Rhythms disrupted settle in the arms of Mother Nature

Rhythms disrupted.

As I began to write this morning, my MAC’s little rainbow wheel kept spinning, yielding up one letter or three or four at a time. Pretty much how I feel in week five of “recovery” from the flu. Not sure when I respond to a question, a directive, an email what might come out by way of wisdom or irrelevancy. As a human I am a creature of rhythm. My rhythms have been wildly disrupted between ragged breathing, coughing, and no routine. I have felt out of sorts.

 

Then last night I stumbled into a wonderful antidote: reflections on the relationship between human nature and Mother Nature.

I sat down to leaf through two photo albums I had put together during my second year as an herbal medicine student. Our assignment had been to spend a full year exploring some aspect of “People, Plants, and Seasons,” and present our learning to our classmates in some material form. As I began to work on the project in the spring of that year, I had a fundamental question. What is the relationship between human nature and Mother Nature? Between the patterns, cycles, behaviors of humans and other living creatures and the whole messy collective that we are?

Over the course of that year I filled three sketchbooks with field drawings, botanical and medicinal information, and personal reflections. I took photos, pressed plant material, tucked away quotes that touched me. I lived life, became a grandmother for the second time, and tended my mother through what turned out to be the final three months of her life.

As the project due date approached, I spent several weeks sifting, sorting and ordering images and words, and they took on a life of their own. I remember sitting on the floor, surrounded by scraps of paper, photos, dried plants and glue sticks. The process of cutting and pasting and arranging to making a meaningful whole of all those moments. How absorbed I was in making meaning, in finding the story that was mine to tell about people, especially my people, my plants. my seasons. How much room there was for the fresh grief of my mother’s death, the joys of grandmothering and the wonders of the green world. How healing it was to assemble and offer this story to my classmates, and be fully received.

 

The unsettling and awe-filed potency of birth and death, the generational shifts, full of feeling and poignancy: the relationship between human and Mother Nature revealed through the seasons. 

What astonished me last night as I paged through the albums was how the whole experience sprang fully to life. The observing and recording. Aromas and sounds and places. Voices of teachers and classmates. The excitement of discovery. Sorrow and delight.

 

 

IMG_3043 photo                    IMG_3047 photo 1

SPRING: Andre’s birth and garlic mustard                      SUMMER: nettles and St. John’s Wort

 

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FALL: Ginkgo leaves, and fall too and fruit harvest        WINTER: Seasonal forms and light

 

Sometimes life says, “you’re on”  when I am “not ready,”  and I am reluctant to act in the face of unknowns. Other times life gives me room to recover and shift in ways that feel natural to me – breath, pulse, night and day, work and play, season, giving and receiving. Change of viewpoint, change of heart. Refreshed rhythms.

As drawings and photos and words transported me back to my true place in the large scheme of things, there was a place even for being out of rhythm and cranky. And then I had a change of heart.


 

Invitation to practice:

Pick an outdoor location that you regularly pass through and that draws your attention.

It can be as simple as a square foot or two of ground.

Or a place where you stand and slowly turn in a full circle, taking in the unique features of this place and your viewpoint.

Revisit it regularly as the seasons unfold. Observe. Sense. Notice changes.

Notice colors,  smells, textures, light and shadows, sky and clouds, effects of rain or snow,  evidence of insect or bird or animal life.

Notice changes in your relationship to this place, your relationship to yourself.

 

Keeping a simple log of your observations, taking photos, drawing are icing that will enrich the experience, but there is plenty of cake in the practice itself.

And let me know how it goes!

 

 

 

 

 

Getting into trouble: grumpy, life-enhancing work

A life of practice can be grumpy and life-enhancing work. It does not keep us from getting into trouble. Or end our troubles.

It does help us to notice when we are in trouble. Sometimes that noticing slows us down enough to turn directly into the trouble and work with it.

 

Here’s an example of what my friend Carol calls the “grumpy work” of waking up.

