The Limits of Kindness

A list is circulating social media, offering ways of tipping the balance toward the good in fraught times. Such as opening doors for people, offering a smile, letting other vehicles in a long line of traffic.

I have often written of small acts and their power. I believe that these kind of kindnesses are true and useful and so so needed, and I believe that every small act has resonance beyond its immediate impact. I am a fervent believer in the power of kindness.

And I see the limits of kindness. There is also a need for intervention. Making room for others in our heart is a great thing—and may it nudge us to stand for justice.

“The heart and the fist,” is how activist/visionary Valarie Kaur puts it. Rage, she says, at least maternal rage, is a “biological force that protects that which is loved.”

Photo by Eliza, via flickr.com Creative Commons

What this looks like in practice, I’m still figuring out, but one thing’s for certain: The coming years will not relieve the need for the heart and the fist. I want to be part of the movement toward a better future, where all are valued, respected, and safe, and no one is targeted for being Black or brown or immigrant or trans or female or poor or any other scapegoat status.

In thinking about the violence at the Capitol, it helps me to anchor into the big-big picture. First remembering that this small human body is truly, ultimately safe, always one-with-Source—realizing energy cannot be destroyed, only transformed. Then seeking to understand:

Are we seeing the last gasp of the dinosaurs, as Octavia Raheem’s beautiful post suggests? Is this the patriarchy making a final last stand? Brene Brown has said of this ugly era: “Last stands are violent and desperate and scary, and know no boundaries and no rules, and do not follow any protocols.”

Kaur uses a birthing metaphor, saying we are in a stage called transition: “It feels like dying, but it is the stage that precedes the birth of new life.”

I’m struck by what these stories have in common—their implied faith that something better is on the horizon. I am a proponent of hopeful narratives, and yet I know that nothing is assured. That is why Kaur says transition is a dangerous time, and calls us to labor. To embody what she calls Revolutionary Love.

She advocates a fierce brand of love that asks us to “see no stranger,” as she learned from her Sikh faith. (Note: Read her book by this title and you will never be the same.) To Kaur, everyone is a brother or sister, an uncle or auntie. Instead of “otherizing” those who think/live/look different from us, instead of dehumanizing any member of our human family, she takes the attitude: “You are a part of me I do not yet know.”

That is how she looks at everyone, even those who do egregious things. This isn’t about being a doormat, and she’s very clear that if you are the one who is under the knee of the oppressor, your job is not to attempt this transcendence. Your job is to survive, then tend to your own trauma.

This is where community comes in. Those of us not in immediate danger must step in and do this work. It’s hard. Empathy and kindness are not necessarily the starting point. Wonder can be enough to start, says Kaur. To wonder, for example: What are the life experiences that lead to violent white supremacist attacks?

To support this hard work, she has conceived of The People’s Inauguration as a way to recognize that we are the leaders and healers our country needs. Set for Jan. 21, the day after the inauguration, it is a pledge to help heal and rebuild America as an anti-racist, equitable, sustainable nation. For 10 days thereafter, supportive teachings will be offered online. I have signed up. Join me if it resonates.

Learn more through this Sounds True podcast.

To Live It Fully

Adapted from my year-end e-newsletter.

Have you seen the new Pixar movie, Soul? What a gem! Move over, Heaven Can Wait and others of the genre. Now we can experience a funny-yet-resonant vision of the afterlife (er, beforelife) through the lens of a middle school music teacher named Joe Gardner…whose life won’t be complete until he performs at a top jazz club.

Aside from the entertainment value, I found the story moving and unexpectedly wise—the kind of work that stays with me.

One of the most affecting parts of this film is when new souls dive through the Earth portal from the before-place (where souls are designed). We witness their joy and wonder in this freefall towards our planet, where they will incarnate into human bodies.

When’s the last time you felt joy and wonder because you got to wake up here on this beautiful planet?

