Truest Home

Home is very much on my mind these days, and turning up in my reading, conversations, and other inputs.

I understand the pull toward home—hearing of people who face decisions about evacuating or hunkering down, returning or staying away, in the wake of natural disasters. Even if your home is the only thing standing for miles around, in dubious shape, it would be hard to stay away from it.

My own home supports my life in a way that feels incredibly juicy, especially in the warmer months when “home” extends to include the back yard, front porch, garden. I feel gratitude every day for the comfort and fruitfulness of home. I love looking out from my writing desk and seeing hummingbirds flit among the plants I’ve tended.

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I had a headache till I went out yesterday in the rain to pick raspberries and mint. Home heals.

As someone who is all about hearth-and-home, I feel my heart twinge at the thought of the millions of displaced people all over the world. Whether the cause is climate change, earthquake, war, ethnic cleansing, or something else—I hate to imagine losing the protection of home.

And there but for the grace of God…

I know that all is temporary, that everything is bound to change. And sometimes change happens dramatically and suddenly. I know that this body is temporary and the building I live in is impermanent. So how do I make a home for myself that transcends fixed ideas of safety and security?

I can see my solid relationships as home. Though also impermanent, the people I love (and who love me) create a web of safety. Yes, and…

I can experience this temporary body as home. Sinking into the body brings me to the present moment, which is also my home, and always accessible. Yes, and…

I can see this earth as home, holding me in its vastness. Touching Earth as home feels both tender and precarious at times as fires and fissures continue to spread. Still it gives me a sense of belonging. Yes, and…

None of these can be my truest home. Clinging to relationships can bring pain. Expecting the body to always hold up (and the present moment to always feel delicious) is unrealistic. And watching the earth’s systems besieged distresses me.

Yes, yes, yes. And.

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“A cloud can never die. A cloud can become snow, or hail…or rain. But it is impossible for a cloud to pass from being into non-being.” —Thich Nhat Hanh

I can feel my energy as home. Here is where my frequency expresses itself in its unique but universal signature. Here is the eternal part of me that can never perish. It only changes shape.

Thich Nhat Hanh has said that it is unscientific to think that we disappear when we die, because of the scientific principle that nothing is ever created or destroyed.

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Do you see an oak tree in this acorn?

Energy cannot be destroyed, only re-formed.

My essence, my soul: That is my truest home.

Over and over, I touch this space when I return to my home frequency, as Penney Peirce calls it—that space of wholeness and rightness, that note in the orchestral symphony that brings harmony to the All.

And this, I tell myself, is the deepest security and comfort, a home not dependent on relationships, circumstances, or physical structures.

Rising

On International Women’s Day, I’m thinking about what it means to be human.

We are in the midst of a rebalancing. The old patriarchal systems are groaning under the weight of their own corruption and perversion.

So we rise. “We are the leaven of this land, and we are on the rise,” says the marvelous artist/activist Jan Phillips.

And this is what it means to be human: to rise, to integrate. The feminine principle is ascendant not just in women, but in all genders. I know this is true because more and more hearts are awakening to our interconnectedness all the time.

We know intuitively, as women have from the beginning of time, that we are all connected. This is why we feel pain in our own bodies when we encounter the pain of the world.

When we hear of record numbers of immigrants crossing our northern border into Quebec seeking asylum, it hurts. When we read of a white rhino killed by poachers in a Paris zoo, our hearts break. Photos of clearcut forests, news of oil pipelines spilling into waterways, awareness of “mother nature on the run” as Neil Young put it—painful.

Our hearts break, over and over. We mend them as best we can—through touch, conversation, nature, meditation, prayer. Only to break again.

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Guan Yin, Goddess of Mercy, female Buddha, photographed at a temple in China

We can move swiftly from pain to outrage, which distances us a little, gives us back the upper hand in a way. (If I can find someone to blame, then I don’t have to dwell in heartbreak as long.)

Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron has this to say about that painful place:

When we don’t close off, when we let our hearts break, we discover our kinship with all beings.

Our challenge is to not close our hearts even to those who would do us harm, or do harm to the people and places we love.

I heard a story of an Afghan woman who works to educate girls in Afghanistan. Fundamentalists dislike that, and she’s subject to death threats. One day at a checkpoint she was recognized and pulled out of a car by a group of bearded, turbaned men with guns. The people in the car worried for her life. But she walked back after a half hour of talking with the men, saying, “We can go.”

She stayed open, and refused to see the fundamentalist men as her enemy. It turned out that they wanted an education, just like the young girls she worked with. They had made arrangements to meet outside the mosque for lessons.

The feminine principle is strength and love, strength IN love.

We’ve been schooled to think that the only way to make change is through force, whether physical or psychological or financial. But as the feminine principle shows, change happens in more mysterious ways. Ways that can’t always be predicted or explained.

And if we know that there is truly no separation, then our small human lives have meaning beyond all measure. Nothing we offer in love is ever wasted, no matter how small, because we nourish the new world with our deeds, thoughts, and hearts. What we do (are)—strengthens the good in ways we may never know.

Magnify Love

Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.

