongs to, and interacts with a larger community, where its full expression is balanced and in harmony with the full and non-judgmental expression of others, there is no movement, no struggle here that does not somehow fit the moment, and therefore, benefit the whole.

Humans, on the other hand, feel a need to justify, beg for, and apologize for, their right to be here. Their right to take up space. Their right to do what is in their best interest. We see this in the approval seeking so common to our species. We see this in our need to be other people’s version of us. We see this in the rules we play by that have nothing to do with our sanity, happiness, purpose, health, or, by the way, the common good. By choosing to live like this, not only do we warp, twist, and distort ourselves, but we do the very same with those sharing space with us.

Because we do not have a clear and accurate idea of who we are, and what it is that we actually need, we wind up doing great harm to both ourselves, and to others as we bring all of our distortions, blind spots, and histories to every single interaction we have. If you buy this, then, there is no greater legacy that you can leave to the world than to get clear on what your truest needs are, and then find healthy and balanced ways to meet them. There is no greater effort that you can engage in than to know who and what you actually are, and perhaps more importantly, what you are not.

CAUTION: This requires understanding and accepting that you may not always be the most beloved animal in the woods, but you will certainly be authentically and fully whatever you truly are.

Teachings

 

I am in morning practice recently feeling quite overwhelmed by the world, and its ways of late. While my mind spins, I find myself automatically going into tree pose. Immediately, I feel more rooted. This welcomed grounded-ness holds me despite the wavering of my upper body. Once established in  balance, I look up only to be met with the purest of reflections from all the trees outside my window.

I sense, feel, and intuit guidance from what I am looking at. I hear how some things in Life are meant to remain beyond the reach of the changing world. Equally, there are some things that are ever-changing. I wonder to myself how it is that I can stay sourced in those things that are meant to remain fixed. And I consider how it is that I can access those places that know how to bend, flex, and are meant to be mutable.

I realize that these polar opposites, taken together, are the qualities of a life well-lived. A life fully expressed. A life that recognizes when to stand firm, and when to yield. A life that nourishes and is nourished. A life that dies and is reborn.

Some of the very best teachings I have ever received have come from the natural world. This requires, though, a kind of slowing down, openness, and receptivity to seeing beyond the daily; beyond the man-made. And so, if you were to be open to the teachings of the trees, one question might be; How could you hold yourself both more flexibly, and with greater conviction?

Letting Go

 

We are on the brink of a seasonal letting go. A time when the brighter, hotter, busier and more outward energy of summer will give over to the softer, cooler, slower and more inward energy of fall. Nothing in the natural world clings, fights, resents, or laments when it’s time is up. Day gives way to night. Summer gives way to fall. Blooms give way to seed. Leaves give way to their role as fodder for the next year’s growth.

Equally, we as human beings will always have things to let go of; old shoes, rotten food, household clutter, the breath, relationships, and ways of being that no longer serve us. Truly, the list is far too vast and continuous to capture in words. And still, we resist letting go of things we have a strong attachment to. We hold on when we don’t know what will happen next. At times we do let go of our grip only because it has become so glaringly obvious or painful that whatever it is just has to go. And then, of course, there are the times when things gets ripped from us without our permission or consent.

But what if there was a way to begin to cultivate an appreciation, along with a skill set, that allowed for a more conscious response to life in this regard; one that recognized that letting go regularly throughout our lives is as necessary, and ultimately easy, as letting go of one breath in order to make room for the next one to come in?

Swami Kripalu, a wise yogic master, once said that a yogi dies a little bit each day, and then death becomes the next thing. This “dying” that he refers to is not only death in the literal sense, it speaks also to all of the little and big releases we are required to make across a lifetime. When we can loosen a little bit of our hold on life, we not only prepare for the ultimate and unavoidable and big letting go, but as importantly, we make room in life for more ease and more alignment with the realities of life.

If we want some help learning the ins and outs of letting go naturally, rhythmically and cyclically let us look to those forms that know not only how to let go when the time is ripe, but equally how to fully inhabit and express the life they were given when their time is here. Each and every one of us will let go many, many times in one lifetime whether we want to or not. Each and every one of us will let go one last and final time. Why not choose to know this as the approach to living more fully, gracefully and truthfully?

Wild Teachings

 

Wild Rose has been in bloom for the past couple of weeks. She is pretty much gone now up our way. She is the plant of my heart. An ally. A teacher. A guardian. Because Rose’s flowering is so short-lived, I was making a mad dash to make medicine and personal care products before her time was up. One day, in the midst of making medicine, I was thinking that this powerful, natural and healing presence would be available to me all year long. On the heels of that thought came, “No, it won’t. I don’t have near enough for that to happen.”

And in that moment, instead of feeling a lack around this, I saw the beautiful necessity for me of something not being available whenever I wanted it. Everything is not supposed to be there for us constantly and in every moment. And while we might want this to be so, it is not good for us. More to the point; it is damaging. For us. For the planet. And for our relationships with others.

We people live like big shots on the planet. As if it is all here for our taking. As if anything we want should be easy, convenient, and accessible. All the time. And this mindset is only worsening through the proliferation of the technologies that make us feel as if everything should be instantaneous and ever-available.

What will we do in the face of this? How will we learn to govern ourselves voluntarily? Why should we if we don’t have to. Or want to. Because the wisdom that comes from Nature, of which we are a part, demonstrates over and over again that there is most decidedly a season for all things; a time for everything to be here, and not be here. Much as we don’t want to know it, limitation is a vital part of the cycle of Life. It serves as the bedrock for the conditions of Life to flourish, having absolutely nothing to do whatsoever with scarcity or deprivation.

The Life Within

 

I am in morning practice; dancing. The music is loud. At a pivotal moment, I notice a robin outside the window. Even though I am moving around, it stays where it is for quite some time. I can see its beak opening and closing in song, though I cannot hear it. During a lull in the music, I decide to open the window so that I can hear its song. Without hesitation, it flies off. This one encounter encapsulates all that I need to know at this time.

It does not matter who does or does not hear your song. Or like your song. You sing it because you can. And because that is what you do.

When you feel uneasy or  threatened, you feel it only in that moment, and you do what you need to do to protect yourself. Without hesitation, doubt or apology There is no story to this. And there is no carrying the moment of threat forward into the rest of your existence.

Most importantly, only your life is contained within yourself. It does not matter what another wants, expects or has imprinted on you. It does not matter what the world is or is not doing. It only matters that you fully and completely inhabit the life you have been given.