It reminds me of the most hopeful podcast I listened to this year: a conversation between Charles Eisenstein and Edith Ubuntu Chan (a physician). Chan shares the mystical experiences she has had, particularly the way her son came into her life. You have to listen to it, but suffice to say there are (in her understanding) legions souls eager to come to Earth because it is such a rich place of learning and transformation.

Having just been through a crucible of a year collectively, a year that pushed us to grow and transform personally and communally, it’s understandable that many here are weary. Many are grieving, angry, fearful, depleted—and with good cause. Many feel jaded, consumed by stories of things drastically out of balance. And yet.

There’s a bigger story we can tap into, one that is not just about this planet, not just about this physical body’s experience in it.

There’s the choice point, if you believe this way, of coming here in the first place. Followed by all the choice points thereafter, that shape how we experience the situations we’re born into. As a recent client put it: “Why is all this happening… for me?”

That in itself, that reframing from victim to seeker, is a choice point.

To look for the bigger picture, to fall into the possibility that everything we encounter can give us a chance to evolve.

Just as the soul voiced by Tina Fey released the hand of teacher/musician Joe (Jamie Fox) and bravely dove past the point of no return, we have all sojourned to this point alone and together, communally and individually bound to co-creating this reality we live in.

Moving into this next year, which so many hope and pray will be different from 2020, let’s not lose sight of the joy of being alive. Because (spoiler alert): “To live it fully” turns out to be the purpose and meaning of life. That’s not to say that every moment we breathe in will be joyful or even pleasant. But it is here, it is ours to experience.

***

Want to know more about YOU, as in your soul-level essence? And let go of whatever’s been holding you back from fully shining your light into this world that needs you so much? I offer Soul Realignment, an Akashic Record reading that puts people in touch with their expansive soul-level selves, and assists with clearing blockages to expressing their fullest divinity. Available via Zoom. Book here.

This reading was so edifying and greatly resonant. It feels important to start this shift going into the New Year…
—Nancy M., Excelsior, MN

It is Your Life

A poet I admire, Mark Nepo, says we should only write while fully centered in the heart. His counsel: If your mind dominates, drop the pen, still the voice, turn to another activity until the heart can take the lead again.

From a recent podcast:

“I want to enter timelessness. I don’t want to plan to finish a chapter because of some deadline—then the expression is an ‘it,’ a product. I’m no longer in timelessness; I’m controlling.”

Mark Nepo

So much feels out of our control these days. Speaking for myself, I sometimes find that my itch to control whatever I can infects my creative work and daily life in unconstructive ways. I tighten up and end up with a headache or a sleepless night.

But, like Nepo, I want to approach my work (and my life!) from a place of expansion, not contraction. A simple invocation at the start of a writing session can reconnect me to that space.

When it slips away, as soon as I remember, I reconnect to the biggest possible frame—to who I am and what I’m about and why I’m doing whatever I’m doing. I want to contact the biggest why possible, which is always to be more fully aligned with my Divine nature.

So: to move into that spaciousness, to call in that alignment, is a way to enter timelessness, to reenter heart space.

And this is not just about writing. It’s about how I practice yoga, how I do my workity-work, how I connect with friends, how I steward my money. I have the choice to treat everything as a thing to get done or as a big-big-big picture action.

Doesn’t everything go better and feel so much more timeless when I first remember what it’s all for?

As an inveterate list-maker who also skews mystic, I have made a study of the intersection between getting shit done and falling into spacious/timelessness. I don’t thrive without timelessness, but I operate in a time-driven world. And I do want to finish and publish my book, keep in touch with loved ones, stay on top of bills, and show up fully at my workplace.

I am starting to see that moving with ease through all these arenas is possible. It’s not about following a strict list or schedule. Nor is it about floating in the ether every moment.

Photo from the Indiana Dunes, Fall 2018

It’s more about reconnecting on the regular to this big-big-big picture. Often that comes through movement, or stillness, or breath, while consciously invoking the love that’s all around. The fact that I am love, made of love, made from love.

