Respecting the unknown by illuminating what we can


Where there is darkness, light;

One of my favorite aphorisms is the advice to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness. This has always made sense to me, although I sometimes forget to do it. Many wisdom traditions teach that we are, or we contain, light as the fire of consciousness. In my imagination, I can interchange light with energy with spirit; somehow this means that we are the stuff of the universe, we are light energy, animated stardust. The word, light, shows up in our language in so many ways, any one of them could be the basis for a whole journaling session.

We are said to be lighthearted, enlightened, to take things lightly, to shed light on a problem. Some people light up rooms, others may feel lightheaded or light on their feet. We have light in our eyes, so the phrase “lights out” refers to more than bedtime, as you know if you’ve ever had your lights punched out. A great leader is a guiding light. We “see the light” or “see in a new light” when we understand something afresh. Near death experiences often describe moving to a bright light. Revelations “come to light,” or we might see the “light at the end of the tunnel” after a long project or struggle. Continue reading

Snowflake Bentley’s passion for the beauty and wonder of nature


The snow this morning has me thinking about beauty, which always reminds me of Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley. I had never heard of him until about twelve years ago when I was taking a break at a cross-country ski lodge. Someone had made a poster of his photographs, which are distinctly striking: glowing white crystals on a black background. Cross-country skiers tend to worship the snow with a reverence and humility that is more rare among downhillers, who can rely on snow machines and lifts to ensure a good ski day.

Bentley was born during the Civil War in Jericho, a remote farming community in the Vermont mountains. Largely self-educated, he became fascinated as a teen with looking at natural objects through a microscope. He spent hours studying drops of water, fragments of stone, feathers, and flower petals. But snowflakes captured his heart early on: Continue reading

Encountering the secret presence at the heart of nature


It’s one thing to name the stories that are replacing damaging ones like superiority and scarcity, and it’s quite another to bypass description and go straight to a sensory, emotional response to an experience. In recent years, I’ve been learning and experimenting with practices that cultivate embodied connection.

A few years ago, it occurred to me that I had been communing with places for many years through my watercolor paintings. Beaches, coves, and trees have called to me with their colors and light. The act of paying attention, of looking and deciding what to paint is the beginning of a conversation. Mixing paints and working them on the paper is akin to choosing words and putting them together in a sentence. It is no small thing that painting outdoors feels good and gives me peace, that I love doing it. Continue reading

Restorying my way from longing to belonging


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

Polishing the mirror and filling the well


Sometimes I get so bogged down in the gunk of daily living, of arguments or rejections, a cold or lack of sleep, that I completely lose track of the spacious stillness that lies behind all of it. Thomas Merton has a great prayer for this:

“May we all grow in grace and peace, and not neglect the silence that is printed in the center of our being. It will not fail us.”

There are an uncountable number of practices for polishing the dusty mirror and seeing the light of clarity and peace shining back. Daily writing is one that works well for me. And yoga. What a gift — a thousands year old method of waking up the body, of realigning energy channels, of helping me to notice and appreciate the vastness of my interior and the wonder of this vehicle that carries me around all day. Meditation, when I get around to doing it, has a similar effect of settling my busy, chattering mind and returning me again and again to the present moment. Continue reading

We are all in this together

2000_7.9_Whitsunday sunset_crop

I woke this morning haunted by two phrases chasing through my dreams: “We’re here to make the world safe for —” and “We can eliminate all evil,” half-consciousness laying bare the emptiness of such phrases, the mistaken assumptions about who we are, how much power we have, and why we are here in the first place.

When we tell ourselves that we are here to cleanse or perfect something — whether it’s us, the environment, people with different skins, alien cultures, or desperate terrorists — we totally miss the point. Perfection is one of those goals born from the story of separation. As is curing, rather than healing. Or cleansing, rather than embracing. Continue reading

Giving tree


This guest post is by Art Vandelay. You can read a bit about him on the “Denizens” page.

We are the universes favorite memory downloaded

our pains absence from photos stars exploded

each breath etched life cycles light recycled

our nature’s inertia to nature spinning infinite

Love. forgiveness. stretching generations our children’s fingertips

Self maps across spines spirit vines speaking

metamechic meanings divine tree breathing sacred pictures Continue reading

Gathering stars and giving thanks


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

The awakening of divine light in all of us


This day, in the Christian world, is a celebration of new life, of the birth of the Christ child. This story invites a re-awakening of the spark of love within each of us, as divine consciousness embodied. All of Christ’s teachings are stored in our very DNA and can be accessed by anyone, regardless of religion.

It’s not random coincidence that miraculous humans emerge at times of struggle, to lead and inspire others to live from that divine light in the face of great hardship and suffering. Examples abound: Gandhi and Indian independence, Martin Luther King and Civil Rights, Nelson Mandela and Apartheid, Aung An Suu Kyi and democracy, Wangaari Matthai and tree planting, Malala Yousufzi and the right to education. All of these, and others, stood up to forces of oppression and darkness that sought to silence them through fear and violence. Continue reading

Another way to heal the illusion of separation


The poet and essayist Mark Nepo shares a teaching from the Tao that “the world in all its mystery and difficulty cannot be improved upon, only experienced.”

“Ultimately, we are small living things awakened in the stream, not gods who carve out rivers. We cannot eliminate hunger, but we can feed each other. We cannot eliminate loneliness but we can hold each other. We cannot eliminate pain, but we can live a life of compassion.”

I like the humility of this, the recognition that we are not at the center of it all; we are merely players in the great drama of life. While it may be a comedown for some, it certainly takes the pressure off. We don’t have to control and orchestrate everything after all. What happens when we surrender to the truth of this? Continue reading