Picking Up the Healing Trail (Guest Blog)

It’s been a while since I hosted a guest blogger. This week the marvelously observant Katherine Hauswirth, a nature writer from Connecticut, contributes this post. (She also invited me to write a piece for her blog, and it will come out soon!)

Guest post by Katherine Hauswirth, author of The Book of Noticing: Collections and Connections on the Trail.

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Today, Shawndra is allowing me to visit her blog and contribute my own words, and I have gratefully received some words of hers to share at First Person Naturalist. I’ve gotten to know Shawndra a bit through her writing, and was drawn to her work because of its clear awe of nature—the topic I like best. Her admirable, dual tagline of Writer/Energy Worker conveys connection—connecting words, ideas, people with ideas, energies, the body with the mind and the soul.

Shawndra introduced me to the work of Gaian teacher and Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy. She wrote about her here. Macy talks about “The Great Turning”—shorthand for our current age, one that’s suspended between a society shaped by industrial growth and the possibility of a new one that is life-sustaining. I examined Macy’s words a bit in The Book of Noticing: Collections and Connections on the Trail, which launches this month:

Macy transmits hope for our ailing world in many ways, but she wonders aloud about the direction in which we will collectively turn. I, too, am unsure, but I seek out comfort in gestures of both adoration and action performed by those who, like Macy and me, are smitten with love for the world.

I continue to hold out hope that the many smitten folks out there will help our world to turn in the right direction. But today it occurred to me that love for the world also acts as a tonic for me, personally. I need to be smitten with that love in order to heal. And by “heal” I mean to feel like I am whole, like I am closer to my best self.

I had recently been sick with a minor illness, and while I was “cured,” in the sense of no longer coughing and sleeping more peacefully, I still needed to heal. The illness seemed to spark a pattern of not caring for my needs very well (or could it have resulted from such a pattern?). My schedule was off; my mind was off; my spirit was off.

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For me, time to myself and time in nature are essential for thriving, and if I can get both at once, all the better. So, despite a long to-do list, I’ve been taking myself on walks.

At the start of today’s walk I was tense, ruminating about a million pending chores and the little annoyances of family life that were stacking up in my mind like dirty dishes. Soon, though, I was happily distracted by a pair of Mallards in the cemetery pond. The female was curious about me, and floated quite a bit closer than her spouse dared. I watched her rubbery orange feet paddling for a while and moved on.

A drab-looking sparrow looked much more exciting when I trained my binoculars on her—I could see bright yellow marks by her eyes. (Later, a little research suggested she was a White-Throated Sparrow). An Osprey couple has taken up residence at Pratt Cove, a freshwater tidal marsh, on the same platform that yielded chicks last year. The female called from the nest in her familiar, high-pitched whistle. And front and center across from the viewing deck nearby sat a Mute Swan on her sizeable, cushy-looking nest, her neck folded over her body, her eyes idly watching her mate, who meandered the channel.

White Throated Sparrow by John Flannery

White-Throated Sparrow courtesy of John Flannery on Flickr

Healing feels like expanding. I am no longer “trapped” in the container of my intellectual mind, with its thoughts bouncing off the walls noisily. I am using all senses to connect with the larger world. I take it in and feel refreshed, open to new possibilities.

Awesome “side effect”: I think more generously about others when I have had these restorative moments.

Nesting Mute Swan by Mike Scott

Nesting Mute Swan courtesy of Mike Scott on Flickr

We all lose the trail sometimes. We forget to even take the time to figure out what we need. When we get our feet back on the healing path we feel more whole and hopeful. And we have more to give.

How lovely, this spring, to turn toward the sun and to watch the natural world turning in the same, light-loving direction. No doubt there is much to do for Mother Earth, but spending time with her is, in and of itself, a crucial act of love. As usual, she bestows much in return.