The more I hew to my truest “who”… the easier it is to stay in my heart.

And if, as soon as I look at the clock and think what’s next, I lose this feeling, it’s OK. Because I know how to find it again.

In my notebook, I commune with my inner Wisewoman, who says things like:

Breathe deeply, this moment is not a thing to be gotten though, a task to complete. It is your life. What is coming into your senses right now? What is your body experiencing? Hold it all.

To which I say, Thank you.

Real Safety

Someone suggested to me that a thing I’m involved in is sketchy. It’s an experiment that admittedly looks mad from the dominant worldview. A project based on generosity, reciprocity and trust—making something our hearts know, that we are all One, tangible in the way we give and receive.

I have felt incredible support and uplift from the experience, almost a magical boost catapulting me—no, sustaining me—in this expansive place of possibility. Extreme self-responsibility—taking nothing personally—is the watchword.

Then I tumbled, with the questioning comment. I felt my ego rise up. Don’t let someone think ill of you! Defend! Explain! (Take it personally!!)

I had a visceral shift, lying in bed after this deflating exchange, in which I could feel my constriction melting and my consciousness merging with the All. It’s hard to describe, but I felt that I was expanding out beyond a fear mindset to a transcendent place that makes both suspicion and defensiveness irrelevant.

I still had trouble falling asleep. The ego does not go down lightly.

The ego talks my ear off all night, tightens up my body, obsesses over all my to-do lists. It’s all about proving itself right, and hiding vulnerabilities, and being in charge.

I know you are terrified, I tell the ego, but I am going to let another/greater part of me take the lead now.

Perhaps this is a microcosm of the wider world, in which the dominance model we are living under is not going down lightly.

I’ve been listening to interviews with Elizabeth Lesser, who wrote Cassandra Speaks: When Women Are the Storytellers, the Human Story Changes. She referred to the “death rattle of the patriarchy” that we are experiencing as a collective. We see this globally, as the old guard hangs on tooth and nail to a way of life predicated on subjugation of people and planet.

Brene Brown, writing in 2016, predicted a “last stand” of this dominant worldview, and foresaw its messy, violent, chaotic trajectory. Last stands are desperate.

These systems live in me, and in each of us. My own desperate ego, afraid of dying, mirrors that death rattle. What will happen, yells my ego, to all my specialness, all my control, all my plans, if you move about the world in some kind of transcendent state? How will you stay safe if you change the story and make me irrelevant?

Real safety, I respond, comes from knowing who I really am, which is a part of the All in All.

If I holler back at the ego and make it bad and wrong, if I try to vanquish it with its own tools, it only deepens the chasm I’m trying to heal. But if I can speak kindly to that ego (while redirecting with both compassion and firmness), might it help to melt those systems of control—not just in myself but in the collective?

Well, even if it is just a moment here and a moment there, the experience of Oneness creates a template that has its own resonance.

Solar Eclipse, May 2012, Arizona

“When the forms of an old culture are dying, the new culture is created by a few people who are not afraid to be insecure.”
—East German dissident Rudolph Bahro

I’m so there. How about you?

No Matter What

I cried already this morning when walking Opal on the golf course, where the line of voters snaked out to the street and the overflow cars were parked on the green. No matter what happens, no one can say the populace is apathetic.

Most of my friends are on edge today, fervently hoping for a particular outcome of the election, worried about what comes next. It struck me this morning that it might help to look at what I can count on, no matter what.

I know that no matter what, there will be major healing to do, and being a bystander is not an option for me.

I know that I will always be a person whose heart lifts with the kingfisher’s rise over the creek. I will always find comfort in my furry companions who will always love me (in succession; I know these particular friends won’t be around forever).

