Listening for the birthday song


One day, fifty-two trips around the sun ago, a soul made its leap into the body of a baby being born. The young mother had an artistic spirit and was already stretched to her limits with three children. She wouldn’t let herself admit her misgivings about this fourth because her husband, a soldier, was a good man who loved his growing family.

The soul saw all this and chose this family for its earth walk, and to help the child weather the coming storms, it bestowed these gifts: Continue reading

Leaving (and returning) home


Our ancestors spent many millions of years swinging from trees. Most likely, climatic shifts caused us to come to the ground, learn to walk on two legs and discover uses for our clever hands other than hanging from branches. Walking and running on two limbs, making and using tools with the other two — these are radical changes that separated us from the rest of our animal kin.

When we left the forests, we left the cradle of our evolution and we’ve been leaving ever since. Most of us forgot to return, even for a visit. It would be like if I left home to go to college and failed to call or write a single letter (we didn’t have email or texting back then), never returned for Thanksgiving dinner or breaks, simply severed all ties with the family and never looked back. Continue reading

Plus, perfection is beside the point


One of the most insidious effects of perfectionism is its power to shut down creativity and paralyze action. There’s a wonderful book called “Daring Greatly,” by Brené Brown, the Texas sociology professor whose TED talks on vulnerability went viral a few years back. The title comes from this remark by Teddy Roosevelt in a speech he gave in 1910:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Continue reading

Perfection is the enemy of the fun


I am a recovering perfectionist. I thought I had cleansed myself by adopting the mantra, “it’s good enough,” but a recent dream showed otherwise. My perfectionism has gone underground, migrating from my daytime personality into a shadowland, though not only to sabotage my happiness. This re-revealing of an old truth encourages a new assessment of the ways that perfectionism works in my life, for good and ill.

Yesterday I went to a meeting of a group of design professionals and experts about alternative water treatment and stormwater system design, in the context of a new green building framework called the Living Building Challenge. It’s a deeper, more holistic and ambitious program than the LEED Green Building Rating System you may have heard of. Continue reading

Reconsidering our origin stories


What is your family of origin? In this tapestry of a country with its multi-cultural past, how often have you heard or asked that question? My grandmother used to put it differently, just straight out: “What kind of name is that?” Which, translated, meant: “What is your ethnic background?” Although she had great curiosity and zest for life, in this case, the subtext was less generous. She was a WASP to the core, and a dedicated xenophobe.

At our Restorying retreats, we ask people to introduce themselves by starting with the phrase, “Once upon a time,” and then tell about their birth as if being interviewed by Hans Christian Andersen. I like how it brings people directly into the mythic “everywhen” mind that immerses them in the realm of symbol and archetype. Why does this matter? At the heart of living into the new story of connection and belonging is a reconsideration of our origin stories, both personal and cultural. Continue reading

Singing to the deer


The fifth of this seasonal series is another story I told at this weekend’s retreat, on Saturday morning. Two deer stories in one day! I kept expecting to see some deer materialize out of forest mist, but it was not to be. This is a great story to tell to a group gathered around the hearth with the smell of the Yule Tree wafting over. It works best to sing a couple lines of the carol, and then sing the whole thing together after the story.

In the days nearing the Solstice, the woods are bright in a snowy way, the sky pearl gray above the stately maples and gnarled burr oaks. Our friend Patricia especially likes to walk among the sleeping trees in the half-lit silence of winter dawns. Maybe you like to do that, too. She often encounters deer on these walks, but they keep their distance. An instant after they see her, they usually bound silently away, their white-flag tails on high alert. Then one day, on the Solstice, a strange thing happens. Continue reading

Saint Nicholas and the Gifting Stag


The fourth of this seasonal series is a story I told at this weekend’s retreat, on the 6th of December, which is the Feast of Nicholas and the Elves, as celebrated throughout northern Europe. Its ancient roots echo in the stories of many cultures, including those of the Celts.

In Druidic tradition, we are approaching the festival of Alban Arthuan, which is a time of death and rebirth at the Solstice, when Nature’s innate powers and our own souls are renewed. The spirits of those who have crossed over become more animated in the days leading up to the Solstice. They draw close and gather with us near hearth fires and around the Yule Tree. They incite us to engage in acts of kindness, compassion and hospitality, going beyond our mindless daily routines. In Celtic mythic tradition, these were the faeryfolk, the thread connecting to today’s elves. Continue reading

Follow your imagination into timeless storytelling this season


For the third of this seasonal series, here is a bit of writing that emerged during last year’s Advent Restorying retreat. The beginning of the first sentence is a prompt, called a “story stem.” More on that at the bottom, if you want to try story stem writing. It’s a great way to dive into the depths of memory and emotion, past even that into the stream of archetypal consciousness that flows beneath us all.

I am a child at Christmas and everything is magical. We gather to trim the tree, laughing at the “scary” ornament — a rusty, wire-screen encased odd thing from Mom’s childhood.

History, deep connection with past generations, past Christmases.

We still use tinsel and enjoy tossing great handfuls of it on the fragrant boughs of the tree. There’s an actual, recently-alive tree in our living room.

Now it has lights twinkling in it. Those big, colorful bulbs that go off if one of them burns out. Continue reading

My child knows when we encounter the Wandering Stranger


Second of a seasonal series. In which my son sees Santa Claus in the off-season and gives him an applesauce packet.

Something I’ve been playing with in this time between stories is to give my intuition some breathing room. To let my imagination peek beneath the surface of things, which are not necessarily what I assume them to be. The Irish know that magical threads run through the weave of daily life, and that the invitation to notice is always present. This season, I’m going to practice touching into that magic in moments of connection with other people, or even other beings not human.

When we bring our Christmas tree into the house this year, I’m going to imagine it standing in the forest, a quiet home for birds or squirrels or insects. The Yule Tree is an ancient symbol of the season, inviting a deeper attunement with the living world through its spicy smell, the prickles or softness of its needles, its rich green color, and pleasing form. Continue reading

An ambition to witness and celebrate wonder


What do you want out of life? Who do you want to be when you grow up? These are questions we all have heard since childhood. Ambition is revered in our culture, even exalted. Without it, we are told, people are nothing; they are losers sitting on their couches watching daytime TV.

I enslaved myself to ambition for many years. I’m still motivated by it, though in a hybrid that oscillates between crass materialism and blinding spirit. In its purest form, my ambition comes more from within, in contrast to the culturally-sanctioned outward motivation I was taught. Like Rumi, I am burning with desire to serve the Beloved. To bring forth words and images, in the most beautiful, clear, inspiring and moving way I can possibly manage. Continue reading