Katherine Hauswirth’s writing focuses on connection and contemplation inspired by the natural world. She has been published in Christian Science Monitor, Orion online, Whole Life Times, and Connecticut Woodlands. Her blog, First Person Naturalist, reflects on experiencing and learning about nature. Her awards include artist residencies at Trail Wood (Connecticut Audubon’s Edwin Way Teale memorial sanctuary) and Acadia National Park, and first place in the Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition. She lives with her husband and son in Deep River, Connecticut. Her book, The Book of Noticing: Collections and Connections on the Trail, comes out later this month.

The Case for Slowing Down

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Today I’ve been thinking about a “Good Samaritan” experiment. In this study, seminary students were rated for their helpfulness to a man in apparent distress, though they had no idea that he was even part of the experiment.

They were each given an assignment and sent to another building to complete it. On the way each encountered a man slumped in a doorway, moaning in distress.

Some stopped, some didn’t.

Some had been told to prepare a talk about the Good Samaritan, while others had a more generic task. The content of the task did not appear to affect their choice of whether to help the man or not.

What did make the difference was the seminarians’ sense of urgency. The experimenters told some of them that they were already late and should rush to get to the next building. These were far more likely to ignore (even step over!) the man in need.

Those who weren’t in a hurry helped in greater numbers.

Were the nonhelpful seminarians (especially those focused on the topic of the Good Samaritan!) crass hypocrites with zippo compassion? No, they felt pressured to get their central task done, to keep moving. (I don’t know about you, but I’ve definitely been there.)

In fact, according to the article I read, many who did not stop appeared anxious when they entered the second building. Their inner conflict showed up in agitation.

To my mind, this study clearly shows one “unselfish” reason why it’s crucial to S-L-O-W  D-O-W-N the pace of our lives. (Of course, as our sense of separation between ourselves and the larger world breaks down, there’s really no such thing as selfish vs. unselfish. What happens to you happens to me. Witness the subjects’ bodies’ own distress signal.)

In the Western world we are supposed to be hyperefficient and “productive” all the time. We overschedule ourselves in an effort to get more done. Even when I am “off duty” at the end of the day, I’m tempted to keep checking my phone or laptop, to look up one more thing, to multitask when I am theoretically at leisure.

What is the cost of all our rushing around? Distractedness, high blood pressure, anxiety, and more. Meanwhile we live whole days, months, years, barely present to our lives.

Here’s my friend Melody Groothius, mom to two and lover of the world:

I hope I never think that what I’m doing is so important that I can’t stop and acknowledge – my kids, a chance to laugh at a joke (especially a terrible dad joke), a beautiful flower, the sound of a singing bird, the feel of a gentle spring breeze against my face as I step out the door. We’ve all got deadlines and “very important” interviews and articles and things to say but, honestly, those aren’t more important than any of those other things…actually, not really very important at all when I stop to think about it…

We tend to think we will slow down later on…when we get something big done, or go on vacation, or retire. Generally the habit of rushing is so ingrained that it is hard to overturn, even if we make a point of it. It can take a health scare or other personal tragedy to bring us out of our trance of busyness.

But creating some space in our schedule right now—though it will never be rewarded by the dominant cultural story!–is crucial to creating a world worth living in.

I leave you with a “Run Report” by my poet friend Alyssa Chase, who conceives lovely haikus as she takes her daily run, later to post on Facebook.

What’s the good of all I’ve learned? How to schedule peccadilloes, negotiate obsolescence, parse darts? Blue sky answers: Do something else.

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.

Transforming an Old Habit

Recently I asked a group of people: “What or how do you want to transform in 2017?” Their answers, so heartfelt and true, got me thinking of my own answer. What emerged as my “thing” was this: A pattern of having “too much to do,” of constantly slipping toward feeling overwhelmed by life.

I thought it might be useful to share how I am beginning to transform that old habit into my chosen reality: a sense of ease and joy with the smorgasbord of life.

Let me attempt to reconstruct some of that inner work. Below is an approximation—I find it hard to exactly translate this type of exploration unless I’m taking notes every step of the way.

I began by examining my feelings. I realized they stem from old programming, dating back to childhood, when I overidentified with school achievements to make myself OK. It makes sense that that would come up now, because I’m working with a business shaman/coach who gives weekly assignments. Homework! I’m a good student; I do my homework.