I will always thrill to the sight of birds flocking and wheeling across the sky in great numbers, as they do this time of year, even if it is “only” starlings. I will always be a person whose face defaults into a smile for random strangers. Who wells up to see humanity in its marvelous shapes and forms and shades, feeling our oneness even in our division.

I will always care deeply and seek to be fully alive to everything, even the hurt.

None of that says all that much about me… except perhaps that I have been extraordinarily lucky.

This birthday card from my sweetie …

The inside of this card starts out, “In a world that can be a little rough around the edges, you soften the lives of those around you…” Cue the awww.

All I can say is, may it be so.

The Human I Need to Be

Help me be the person I need to be to create this work.

That is my mantra, of late, thanks largely to Jen Louden, whose writing retreat and Writer’s Oasis have been hugely enriching for my creative expression. She believes that the creating of a thing gives us back to ourselves; that we become more of ourselves by digging into a project; that we become who we need to be through the very act of creating it.

The journey the project takes me on becomes as fundamental to healing—mine and others’—as putting a final product out there. The project teaches me what I need to know, gives me strength, shows me something beyond what I’m shown in the din of voices out there in the public discourse. And that reverberates far beyond what I can know.

Many of us yearn for a different world than what we see, and despair of ever getting it, give the broken state of things. But we are creating our world all the time, whether we mean to or not. Every act is a contribution to the reality we share.

It’s sort of like the person who adopts a dog: It’s impossible to not start training the dog right from the start, whether intending to or not, whether ever enrolling in formal dog training classes or not. (Don’t believe me? Say your puppy jumps up on you and you scold him, or wrestle with him, or rub his wee face because he’s so damn cute. Any one of those is likely reinforcing the jumping: You’re training him to jump up. Or he’s training you to respond to his jumping!)

What I mean to say is, I want to put at least some of my attention, in this destabilizing time, to consciously creating what I want to see more of. Because whether I realize it or not, I’m creating my life (and by extension the collective life) every moment.

Last week I planted Austrian winter peas, as I do every fall, for the tender shoots, and they’re coming up in my garden. I planted cilantro starts today, and lettuce too, because it soothes me to put my hands in the soil.

Cilantro from KG Acres

So many things are outside of my control, but here is just one contributory thing I can do in my small sphere.

I actually can’t control how these baby plants grow, but I can offer a little prayer to them as I set them in the ground, and commit to watering and tending them. Their rootballs connect my prayer to an entire planet. I imagine it suspended beneath their bodies. This one act of tender care signals my hope for a nourishing season ahead, no matter what else comes.

I create a modest garden that brings me pleasure and returns me to myself. It helps ground me. It puts me in contact with living things—the microscopic abundance in the soil, the miracle of a being that can make food from sunlight.

Pea shoots emerging

Just so, I make a thing out of nothing but words, like food from sunlight, that may or may not last more than a season, but that brings me along and turns me… slowly, slowly… into the human I need to be, rooted on this planet.

Not your Sister’s Self-Care

I was asked to write a wellness article for a local women’s magazine, sharing practices that can help us find our footing in the midst of uncertainty. I was in the midst of drafting it when the world blew up for the second time in a few months, with George Floyd’s murder.

Not for the first time, that confluence of events made me really think about self-care in the context of  inequity and social change. Is self-care an inherently selfish act? Does it require donning blinders and living in a syrupy bubble of pampered and precarious comfort?

Not the kind of self-care I mean.

Embodiment teacher/activist Abigail Rose Clarke has said that having the time and space to do mindbody practices is a privilege. And the very fact that this kind of practice is a privilege, she notes, makes it a responsibility.

We who have the time and space to create the change within ourselves that can help heal the world, must do so.

I believe that building our personal resilience does in fact heal the world. I think of the white woman who called the police on a Black birdwatcher and claimed he threatened her, after he lawfully requested that she leash her dog. The level of reactivity in that act, aside from its painful demonstration of racism, indicates (to my mind) someone who is not awake to her own need.