My husband Gideon and I had been preparing for a major interior painting and floor-refinishing after 30+ years in our home. This involved months of sorting and packing and discarding and giving away STUFF. This definitely left us each grumpy, and weary, from time to time.

Finally our movers arrived one morning to do a walk-through. We needed to make a more or less final plan for how they would pack up and move our belongings around the house without putting anything into storage. I’ll leave the details of our respective reactions to this whole undertaking to  your imagination. Suffice it to say that Gideon and I each had our own version of overwhelm on display that morning, and didn’t fully appreciate one another’s concerns.

Shortly afterwards I left for a dentist appointment, grumpy and breathing heavily.

I thought to myself: this state of mind is not going to mix well with dental work.

 

On the 40-minute drive I turned directly into what was going on inside of me – a well-worn old program of assuming the whole burden of whatever needed to be done.

I repeated to myself: Take it back in. Take it back in.

Then:  Take responsibility. Take responsibility.

Then: Be responsible. Be responsible.

Then: Sara, rely on your own goodness, which is not personally-owned.

Rely on Gideon’s goodness, which is not personally owned.

Don’t rely on his neuroses.

Or on your own.

Do/be what you can. Trust that Goodness, Godness, Reality has my back, not in any small ego sense.

I am not alone in this.

As I went through this process, I was able to invite in the  thoughts and feelings that were present within me. I was also able to choose which thoughts and feelings I wanted to dominate – not something I can often do.

During each step in this process I was inviting in my limitations. My desire to let myself off the hook. My tendency to see the negative in myself, in Gideon, in the whole situation. My deep belief that whatever is going on in life, I carry the sole burden for figuring it out. For getting it done. Nested with each limitation is some wisdom, some intelligence: responsibility, goodness, the actual availability of help and support.

 

I call this kind of inquiry getting into life-giving, nourishing trouble.

This is not a linguistic or psychological sleight-of hand, not a formula for processing difficulties. No such formula exists. The language came to me fresh and alive in the moment, and it came from turning directly into my discomfort and my limitations.

By the time I arrived at the dentist, I was breathing normally, no longer grumpy.

This was a relief. But I warn you, this practice does not reliably bring relief from suffering. Sometimes it brings us through a kind of false suffering, like self-righteousness, into a place of true or primary suffering: fear for our safety, or a deep unsatisfied yearning to be met by the world.

 

Relief from suffering or no, it brings us to the truth of who we are in the moment. 

That is the true grace and fruit of practice.  It does bring us into relationship with what is going on inside ourselves and in the world.  

You’ll have to decide if it is safe for you to do this while you are behind the wheel.

Aloneness and connection: the theme of our universe

From the viewpoint of Kabbalah, relationship is the entire theme of creation. 

The One has become Two and then Many, yet each and every part remains connected to every other and to the whole. The transcendent and the immanent, the personal and the impersonal, the material and the highest realms of spirit are present everywhere.

Our essential dilemma as humans likewise is rooted in the underlying conditions of separation and connection.

We feel both our essential aloneness, and the vast possibilities of what it can mean to give and to receive in relationship. 

This is true whether we consider the nature of our relationship with a friend, a significant other, or The Significant Other who devotional poets have long called The Beloved.

The single word “cleave” carries the essential paradoxical dynamic of relationship. This Janus word looks in opposite directions at the same time, signifying both to separate or hew apart, as well as to adhere closely, with strength of attachment. Without the hewing, there is only enmeshment: no real connection, no space into which giving and receiving can be offered.

 

Cleaving

by Sara Eisenberg

 

I have long forgotten what I was made for:

to cleave, to cling and to hew all

at once.

 

With two fingers I tap

on the clear frigid air

of this first morning of the new year,

it shatters but holds together.

 

That same air must pass through

warming shades of blue

wool across nose and mouth to deliver

its essential lode to lungs that

have a new freedom I cannot account for.

 

I cross the room, walk smack into swags of

unseasonable gossamer, that sticky stuff

that has ambushed me in the late-summer garden,

and now presses itself into my crevices as if sealing a vow between

two solids.