Even though the program is grounded in ease and bodily wisdom, as we began to set business objectives for the coming year, I found all my old mental gears revving up. Must prove myself, must pile on more and more, create loads of stress just to show I’m really worth something! (“I have a talent for making things difficult,” I told my coach yesterday.)

Of course I ended up crashing. My body rebelled against an overambitious schedule. My mind grew muzzy and obsessive. My emotional state plummeted too. It was hard to imagine finding joy or ease in any of my goals (which had previously seemed so exciting).

I found, when I sat with my overwhelmed-and-down self and asked for guidance, that there is a surfer within me. She artfully rides the waves, finetuning balance in each moment. Balance is not a once-and-done thing, the guidance suggested. Life can be approached with playful skill.

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Photo by Daniel D’Auria, via Flickr Commons.

I might just have to let go a tiny bit and find a way to dance with the rolling waves.

I asked to be released from the need to prove myself. That felt huge.

I also realized that I had willfully constructed a reality in which I was not in charge of my to-do list—subliminally I blamed others for what I had to do. I still felt like that child working for a good grade, though no one grades me now.

Curiously, I found that I held onto the payoff of this dynamic—a wiggly sense of not being fully responsible for my choices, because I could always say that these assignments came from an external place. This resonance with “I am powerless” allowed me to stay safely in my comfort zone.

I found, digging deeper, a fear of people disliking me if I didn’t perform at a high level. Beneath that, a fear of disliking myself if I slacked off: because clearly I am not enough if I don’t at least try to “do it all!”

I worked with myself as I would a client, loving these old programs, asking for their release, inviting the newly created space to be filled with light and love.

Then it was time for what ThetaHealing practitioners call “downloads,” which  basically means asking for Divine perspective and understanding through specific statements or affirmations. These are some of the things I pulled into my field while resting in an expanded state:

Show me what it feels like to take full conscious responsibility for my choices.

Show me what it feels like to live in joy and ease.

Show me how to ride the waves creating balance moment to moment.

I forget what else I downloaded, because I was in a theta brainwave state where words and images are ephemeral. It’s a bit like trying to remember dream fragments. But you get the idea.

Now I can set business goals with less baggage—and I can align more easily with my mission of holding space for personal and planetary transformation.

Affiliation

This came out of my pen a while ago, and I just found it again. It seems timely.

Humans need to feel ourselves as part of a whole. We build our belonging in so many ways. By joining a fantasy football league, or playing games online, or joining a militia, or marching in anti-war demonstrations (or anti-Monsanto, which some would say amounts to the same thing). We join a political party and cling to it.

That’s what we do—as humans we can’t live without affiliation.

What if our affiliation took the form of something much grander, and more lasting, than any of these? What if our affiliation were to the whole of the earth, and its affiliation were to the whole of the universe, and all the galaxies were aligned in some grand plan?

Well it seems foolish to suggest it when so much is going wrong today, but a chill in my scalp, a prickle up and down the roots of my hair, says yes, you are on the right track here.

So it’s just that easy? How quickly, when I get up from my desk, do I forget that All is One. I bump my elbow and curse the wall. I have too much to do and hate all of it. I don’t want to be uncomfortable or cold or pressured. I cringe at the things I say. I knee-jerk at the things others say, my buttons pushed.

I forget who I am, a small but seriously important child of the universe, like everyone around me, like every single ant larva buried in the wee hill that showed up in the compost my neighbor spread for me under the hydrangeas. All of us.

It matters not how big the brain or how advanced the architecture or how wordy the language. All of us are children of the same divine womb.

We never know what we are part of. We are just one tiny life form in the Milky Way galaxy. Here we are, a light among lights. Lit by sunlight, lit by spirit.

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Photo by Rory MacLeod, via Flickr commons

And we don’t always realize this, we don’t realize that our light can be part of a greater force that is gathering, that is gaining momentum, because all we see are images of the sad and mean and painful and violent. The people doing small good things every day do not get much of a mouthpiece.