—Desmond Tutu

Here in the U.S., we’re feeling the reverberations of yet another mass shooting. Some call it the deadliest in our nation’s history. Even as I unplug from the news cycle, I’m energetically affected by the pain and anguish, the anger and fear.

Sadness is mostly what I feel when I think of the shooting. When I remember to, I turn toward the sadness, feel it in my body, notice the wish to numb it, alongside the urge to amass information in support of my personal philosophy about these types of tragedies.

I “embrace, allow, include,” as I’ve been coached in mindfulness training. I open up room for all my responses and attend to them with kindness. In that space I can consider right action.

All of which gives me more compassion for others on their own path.

I like to believe that humanity is evolving in a positive direction, appearances (seemingly) to the contrary. The horrible things that happen always grab our focus, fuel our outrage. It’s the same with the inflammatory things said by some pundits and politicians: Our attention gets hooked by ugly things that seem to confirm the awfulness of everything. And the ugliness magnifies.

A wise yoga/meditation instructor recently reminded me that our brains are wired to notice the snake amidst the flowers. Danger! Alert! We fixate on the negative. It’s biological.

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No snake, just flower.

Mindfulness meditation creates an opening for a new practice to emerge. It offers a brief space—the length of a breath—in which we can begin to choose.

I wonder: what if we train our attention on something other than the horror? Not to look away blithely denying injustice, but turning toward the little acts of love and solidarity, small exchanges of soul happening every day. Is it a copout, born of privilege, to even suggest such a thing? Or is it an opening?

Some schools of Buddhism teach that the material world is nothing other than a construct of mind. What mind do I wish to inhabit?

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What do I choose to magnify with my attention?

An Unexpected Gift

Yesterday, Father’s Day, brought me an unexpected gift. A neighbor messaged me late in the evening offering just-picked raspberries. Would we like some? Of course! “Check on your porch by the mailbox,” she messaged a few minutes later.

My dessert: raspberries, kefir, vanilla, toasted sunflower seeds.

How was she to know that red raspberries would bring me a direct connection with my Dad, who grew them up until the year he died? His overabundance was always my gain. Even the container they came in, a repurposed plastic food tub, evoked his (and Mom’s) habit of reusing everything.

They're half gone already, because I had some for breakfast too!

They’re half gone already, because I had some for breakfast too.

A friend tells me this morning, Surely that was a gift straight from your father.

I miss him. On Friday I received a quilt specially made from a few of the T shirts he used to wear. Yesterday morning I put my cheek against that “Seize the Carp” square and imagined his heart beating under the fabric.

Many thanks to Helen Ryan-King for making this for me.

Many thanks to Helen Ryan-King for making this for me.

No one else will ever love me the way he loved me, a friend wrote, on losing her own dad.

A statement true and sad.

So many of us walk around with broken hearts. I think of the Buddhist story of the woman mad with grief after the death of her only child. The Buddha offers to bring the child back, but only if she can find a mustard seed from a house untouched by death.

She searches house to house. Here someone has lost a parent, there a child, there a beloved brother, there a cherished friend. She comes back and tells the Buddha, I couldn’t find anyone untouched by loss.

She lets the child go.

Knowing we all share this human experience, I want to open to the love that is available all around me, in so many forms.

A couple I know slightly from down the street, seeing me standing on my bike in the bike lane, slow their car to check on me: “You OK?” (Just waiting for a break in traffic to make a dicey turn—but it touches me to hear their concern.)

A cat named Morty, leery of everyone but his deceased owner, finds me on my front step. Rubs against my knee, beaks my nose with his. Hello, new friend.

A concert of singing bowls, vibrating with tabla, flute, and didgeridoo, offers me a place to rest in All That Is.

What I want to say is this: May my broken heart be of service. May I remember that this brokenness is something we all share. May our connection help to heal a broken world.

Wild Geese Wisdom

From Wendell Berry’s poem “The Wild Geese” comes this steadying stanza:

…And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.

I found his poem in a new essay collection called Sustainable Happiness, edited by the staff of Yes! Magazine. It reminded me of my introduction to the poet Mary Oliver, whose poem “Wild Geese” begins:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves…

This was my first Mary Oliver experience years ago: having this poem recited just for me by my Rolfer while he worked the fascia of my feet to smithereens. (Rolfing is a super-intense type of bodywork that pairs well with poetry.)

I give you the lovely Mary Oliver, reading her poem.

To Look Up

It hit me hard last week when the Audubon Society reported that half of North American birds’ migratory routes are threatened by climate change.

If loons find it too hot to summer in Minnesota, then what? You’d think they should just aim farther north, but will they find the food and cover that matches their needs? Are they supposed to migrate higher and higher till they fly right off the planet’s roof?

By Pete Markham, via Wikimedia Commons

By Pete Markham, via Wikimedia Commons

The scenario is not confined to some far-off future. It’s now. Southern California saw 90 to 95 percent of raptor nests failing because of drought. No nests, no procreation. How long can a species survive climate disruption?

I find I can’t stay with this topic; it’s too painful.

I felt the same last month, learning about a gigantic crater that opened in the Siberian permafrost. Scientists link the melting to warmer-than-normal summers the last two years, and say such sinkholes release vast amounts of methane.