 

No longer am I spread out over vast distances, destined

to spin, order and turn worlds,

harbor and protect legions, heedless of sleep: labors suitable to

whole colonies of social insects.

 

To be in my very own skin

where there is space between us

where breath may pass, and words, and love,

that cleaving we were made for.


Banner photo: Duke Gardens by Pat Merriman, Hillsborough Art Gallery, Hillsborough, North Carolina

 

Back to basics: inclusion from the nondual perspective

Back to basics: I appear to need a good talking-to at the head of this year. Even as I seek to bring kindness, respect, and truthfulness alive in my relationships and work, I see with fresh eyes in how many ways I have twisted myself around and inside out to stay safe.

So I need to remind myself what I’m about at my most sane, and it starts with including the gnarly parts of myself.

So, a few words about inclusion from a nondual perspective: about its origins and power in what I call the Radical Oneness of existence, or the universe, or reality.

Many spiritual traditions view the world in this way. My roots are in Kabbalah, the Jewish wisdom tradition. You could call this Oneness God, the One who Holds (as in He’s got the whole world in His hands), Reality, The Buddha-Nature, Isness, The Great Kindness, The Garment of Destiny, the Quantum Field. One of the Hebrew names used is The Place, Makom.

This is a Oneness so great that it holds every distinction, separation, split, pair  of opposites, conflict, suffering, goodness, and every known and unknown. This is a world that is One not because it is has not shattered, but because it includes every shattering and every shard and sliver.

 

We humans, on the other hand, split the world. It is our nature. Hard-wired. For our survival.

We make distinctions: this/that, urban/rural, fashionable/out of style, essential/frivolous, normal, i.e.the norm/deviant. Then we go on to label them as “good” or “bad” and attempt to be/do/associate with the good-only. Or we inappropriately ride over, transcend, or erase differences, as in the view that we are a “post-racial” nation.

 

We do this splitting as we look out at the world. And we do this splitting as we look inward at ourselves.

We tend to include the parts of ourselves that we like – that are up to our standards of behavior or performance or skill or kindness or morality. And to exclude other parts we don’t like. For some of us, it’s the “good” parts we have trouble including, so we deny or minimize – that thing that I do, it’s not such a big deal.  Or diminish ourselves in comparison to someone “better.” Or fall into the mantra, “not good enough, not good enough,not good enough.”

The inner critic manages to keep close track of these. So does the task-master. So does the one intent on personal or spiritual growth, who often teams up with the critic/taskmaster on one of the following strategies:

– trying to wheedle, charm, or ring self-acceptance out of us

– turning us into an un-ending self-improvement project by means of “letting go of” or “purifying” or “transcending” or “seeing as illusion”or otherwise getting rid/killing off the parts of ourselves we don’t like.

– shame: that is a category all its own.

Living in this gap between our idealized and our real self is a high-maintenance and exhausting job, all the more-so when we aren’t awake to it.

 

Nondual practice – rooted in Radical Oneness, turns our attention towards forging a path of deep self-acceptance and dedication to staying at our working edge. We do our best to listen to the intelligence of our strengths and limitations, the parts of ourselves that we like, the parts we hate or despair of, the parts we deny or minimize.

The more we can do this, include each of these parts, come into relationship with them, give them a place, the more wisdom we have access to, and the less our limitations are obstacles in our path.

The more we can do this, the more we live in the world as the size we actually are, neither inflating ourselves nor shrinking away from life. The more we can do this, the more we can be intelligent companions to all kinds of people, even those who who appear most different from us.

As we include our own gnarly differences, the ones so hard for us to tolerate, the more capable we are of creating a world hospitable and nourishing to all the varieties of humanity.

 

Inspired to explore further? Be in touch to schedule a 30-minute complementary conversation.

 


Banner photo: photo taken at exhibit of Chihuly Venetians from the George F. Stroemple Collection, Alamance Arts, Alamance, North Carolina