Self-care, and not your sister’s self-care of pedicures and bubble baths and pricey skin toners, is a muscular act. It requires facing up to the boiling mess of emotion inside us, and giving it room to flow and transform. So often we suppress the things we don’t want to feel, but they don’t go anywhere but underground.

Then they burst out in annoying and sometimes dangerous ways, like chronic pain or low-grade irritability. Or acute reactivity that puts another in danger.

In actual fact, turning towards our emotions on the regular, with self-kindness, is what relieves and releases them. And it may not look pretty or feel yummy. Rolling on the floor and wailing is not a Calgon-take-me-away moment (totally dating myself with that reference). But I would much rather have a private tantrum than inflict that pent-up frustration, fear, and resentment on another.

(It doesn’t necessarily have to be a tantrum. Maybe it’s just experiencing that inward trio of sensation, thought, and emotion—and following where they lead with curiosity.)

By turning to kinder practices that nourish the body and soul, we become more resilient and less reactive. As we move through our day with less fear, suspicion, and hostility—less triggered, or more able to stay with the triggers and breathe before acting—we truly do build a more compassionate community and world.

I used to teach a class I called Radical Cell(f) Care, offering self-care practices I’d gleaned from various energy healing traditions. I called it radical because this kind of practice gets to the root, because it gives us tools to pause, because it creates change from within. It generates more kindness in a world sorely in need of that.

portulac

The portulaca blooms closed up in yesterday’s rain, and opened again when it stopped. Life inhales and exhales, contracts and expands. 

Now, kindness alone won’t solve the pattern of deadly force against black people and the dearth of justice for their murders, or other ways massive inequities show up in our society. It won’t halt a pandemic’s spread (but may slow it down, as people take precautions, expressing their care for each other). On its own it won’t fix the breakdown of our planetary systems, or the rise of fascism, or other seemingly intractable problems. But I still contend it is a vital tool for addressing the general awfulness that faces us at every turn.

Policies are behind much of the awfulness—policies set by people with power. We are also people… with our own power. Our choices and behaviors can uphold the awfulness, or challenge it, transcend it, create something brand new.

We need to continually refuel for the big and small acts that will make change. We need to embody and radiate the kind of muscular compassion that doesn’t look away from the awfulness, and doesn’t allow it to persist, and points the way to a different kind of world.

Gratitude: I am grateful for the view I have from my desk—our tiny back yard, where I can see young robins eating mock strawberries, and all the garden freshening under rain, and all the chipmunks, neighborhood cats, hummingbirds, bluegray gnatcatchers, sparrows, cardinals and so on making it their playground.

Tip of the Day: From the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is HardI learned that willpower is a finite resource. We exhaust ourselves quickly if we power through with grit alone. It’s not high-quality fuel. I’ve been cultivating a new motivation to fuel I do throughout my day, connecting to a feeling-level motivation where I can. Positive feelings like love, kindness, pride, excitement, and joy have staying power. If you are working toward change, it might be useful to check your fuel levels!

Resource of the Day: I started watching the Reimagining and Remaking America replay with activists Valarie Kaur and Van Jones. Now I can’t wait to read her book, See No Stranger, which makes a case for the ultimate long-haul fuel: revolutionary love.

Both/And

I admit to some shame after my last post in which I wrote of the blissy aspects of this bizarro time, as I experience it. Of course I have also shared heavier stuff in previous posts. I experience the gamut of emotions and I am open to all of them moving through me… and I want to live in the present and in my body (where all is well just now) as much as I can.

But the mind will have its say, and here’s what it said after that post: You are insensitive to go on about joy when so many are suffering. Last night we drove down the “main street” of our neighborhood last night and it was a ghost town. Seeing our sweet small businesses close up shop really hurts, especially knowing each such street all over town—all over the world—represents untold financial hardship for countless families.