Methane gas is more efficient at trapping radiation than carbon dioxide, with 20 times the impact on climate change, according to the EPA.

In Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, Bill McKibben describes a number of self-reinforcing feedback loops that lead to a faster and faster rate of climate change. The crater is just one example. He explains the feedback loops in this video.

Here we are, immersed in our lives, going around feeling one minute one way, the next another. I feel despondent. I cheer up. My writing goes well. My writing goes poorly. I help someone. I say something dumb. I worry over my sick cat. I celebrate her recovery. I walk around my neighborhood and love the trees. I come home and feel lonely, pleased, scared, self-satisfied, hopeless, and on and on.

I’m a dizzying universe. As are we all. Most of us barely keep it together, doing what needs to be done to meet the day-to-day demands of life.

And all the while, this other thing is winging above us. This bigger picture of demise.

Rise up...

And to look up invites so much pain, which we already have aplenty.

Two things help me face the times we live in. One is external, the other internal.

On the external side, I reach out, take action, make something, do something. I connect with neighbors who care as deeply as I do. Or join a demonstration, like this Sunday’s People’s Climate March in New York City. (I will join a crowd closer to home, at the People’s Climate Gathering in Bloomington.)

I plant a seed. I get moving.

On the internal side, I stay still and connect with what endures. I remind myself that matter is just slow energy, and energy can’t be destroyed. Feeling into my energy body takes me to a place beyond fear. Whatever the future brings, it will be better if I stay in this moment.

“Look up and see the light from the sun. And now see everything beneath it, everything around you. You are in the garden.”

—Karen Maezen Miller, Paradise in Plain Sight

Note: If you’re on the fence about joining this weekend’s events, read Rebecca Solnit’s new essay. “Only great movements, only collective action can save us now,” she writes.

Resilient Communities and People: How Yoga Can Help

Guest post by Gaynell Collier-Magar

Hi everyone! I am so honored to be a guest blogger on Shawndra’s amazing website. Shawndra is one of my Irvington Wellness Center yoga students. She has a beautiful, thoughtful practice, both on and off of the mat. She personifies how yoga can help with resiliency in life.

Yoga is a 5000-year-old tradition of practices (the Eight Limbs) to reduce suffering and still the mind. It is not a religion. However, the practices have been incorporated by many religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, and contemplative Christianity to name a few.

The physical practice or “asana” (“seat”) is meant to create resiliency in the body and mind to enable sitting in meditation for long periods of time. Unfortunately, in the West, the physical practice is often perceived as the path to buns of steel, pretzel poses, and very thin 20-something bodies.

The first lines of the Yoga Sutras state: “Now, the teachings of yoga. Yoga is to still the patternings of consciousness”. The Sutras explain how our habitual ways of thinking create suffering and how we can remedy this.

When we are reimagining a future for our communities, yoga could be a useful tool.

Photo by Jenny Spadafora

Photo by Jenny Spadafora, via Flickr Commons

So how does this happen? In the physical practice, it begins with being in the present moment—in the body and the breath. To get a feel for what I mean, try this:

Notice how you are sitting now. Are you slumping? Good…notice how you feel heavy in your body. Now, sit up straight, feel your bottom sitting in your chair, feel your feet on the floor, and lift your chest. Do you feel any lighter in your body? Slump again and notice. Sit up again and notice. Now close your eyes, put your hands on the tops of your thighs and take three deep, slow breaths. Focus on the exhale.

What was your mind doing? Chances are it wasn’t making a to-do list, obsessing about the person at work who drives you crazy, or yearning after a piece of chocolate. You begin to get a glimpse of the mind becoming more still—an experience that increases in depth and length with further practice.

The practice is to notice what is happening in the present moment, practice non-reaction, and return to the present moment. Neuroscience is showing that these practices literally re-wire the brain.

Two of the liabilities of community work are burnout and lack of fresh ideas. Our ego-driven “monkey mind” robs us of tremendous energy and creativity. As we engage in practices that still the mind, we create a mindspace in which to think outside the box—and the energy to act accordingly.

Photo by TZA, via Flickr Commons

Photo by TZA, via Flickr Commons

We also create a mind that is equanimous and unattached, yet deeply caring. We create a mind that is focused and in the present moment. We create a mind that is resilient.

It is not a leap of consciousness nor faith to realize how resilient minds can create resilient communities. The Buddha said, “All that we are is a result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.”

Gaynell has been a yoga practitioner for over 14 years. She was certified as a Vinyasa yoga instructor in 2009 by Rolf Gates and is a registered yoga teacher with Yoga Alliance. She is certified to teach adaptive yoga to people with physical disabilities, having studied with Matthew Sanford of Mind Body Solutions. She has taught Vinyasa, adaptive, and 12-step recovery yoga classes in Indianapolis and Cozumel, Mexico in Spanish and English. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work and owns her own landscaping business, Growing Connection.

Join Gaynell and other terrific instructors at Shine Out Yoga Celebration, July 11-12 in Indianapolis, benefiting Mighty Lotus.