I don’t even mean environmental actions and the like. The briefest smile of connection might light someone else’s heart. I’ve written this before, many times. I am happy to think it. Not because it lets me off the hook for the big things but because it means every moment of my day can have an impact. It gives me something to do about the pain that crashes at my door every day. I can breathe it and love it. I don’t need to turn away and I don’t need to feel helpless anymore. I am a part of the healing force of nature now. That’s my affiliation.

And I do know it, some of the time. I don’t know what impact I’m really having. But it doesn’t matter.

We never know what we are part of until we just ride the wave to the shore and crash with our friends in a pile of floppety fish.

On Peace Day

This was my favorite moment of the Peace Day gathering last week at Rivoli Park Labyrinth: when young Elijah piped up with an innocent question. He’s 9, and his mother Alicia Oskay was leading us in some gentle postures and breathing. When she mentioned how yoga brings more peacefulness, in keeping with International Day of Peace, Elijah stage whispered, “Is that a thing?”

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Alicia and her son Elijah modeling hip stretches.

Why yes, young sir. Your mother did not make it up. This Peace Day business is for real. According to the website, “Peace Day provides a globally shared date for all humanity to commit to Peace above all differences and to contribute to building a Culture of Peace.”

International Day of Peace is observed around the world each year on September 21st, ever since it was established in 1981 by a unanimous United Nations resolution. In recent years, people observing the day have begun using the hashtag #peaceday to share stories of random acts of kindness and inspirational quotes on social media.

Locally, about 25 people came together at Rivoli Park Labyrinth to mark the day. This pocket park in a vacant lot, founded by Lisa Boyles, has hosted many other meaningful gatherings.

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View of the labyrinth from my forward bend.

After yoga, Lisa invited all of us to make #PeaceDay signs for our walk through the Rivoli Park neighborhood with local law enforcement. (For everyone making a sign, she banked a half hour on TimeBank Indy, our local hours-bartering exchange network.)

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Elijah shows the poster he and his mother created.

Both the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and the Marion County Sheriff’s Department were represented in our little march. We drew honks and waves and fist pumps from passing drivers, and one woman on foot offered several God-bless-yous.

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Getting ready to walk the neighborhood.

We returned to the pocket park to share food and conversation, and walk the labyrinth at our leisure. For more details on the day, find an IndyStar photo essay here.

Lisa has coordinated the labyrinth’s fans into various neighborhood projects over the years. Coming up this week is Indy Do Day—an annual three-day citywide service blitz, set for Sept. 29, 30, and Oct. 1. The Rivoli Park Labyrinth was installed on Indy Do Day on October 10, 2013.

“I would like the tradition of doing service and giving back to continue,” she says, emphasizing that everyone is encouraged to find an Indy Do Day opportunity to spread some good in the community. She herself plans to offer her time packing snack bags for children in a low-income neighborhood alongside a group called #gRoE , Inc.

Projects like these can be found by searching the website of Indy Do Day.

Sing Light

At the International Women’s Writing Guild‘s annual conference, I was drawn to a spiritual warriorship workshop. Here I found women both tender and fierce. From various spiritual backgrounds, we all were seeking to keep our hearts open in the face of the world’s pain. We meditated together, read, wrote and shed tears together.

One day the reading was Wendell Berry’s haunting  Work Song Part 2: A Vision, which speaks of “a long time after we are dead” when “memory will grow into legend, legend into song, song into sacrament.” The future, and what it might look like, if we are wise.

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Our writing prompt was : What I want to sing into this world is…

Here’s what came from that free write. (Read Wendell’s marvelous poem first!)

What I want to sing into this world is…
That we must breathe our despair and eat our fear. Then allow the alchemy of respiration, digestion, and elimination to work on our pain and terror until a new thing emerges on this earth. I want to sing a song of light—and yet allow darkness to be felt and seen. (Without awareness of what is hard and mean and forced, we forget the impoverished place that births our better future.) Sing light that doesn’t fear the dark but turns toward it, welcoming the whole story of our unfolding humanity. Find a way to rock the darkness like a neglected child, to give it the kind of love it’s never known.

 

And you: What do you want to sing into this world?