Also, in the last few days I’ve had conversations with people who are closer to the economic impact of this worldwide shutdown. An urban farmer brought up his fears about the food supply, and whether he would be able to protect his crops if things went really bad. A friend in South Africa spoke of the immediate need all around her, with people going hungry right now as they live in a veritable police state.

Also: 2000 deaths each day in the U.S. alone. And no real plan or social cohesion to get through this ongoing crisis.

It’s frightening, sad, and angering to witness the leadership void at the top worsen the situation for regular folks (even while yes, I am glad for relief packages and stimulus checks).

Joy and worry, shame and gladness, fear and hope: I’m feeling “both/and.” These words from Daniel Foor really resonate:

I am concerned about expanded government abuse of power and I support the shelter-in-place directive right now.

I abhor the exploitative aspects of the global economic order and I am deeply concerned about it just falling apart.

I want systemic measures to truly address climate change and I feel uneasy about a rapid jarring halt on the ability to travel.

I am not afraid of death and I don’t want to die. OK, I’m a little afraid, but not so much. Mostly I love being alive here today.

I am open-minded and not inherently trusting of any source, and there are also facts and knowable things.

I want more nuance, play, and irreverence in the collective and also I want people to submit to facts and what is knowable.

I am truly gut-level worried about where we’re headed and also spacious, relaxed, and in touch with levity.

To quote a true American patriot,
“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then, I contradict myself.
I am large, I contain multitudes.”

– Walt Whitman

So, what to do with all this? (Surely there must be something to do, beyond airy-fairy being.)

20200426_125845 (1024x768)

This creek holds raw sewage during heavy rainfall events. That concrete structure overflows with it. It’s the way our city designed the sewage system years ago, an unsustainable combined sewage overflow setup (which is being updated in recent years). I love this creek. Shit and beauty exist side by side. Love abides no matter what.

Unable to steer an entire culture or country, I return to the small ways I can have an impact. I create more space in myself to be more present to possibility. I come back to the guidance of my Wiser Self, as Ellen Meredith calls it, in contact with the big-big picture. I write things down in case they speak to someone else’s soul.

And in the practical arena, I’m giving in ways I can, since I feel amply supplied. In that giving, I don’t want shame to be my motivator any more than I want fear to take the driver’s seat. I want to give my courage and gratitude the space to lead, even as I realize that this attitude is itself a measure of my (largely unearned accident-of-fate) good fortune.

Gratitude: I’m grateful for a Zoom call with my family members last night, for belly laughs and shared concerns. Also grateful for a heritage of Mennonite thrift that helps me stretch resources, so there’s a sense of abundance, more to share, etc.

Tip of the Day: Speaking of Mennonite…It’s soup-stock-making day! I save veggie scraps like onion skins, carrot tops, mushroom stems and celery trimmings in a freezer bag. When it gets full, I make a pot of veggie stock. I add it to this recipe, but it would also work on its own to make a mineral-rich and tasty soup starter. Using up items that would ordinarily be immediately compost-bound makes me feel so smart and thrifty. (Bonus tip: don’t put anything too strong or bitter in your scrap bag, such as broccoli trimmings, and don’t put anything that looks questionable, like moldy onion skins.)

Resource of the Day: I usually send you to an online resource here. But in keeping with the last post’s theme of cutting back on screen time, how about considering inner resources, instead of outer? What are your special resilience superpowers? Maybe your sense of humor never quits (mine certainly does), or you always know how to bring comfort to a friend in need. Mine include the frugality mentioned above, but also a spiritual framework, a strong creative drive, and a willingness to turn toward whatever is passing through me.

If you’d like to post a comment about yours, I’d love to read it! We inspire each other.

Season of Renewal

I’m sure I’m not alone in how much I live for signs of spring right now. We’ve had several freeze warnings this past week, prompting me to go out and snap some flower photos for posterity (though the flowers actually did make it through for the most part).

