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The Last Blast of Summer (or of Anything)

It’s October. Last week I built fires in the woodstove to take the nip out of the early mornings. And then the last few days, here it is. Indian Summer. Temperatures in the eighties, hawks soaring above in the balmy breeze. The sun offers its light on a slant, making it feel even more stunning and precious.

And how very precious it is, this Last Blast of Summer. Called by different names in as many cultures, humans have long celebrated this brief but intense return of the warmth of the growing season. For me this means incorporating the season’s basil in some ratatouille and savoring the last tomatoes as I remember Greece in a salad. These are the simplest ways to honor the season.

I’m also making use of the nurturing strength and the warmth that is here, now. At this time of life, I have daily proof that the golden light will not stay. I experience the creaking of my own body and watch my friends transformed by life-threatening illness. And what I see is that there’s something about this rare light of autumn that makes being alive even more precious.

This has given me the inspiration to let some of that light shine on the shadows (and the shallows) of my own heart. I’ve asked sources seen and unseen to show me those places I’d usually like to ignore, to deny, or to overlook. An unkind thought, a crappy little island of my life where I still haven’t quite made peace. The things that I look past in the busy-ness of summer so that I can live in the light of the abundance that that season brings.

Who knows? This may be the Last Blast of those old, self-defeating patterns I could really live better without. The crabbiness and lack of clarity with my spouse. The sneaky habit of eating what my mind thinks it needs rather than listening to my body.

From deep curiosity and presence, it’s good to truly see each of those things. Because if they’re on their way out, I sure wouldn’t want to miss that. Or the peace that follows.

Find a moment or two this week to notice the unique light or the movement of the clouds. Is there a way to experience that “en-light-enment” in your life? To allow that moment of presence to show what would like to leave. What would you like to embrace as if it’s a dear friend who’s about to depart? An experiment. What do you notice?

Image by Muramasa/CC-BY-SA-3.0

A Mind-Clearing Habit

Pond rippleI have a habit of throat clearing. It seems there’s often a froggy sensation that simply must be cleared. Until the other day, I’d never thought of the possibility of clearing other parts of the body…or the psyche, at least in any kind of routine way.

An idea came up last week when we co-hosted a couple of amazing musicians. Their names are Gina Sala and Daniel Paul. Both are highly respected for kirtan, a kind of meditative music most people associate with yoga classes. Kirtan is sometimes described as “yoga for the voice.”

It’s a form of chanting that becomes a meditation for the heart through song. I’ve noticed that it’s also very useful for the mind. According to many ancient traditions, chanting the names of God brings us closer to him/her/the mystery. I’m all for that, in theory. But in reality, sometimes my mind balks a bit.

Two or three members of my family play and sing kirtan at events and festivals. So I’m around it a lot. And I’ve come to appreciate the meditative repetition of the songs. Except when my thinking gets in the way. When my mind is convinced it has people to see, things to do besides settling into the practice. Some days that’s 90% of the time. But meditation has taught me that there’s always hope for people like me. For the thinkers.

All that mind chatter we do can get very tiring. So Gina shared a perfect mantra for the head. Here’s how it goes:

Pat your head gently, sweetly thanking it for all it gives.

Next (repeat while bringing the hand over the face from the top of the head): “Oh sweet mind, I love you.”

When I do this, it seems like my thinking mind just loves to be recognized. This is part of the magic.

But, even better, by repeating this phrase to my head, I remind myself that I’m not my mind.

It’s a little wake-up tap.

A blessing. And not a bad habit, either.

The habit of remembering.

What habits do you have for remembering what’s important to you or who you really are? Prayer, rosary or mala beads, breath, writing, singing. Anything can become a way of remembering what’s deeply True for you. Not your mind. You. The sweet essential being that is You.

Salmon, Autumn and a Return to the Wild

A small, hopeful group is gathered here in anticipation of the event. Indian summer, and we’re poised over the impossibly picturesque mountain stream, cascading and rivuleting and pirouetting downhill.

Each of us has our own opinion about what we’re waiting for. All we know is that it’s called a Salmon Release, and each of us has a vague idea about what that means. And it’s an hour late.

We’re miles from a highway and a mile from a paved road. So the sleek aluminum truck that appears, carrying a large tank, surprises us. It’s the kind of rig that usually wears the imprint of a local dairy, full of milk ready for processing.

This cargo isn’t getting ready for the market. It’s going the opposite direction: back to the wild.

Until about the last hundred years, the migration of the salmon upstream to spawn was as inevitable as the shortened days and slanted light of autumn. But numerous dams throughout the Northwest have severely thwarted their ability, despite their enormous drive, to return to the shallow pools where they first came into being.

Around fifty large fish, ready to spawn, swim in the water of the tanker. They’ve been shuttled upstream from a fish hatchery on the other side of the dam, where they have grown to adults-who-are-ready-to spawn in the protected waters. A giant hose is attached to the truck, a flip is switched, and a flood of water and fish come pouring out. They turn flip-flops as they hit the stream.

As they come gleaming into the water they dance and breach and swim a water ballet around each other.

Each of them are deeply programmed to swim against the rapidly flowing creek, over boulders and curves, to seek out the right shallow pool. As they following this destiny, they also bring their essence back to the ecosystem. Their offspring began their six year round trip, one which now includes being shuttled past the dam going downstream and leads a thousand miles to Alaska and back.

Many of us who watch are moved to tears. Each of us is stirred by our own deep and particular understanding of the meaning of things. Words just won’t cut it.

