In my darkest times, I seek the company of trees. They remind me of what it is to bridge heaven and earth. They speak to me words of guidance when no other form, not my mat, my journal or another, is big enough to hold me and what I am experiencing. And they are the exemplars of what it is to be strong, flexible and rooted in a world that often ignores what is most valuable. They are my heroines. For it truly is an act of heroism to stand undiminished in the face of what the world brings.
Last week my dog Grace and I were deep in the woods when she flushed out a coyote. In the early moments of the encounter my first reaction was “Wow, Coyote! I wonder what it means to be seeing a coyote?” What it turned out to mean was that I would be finding a branch in my hand with no knowledge of how it got there. It would mean smashing that same branch over the coyote’s back when it became clear that my dog would be no match for this beast. It would mean being close enough to see its razor sharp teeth. And it would mean finding an even bigger branch along with numerous rocks to throw at it, while I screamed and fended it off for the next mile.
And while you may find it hard to believe, I had no fear. Not a speck. I simply did whatever the next thing it was that I had to do. I was clear, present and powerful. I had no past and I had no future. There were no “what if’s,” not a single one. There was only “what is.” And I was completely on board. No part of me felt the victim. No part of me imagined telling this story to anyone. No part of me wanted it to be any different than it was. And it was deeply empowering! I was an Amazon Queen.
Then. It changed. In the aftermath, my sleep and waking moments were disrupted by anxieties, fears and images. I began to make contingency plans for imagined repeat encounters with the coyote. Should I get mace? A gun? Should I carry a pack on my back and conceal an easily accessed weapon inside? I asked people, who I thought might have knowledge about this, for information I believed would guarantee me protection. I ruminated in bed, in my car, basically wherever I was (Note: And the coyote was not). And I anticipated over and over and over again future encounters and how it would be that I would handle myself.
And in the end, I am left with one terrifying and exhilarating realization: “I am not in control. I do not know how things are going to turn out on any given day.” And while most of us plan and schedule and create our stories to insulate ourselves against the reality of Life, the truth is that for all of our anticipations and planning and attempts at control, things will ultimately go the way things are going to go. And in the process of us trying to guarantee an outcome, we waste our precious life force trying to control the uncontrollable. We think if we worry enough, we will somehow protect ourselves. But I will tell you, I have had many worries in my life and not one of them has included a coyote.
“Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, “You owe me.” Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.” Hafiz
Did you ever stop to consider that without the trees, there would be no oxygen? Nothing to breathe? Nor anything to take up our breathing wastes? In effect, no life for us.
And yet, the trees give freely and honestly. They do not look for payment or recognition for a job well done. They do not lord their essential position in our lives over our heads, demanding our allegiance or coercing us into submission.
They do not need reminders, demands or pleas to give us what we need. They live not by our expectations of them; they are simply and naturally themselves. And in that, they give us life.
How might we do the same in our own essential relationships?
Lately the focus of my practice has been on the third chakra. In the yogic tradition this center is located at the solar plexus and is the home of our self-esteem, self-worth and self-appraisal. Many years ago, I attended a training on the chakra system. During a guided visualization, I was shown an image of the most beautiful dancer I had ever seen. She was fluid, deeply feminine and mesmerizing. In the midst of reveling in this experience, the powerfully destructive and cataclysmic question “What will they think?” tore in. In its wake, the dancer was obliterated. I sobbed in desperation at losing her and for the realization of how much of me I had lost over the years by allowing this question to so occupy me.
The symbol for the third chakra contains an image of the ram. To me, the presence of the ram reminds me to take my cues from the animals and other living creatures. To look to them and learn from them regarding how to feel about myself in the presence of other people. You will never find the worm feeling poorly about itself because it disgusts some of us. You will never find the moose self-conscious about where it chooses to leave its scat. As a matter of fact, you will never ever find any wild animal acquiesce to what we think it should be or how we think it should behave.
Just as the wild kingdom takes its cues from a deep and abiding knowing of its own truest nature, for truly it can be no other way, how might our lives change if we could do just the same? For practice, begin with the urges of the body. Find times within your week to allow yourself to begin from within. Notice physical cues like hunger, thirst, the need to slow down, rest, etc. Let these states be your guide. Who knows what may happen when there is more of “what do I feel/know/sense” and less of “what will they think?”
Stress is a fact of Life. All Life. Yet, without an orientation, and without strategies for optimizing the power of stress in productive ways, we end up sick, exhausted, bitter and alienated from our own lives and the lives of those around us. Where then can we look for help? How about in the roots.
By the roots, I mean the root vegetables; the ones with the ability to grow long past the time when the other crops have yielded to the stresses of cold temperatures. In response to frost, our root friends send out sugars to protect themselves, rendering them hardy and sweet to consume. How can we do the same?
The next time you feel the tension building, catch yourself. Focus on your breathing. Let go of just one tension in the body. Breathe and notice. Say “yes” to whatever is in front of you, for no other reason than because it is. (Could you imagine the carrots refusing to accept that the temperatures have dropped?) Then, ask yourself, “What is possible here?”
As the Zen proverb goes, “The obstacle is the path,” so too could we go, knowing that nothing needs to be avoided, only included. What a sweet path with the stressful “frosts” of life we could walk.
Despite the news accounts of the snow storms that have blanketed our area, characterizing the weather as “threatening” and “menacing”, sometimes describing storms in terminology more appropriate for a serial killer, Mother Nature has not once shrunk back from the space she takes up. No matter how we howl, swear and demean her ways, she does not budge. In fact, could not budge, because it is not in her nature. Thank God!
Can you imagine what the world would be like if each and every one of us stood true to our own nature?