Serviceberry blooms last week (they’re browning now, right on time)

Even through the windiest, shittiest weather (snow? really?), I’m amazed that the blossoms on my little serviceberry still cling on. Well, until it’s their turn to fall.

I had in mind to write something about how the magnolia blooms turned brown and fell, and how the little tree next to it took up the mantle of holding beauty, but I don’t think that’s quite it. Though I do like the idea of taking turns—sometimes I’m shining, sometimes you are, sometimes we take a turn down in the dumps.

That doesn’t seem quite right though. Not the correct metaphorical use of a cycle that renews itself every year, fallen blossoms spreading seed, feeding soil. Just doing what they do.

I’m more thinking in terms of resurrection, redemption, rebirth. I started to noodle on this last Sunday, which was Easter in many traditions. Orthodox religions will mark the day tomorrow. Passover takes the theme of renewal as well. Whatever the faith tradition, this time of year fairly screams resurrection.

Vibrant.

Easter and Passover are not my holy days (though I have fond memories of pancake breakfasts and Easter dresses). But of course people began celebrating the season of renewal long before these traditions.

As a half-assed gardener and a sometime forager of spring greens, I feel more in tune with nature’s awakening than the religious rites that have been overlaid on those ancient rituals.

Quick funny aside: When my young cousin, raised on a green and vibrant Caribbean island, came to Indiana one winter on a visit, she couldn’t help but notice all the bare trees. She finally asked my dad: “Why don’t you cut all those dead trees down?”

Having never experienced that cycle of apparent death and rebirth, she had no concept of waiting for the greening.

The yearly miracle

Maybe it takes a bit of faith, or simple experience, to know that renewal is just beyond the horizon of darkness. To understand that what looks like a death might be, instead, a state of deep rest.

What’s more of a resurrection than the annual opening of a bulb left seemingly lifeless in the ground?

The thing about renewal: It only comes after a deep, dark place of quiet that can feel so deadly to a culture accustomed to going/doing/racing/running/grabbing/shouting.

Even while spring bursts forth all around us, many of us are curling inward to that space of quiet, being asked (or ordered) to stay in one place, curtail our social impulse, limit contact. In a time when our forebears gathered in celebration of surviving another winter, we can’t join hands and sing, or pass the glass between us.

My Virginia bluebells look delicate but they’re hardy.

Recently I’ve had a recurring dream of a street fair, neighbors pouring out onto their sidewalks laughing, talking, feeding each other. There’s music, light streaming from windows, kids on tricycles. A feeling of joyous conviviality.

I do feel that some sort of resurrection is on its way, and it could well be a massive reordering of all that we think we know. We have been so impoverished by a culture built on acquisition, greed, exploitation. Even those of us who live comfortably have a hard time finding peace in a world marked by massive injustice. And for the people and places that get squashed by such a system, there’s no question that the dominant societal narrative isn’t working.

The writing’s been on the wall for a while now: Business as usual is not a viable prospect.

How long will we need to gestate before the (re)birth? And what will emerge out of this inward-coiled time?

Gratitude: I’m grateful for the generosity of nature this time of year. For our salads I’m picking pea shoots from a bed sown last fall, baby lettuce I set in earlier this spring, plus accoutrements from my perennial chives, salad burnet and sorrel plants. Not to mention wild ingredients foraged from my yard and nearby: basswood leaves, trout lily leaves, violets, dandelions, chickweed, and redbud blooms. Everything but the olive oil-lemon dressing coming from within 100 feet or so of where I sit right now.

My “100-foot salads”

Tip of the Day: Uh, go outside, if you can. Spring is poppin’.

Resource of the Day: Local folks, check out this offer from local herbalist/forager Thea Newnum, who will accompany you into your yard for a social-distanced foraging lesson. She’ll help you know what to safely harvest from the undiscovered wild edibles growing there. You will never look at a weed the same way again.