But writing helps me land the feeling. The ecological importance resonates with my personal evolution. It speaks of the power of swimming upstream against boulders, obstacles, and the odds. I reflect on all the times I’ve questioned my early conditioning and my social roles to find a voice that is truer and deeper within. It reminds me of the necessary return to what is essential and true in my own wild nature. It reminds me that sometimes I’ve needed to be carried by my family, my tribe, my elders, and the universe itself.  Then, when I’m restored and ready, I can take on the next step.  And I remember once again with gratitude that, although the journey is sometimes tumultuous, I don’t have to do it alone.

Morning Ritual: Rinse and Repeat

6:30 a.m. Last day of August. My favorite: time of day, time of year, spot on the planet. Most early mornings are spent in silence and solitude. These moments are improved by the beauty that is summer. I watch from my garden deck overlooking the oak savannah as a buttery sunlit field gradually spreads over the meadow. There is deep peace in this little spot of glory. Deep gratitude finds a similar spot in the center of my body.

It’s all perfection in this liminal time.

The time before the Issues and Improvements Department opens for the day.

Apparently there’s a lot of me that thinks I could use some help, could be better. Do more. Quit wasting her frickin’ time just hanging out. And she has a few things to say about duties and goals. She has a whole team with clipboards and plans for my day. She frowns on me from the other side of the door, locked out for now. I sit peacefully in my pajamas, watching the sky and the birds and animals show up for the day.

In the opinion of the Head of the Improvement Department, a quick Self-Help project is just what’s needed. Its operational mission is to convince me that I have a problem that can be fixed in any number of ways I have not yet explored. She keeps nagging me on and off throughout the day.

But mornings. They’re my time. For many years I have opened the day with silence. Then I pick up my pen and write my “morning meditations,” with the prayer and the hope that this will remind me of what’s really important to my soul as I prepare to for my day. This morning routine has become as necessary as breathing. There’s a good hour before the world around me begins to assert itself, to give me something I must react to. Before I move into the day’s lists and calendar items.

It’s a Be Here Now kind of start to the day. Breathing. Silence. Dreams re-emerge… Thoughts and images of all the people I hold close show up on the screen. I watch. Send love. Send prayers. Breathe. Be. There’s nothing to do. Nowhere to go (yet).
I write down a few observations about the wisdom of the season: the trees, sky, weather, the turning of the planet. What teaching does the world around me offer? Here. Now.

Then there’s an urgent phone call from the Improvements Department.  Someone in my world is a problem (usually me). After a thorough review, it has been determined that I must: stop eating all sugar, walk 4 miles a day starting today (on creaky knees, yet), read the Bible or the Tao Te Ching or the Bhagavad Gita. Now.

All of it is offered For My Own Good. Although there can be true guidance in the recommendations of the Department, much of it is the same old well-oiled loop of self-judgement: Strategies for dealing with some outworn thoughts that go something like this: I’m not good enough, fit enough, prepared enough, enough enough.

All the searching of the past thirty years has taught me to see most of these lies for what they are: an old, tired, narration of a story about me that hasn’t been updated for the last thirty years.

I thank her for her opinion and then go back. Back to Being. Here. Now. This morning.

This is the practice, the challenge, the evolution.

Peace. Awareness. Mental Loop. Note what needs to be heard. Thank the rest. Go back to breathing. Rinse and Repeat.

Who Would We Be Without Our Stories? (or How I Found Inquiry)

I love stories. I was an English teacher for twenty-five years; I taught mythology, where my first lecture always defined human as meaning-making animals. How did they make meaning? Through the stories they told each other about themselves and their world. Throughout my career I encouraged teens to read stories to each other, to themselves and to younger children. We told our own stories and then wrote them down and dived into the oral tradition by telling myths as they were meant to be told, in a circle with the lights off.  I created classes where kids could share from their deepest being the stories that they had lived, crying together and then creating new, healing stories.

Up close and personal, my own drama-filled story continued to teach me about something deep, archetypal, powerful.  I told my stories again and again wrote them down, and groped my way into meaning in the process. The stories I created about my stories had deeply changed my own life. And I knew the human bond of love that forms when people share their stories together.

So what attracted me to a process that asked the question, on bumper stickers yet, Who Would You be Without Your Story? I don’t know, except that when I first heard the question a gong rang deep inside.  Who would I be without my story?  The question was a silent opening beckoning me inside a new relationship with inner life. Read More>>

Navigating the Twilight Zone of Caring

It’s 4 A.M. The phone rings.  Your mind jumps into hyperspeed. Do you know where your child is? Your ailing parent? Your spouse or best friend?  Although you get to the phone before the answering machine picks up at ring five, the trip seems like slow-mo underwater ballet. You receive the dreaded news. This is bad. Real bad. Maybe you go to the room at the hospital with the puffy couches before they tell you how bad. But at some point soon it’s clear that someone will need to be fully available to manage the emergency for the foreseeable future.

You have just entered the Twilight Zone of Caring (TZC) that most of us will visit in our lives more often than we like to believe. Your world suddenly has nothing in common with the mild-mannered life you had been navigating only the day before.  All you know is that, for a time, you will need your best wits about you, perhaps served up with a little divine intervention, to be able to do truly help someone you love.

I’ve been to this netherworld more than once in my life. In fact, I’ve found myself there way more than you want to know. And in the process I’ve discovered amazing pools of reserves, a deep and calm wisdom, and a lot of good news in the middle of crises. The last time I made the trip was just this year, when my single twenty-something son was badly burned and lost everything in an apartment fire. When I first talked to the doctor at the Burn Center, he said we were about to begin a marathon. A marathon? I thought. Don’t people usually train for those? Read More>>