I’ve been researching the watermen of the Chesapeake Bay, particularly the residents of Smith Island, one of only two inhabited islands in the Bay. These men toil long hours — 3:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the height of summer — doing backbreaking work for what we in cities might call a subsistence living. They work six days a week and attend church meetings and services on Sunday. Their only time off is the month of April, after the oyster season and before the crabs return. That’s the month when they get to sleep in till dawn, overhaul their boats and swap stories at the general store.
People like this, who work the water or the land, have profound and hard-won knowledge of the cycles of the seasons, of weather, of periods of abundance and of scarcity. They’ve been around long enough to recognize patterns and trends, and also to hold such insights lightly, because nature always surprises you. One thing is certain: these people know what it feels like to do a good day’s work. Continue reading
Living from trust, magic and play means stepping out of received ideas and habitual thinking about will and action, goals and results. Recently, a friend told of an event that happened in Costa Rica, during a period of crisis and change in her life. Working for an eco-tourism project, she was on the beach sketching a logo, thinking about an image from a well-known children’s book. Pretty soon, a shadow fell over her, belonging to a man who questioned why she was working in this beautiful place. Sure enough, the man was the author of that famous book.
When things like this happen — as they do, to all of us — I’m often amused, sometimes a bit bemused. It shakes up my usual concept of time, of cause and effect. I have come to accept such occurrences as confirmation that I’m on the right track, though I may have no clear idea of where, exactly, I will end up. These events are usually so singular, an entire exchange with someone well met takes on a heightened quality. Continue reading
The other day I outlined Restorying to a longtime friend, whose honest feedback has raised many questions in my mind. I’m so used to this frame — we live by stories, have built our world on them, our current ones are mistaken and damaging, let’s find better ones — that I forget how shocking it may sound to someone who is just trying to get along and live a decent life. I shouldn’t be surprised when confronted with this resistance; I have experienced it many times myself, and it’s taken me to some dark places. My friend admitted that he avoids pulling on that thread, for fear of unraveling the whole sweater.
It’s not hard to understand: once you see that we are in the grip of stories that need changing, where can you possibly you go with that? Within our cultural fabric is woven the sanction to avoid the void, to eschew the unknown. Sure, my friend has his Qigong, his Taoist understandings, and he even agrees that our culture’s denying of the world of spirit is causing harm. But there is a powerful resistance to look under that rock. Why summon the Three Strange Angels of D.H. Lawrence’s poem? Better to go about your business and hope they never turn up. Continue reading
You get what you’re available for.
This advice, given to me by a wise elder years ago, has been echoing in my mind lately. Originally, I understood it in reference to meditative experiences or attempts to enter alternate reality, and it strikes me now that it has a much wider application.
Last night, I had the experience of handling a situation of conflict differently, and with surprising results. During dinner, my husband and son got into a disagreement over something that seemed trivial to me, but felt important to each of them. Neither was willing to come back together, to drop his stance and reconnect. By some miracle, I could see clearly how much they both yearned for connection, yet their pride wouldn’t allow it. Continue reading
A useful practice for living into new stories is to pay attention to themes or patterns that show up, especially coming from different directions and sources. Lately, I’ve been encountering the theme of healing trauma — in podcasts, conversations with friends, dreams, memories, and articles. It started with Bessel van der Kolk’s interview on “On Being,” describing his research into using yoga to train and improve people’s “heart rate variability,” which greatly improves resilience in the face of trauma. This work is groundbreaking in treating PTSD.
In a webinar I watched yesterday, he spoke about how profoundly interconnected we are as a species, that emotions ripple between us and into our bodies whether we’re aware of it or not. He showed two slides of a mother and baby monkey. In the first, both mother and baby are calm. In the second, the mother is agitated and screeching, the baby looks terrified and stressed out. I found myself thinking of my own childhood, steeping in my mother’s anxiety, depression, and (as the psychologists call it) hyper-arousal. Continue reading
Life throws so much at us, we can forget to slow down and do one thing at a time. I recently heard the story of a woman who had difficulty as a child getting her parents’ undivided attention. Forced to settle for whatever they gave her, she eventually came to believe that she didn’t have anything important enough to say that would warrant their — or anyone else’s — full attention. She stopped sharing her innermost thoughts and feelings with people, resulting in isolation and loneliness.
When I share genuinely with someone, I am unconsciously looking to be seen and treated as the most fascinating thing going in that moment. In acknowledgement of this universal longing, there’s a wonderful African greeting. When a person arrives in a village after being away, they say, “I am here to be seen.” And the response from the group is, “We see you.” Isn’t that what all of us want? Continue reading
We’ve had a couple of good snows lately. It’s a lovely excuse to take a walk with the dog and my son, with a long-lensed camera. I love seeing what he finds interesting, what attracts his eye and how he frames what he sees. We poke along, stopping even more than the dog would prefer. So much to see and to take in.
Our neighborhood is a wonder in the snow, the tall trees frosted, bare limbs against a close, slate gray sky. An extravagance of plant textures: spiky bursts, waxy rounded leaves, globes of red berries trembling on frail-looking stems. Fences’ every vertical and horizontal graced with white. A homely, forgettable concrete block wall in an alley looks like the moat enclosure of a Japanese castle. The cracked paving of the same alley is transformed into a postcard: one pair of tire tracks curving away on the fresh white surface, a staccato of rabbit and cat paw prints weaving among them. Continue reading
This guest post is by Phila Hoopes. You can read a bit about her on the “Denizens” page.
A few months ago, in a storm of grief over the way the world is going, I wrote to author/teacher/medicine woman Deena Metzger, “Knowing what you know, being sensitive to all you perceive, how do you not despair?” She answered: “Because I know that Spirit exists and that some of us are being guided and so we are doing what we are called to do and that has to be sufficient. And because — I don’t want God to despair too.”
I have shied away from those words; their challenge was too devastating. I’ve buried myself in purposeful overwhelm, busybusybusy applying my skills to good causes, and when fatigue forced a halt, burying myself in lesser distractions – conversations with friends, an old movie, a brain-candy novel, surfing the Internet. Checking the stats for this blog, frustrated that no inspirations were coming for new content (surprise!) and bemused that the most popular page, by far, was Quotes on the Dark Night of the Soul. Refusing to admit – despite all indications – that I was (unadmittedly, only borderline-consciously) traversing a similarly shadowed valley. Continue reading
This guest post is by Duane Marcus. You can read a bit about him on the “Denizens” page.
As I was looking at the new image of the Pillars of Creation from the Hubble telescope I was reminded of a thought I had while collecting crystals at Diamond Hill Mine. We had been poking around in the muddy piles for several hours finding some nice pieces. I was on my knees in a spot where I was finding a lot nice crystals. The sun was low in the sky making the crystals sparkle around me. I picked up a nice clear orange piece and held it up so the sunlight shone through it.
I was struck by the realization that I was holding in my hand pieces of a star of unimaginable age that were subsequently forged into this beautiful crystal by tremendous heat and pressure deep within the core of the earth many millennia ago. It also occurred to me that I, too, am composed of that same star stuff. The crystal and I are one and the same. I could feel the exchange of electrons between us at that moment. Continue reading