Looking Down

For a short month during my horse-crazy girlhood, I took horseback riding lessons. I remember riding around an indoor arena. I remember not being allowed to choose the same horse each week, because “you’re learning to ride horses, not a horse.” Beyond that, I don’t remember much.

Other than the instructor telling me repeatedly, “Look where you want the horse to  go.”

Weirdly, I couldn’t seem to do it. Down and to the side, that’s where my eyes went, to the churned-up wood chips on the floor.

Looking back, I think I was rattled by the stimulating environment and the scary thrill of being high on a horse’s back. All I could see was the ground.

I sort of thought I was looking forward, and I was even more rattled by the frustrated instructor’s repeated injunction to “stop looking down.” I may have managed to glance at the horse’s ears a few times, if not actually through them to where I wanted the horse to go. (On the other hand, where was there to really go in that small arena?)

Did I mention I was a myopic and dreamy child? When I later started driving, on rainy days I found myself absorbed by the raindrops hitting the windshield of the vehicle, vs. the street I was driving down.

But about the riding lesson, two things come to mind. 1) It’s hard to learn something new while overstimulated or scared, and no amount of clear instruction will change that; and 2) Looking where you want to go, while good policy, may require some preliminary work.

I was reminded of this episode by Martha Beck’s video, Thriving in Turbulent Times. In it, she talks about being mindful of your focus, and training it toward where you want to go—looking between the horse’s ears, say, or kicking into a goalie’s net. Or moving toward a future defined by resilience, justice, and mutuality.

I absolutely love this idea, and it makes total sense, and I have sought out evidence the positive side of humanity, wanting to put my focus there. I live for the kind of good news that can somewhat counterbalance the hard stuff (see Resource of the Day below).

And I also know that for me, sometimes there’s a crucial first step before I can reclaim my focus from where I don’t want to go.

I must first find a way to hear the parts of me that may not be on board with positivity in the moment. I need to find a way to calm my nervous system. I need to be extra extra gentle with myself for falling into an unwanted pattern.

(Martha Beck is also down with this, by the way, so I’m not dissing her work in any way.)

This week I went to ground a bit. John Prine died, the refrigerator broke, I had to wear a mask to the drug store for the first time. Everything piled up and seemed sad and scary and hard. I couldn’t sleep. I found myself sinking into despair and anxiety, overloading my nervous system, ending up shaky and overwhelmed—then making it worse by shaming myself for going there.

Enough already. A good cry is as necessary as a good nap, in my book. Why do we have tear ducts, if not to use them?

If I let myself look down, or allow full absorption in the raindrops instead of the street ahead, it can be a relief. It’s honest. Right now, my body says (from the floor, curled up in a sobfest), this is where I need to be. Time enough later for windshield wiping and plotting a course.

horse

Me and my brother and one of our cousins, long before the lessons.

Gratitude: One thing that has really sustained me, and given incentive to continue this project, is all the feedback I’ve received, even third-hand. In addition to this blog, I sent out an e-newsletter called How Will We Choose to Live? that received more responses than any in recent memory. Thank you to everyone who takes time to read these words. I know how much content is out there to wade through, and I’m honored.

Tip of the Day: A double-edged one today. Writing this series has helped me, and has given me a sustaining project, an outlet. Friends are going deep into gardening, or rediscovering crocheting, or learning languages, or making masks. Maybe there’s a project that can help you through this time.

But maybe it’s also, conversely: Don’t try too hard to get shit done. Maybe don’t try out a new skill or join another online lecture. There might be some inner tending that needs to happen before new learning can happen. Do we really need to take a free Yale course on well-being right now? Maybe the highest of higher education is found down deep within.

Resource of the Day: In the good-cry department, here is John Krasinski’s “Some Good News” episode 2. I love everything about this DIY online news show, which gave me a fine place to land while surfacing from my funk. Around minute 9 is where it really kicks up a notch, at least for Hamilton fans.