Set your clocks to Winter Standard Time

Some gifts of Winter Standard Time (WST)

WST is my short-hand for the gifts of cold and dark: conditions that help me to overwinter, to nourish myself at the root in advance of spring, when buds will break open and shoots will begin to grow from a healthy root system.

My relationship to the winter season takes precedence over both the news cycle and the Gregorian calendar and renders me a more vital and useful healer, activist, and human being.

Gifts because the cold and dark invite me to stay snug and cozy, move more slowly, receive and give more openheartedly, invite visions and projects to gestate, make thoughtful choices around socializing – how much and what kind. 

My internal clock is running on Winter Standard Time

I cut back on my activity level.

I slow myself down to take my bearings. 

I pause more often and for perhaps hours rather than minutes.

It’s a trick and a practice to remain aware of what is going on without being swept up in the urgencies of the world, my hometown of Baltimore, my family and friends, or terrorized by the shadows of my inner world.

Australia burning. The earth upheaving itself: tremors in Puerto Rico, volcanic eruptions in New Zealand and The Philippines. Political divisions, corruptions, violence.  A perfect job that may or may not turn from temp to permanent. A trigger finger slow to respond to therapy. A search engine that has been high-jacked by an unwanted provider.

I let this last one high-jack my energy and state of mind for an hour: This fairly inconsequential irritation became its own little black hole, drawing good energy after bad, something whose outcome I was sure I could remedy when everything else seemed beyond the reach of my influence.

At this slower pace, I feel more vividly my grief at losses and my rage at injustices far and near. And others’ kindnesses and acts of courage? It is these that bring me to weeping, a true elixir for nourishing my humanity. 

The season favors my rooting in myself – whether in the boredom of familiarity, the wilderness of seemingly barren terrain, or amidst disrupting changes that break my heart open. 

I’ve chosen these seasonal routines to nourish my stamina and to help remedy the effects of the news cycle and my desire to be in control

Physical comforts

Soups, stews, hot teas; weekly unseasonal and affordable bouquets, thanks to Trader Joes; a fuzzy blue afghan emblazoned with stars hand-knit by one daughter for the school auction her sister ran, and that I snagged with the high bid; a snug and stylish pair of leather boots that keep my feet warm and happy when I am waiting outside for my immanent pick-up, as a good LYFT rider does; an evident appetite for the next episode or two of Season 2 of This is Us.

Marinating the work of my heart, Radical Inclusion: the inner work of race and gender

I listen in each conversation for the stories that divide us from ourselves even before they divide us from one another. I want the Intro Workshop coming up in three weeks to take people deeper and usefully into this difficult territory, so I commit to my own vulnerability, learning, wrestling with myself. So I sort through online and local options where I can do my own work in good company. I delve into Decolonizing Wealth, by Native American philanthropist Edgar Villanueva. I compost whatever I can from my own stories about sameness and difference. This well of inner work never runs dry, only deepens.

And in those precious moments when the heart breaks open, WST yields to timelessness

A sense of Isness pervades. The variety and beauty of forms is evident, in all their uniqueness and connectedness. A deeper reality breaks through. Provocative events and people lose their heat, and my heart-intelligence is freed to discern and choose. Difficulties are not left behind. I am not hiding out in a mountain cave removed from the rough and tumble of life. I must be willing to bear my personal and the world’s heartbreaks and injuries vividly, in my body. This is not comfortable. But it is closer to the heartbeat of the Reality we all share. With this practice my vision clears, I can take in new information, consider new possibilities, receive trustworthy inspiration and guidance.

In other seasons of the year or of life I cross different thresholds into the same timeless realm. In this season the long hours of darkness and chill, and my own shadow side are the threshold.

A toast to our good health in the New Year

According to Ayurveda, to be rooted in oneself, to be established in oneself, is the very meaning of health. It depends on the routines that that we establish and how they express our relationship with time & place. 

May you gather your comforts and use them well.  May you nourish the roots that will sustain you through the challenges. May you reflect on the stories that divide you from yourself. May you find sufficient moments of rest so that when the spring energy rises, you will be able to move with it, and on into your seasons of flowering, fruiting, and harvest. I raise my cup of tea and a gingerbread cookie to you. 

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Banner photo by my daughter, Jennifer Hyrkin

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In 2020 I return to posting bi-monthly.

I’d love to hear from you in return: what are the questions that deeply matter to you, the discoveries you are making about living more humanly?

If you are struggling to find your own rhythm, to gather your comforts, to meet the challenges that WILL NOT WAIT…let’s continue to travel and explore together…and bring your friends along by sharing this link with them.

To explore working 1/1 together, or discuss an in-person or online workshop for your group or organization, schedule a 30-minute free consult.

 

Des frissons: shivering with stray worries, pleasure

Just now a few stray worries set me shivering like these black cohosh in a light breeze. Tingling micro-movements also mixed with anticipation, fear, pleasure. Perhaps you too can feel that quiver in the French “des frissons.” 

photo

Black Cohosh, meanwhile, is safely rooted

in the soil by such roots as these,

so beautifully drawn by herbalist Doug Elliott

(Wild Roots, A Forager’s Guide,

from Healing Arts Press.)

Frissons

by Sara Eisenberg

ceaseless, the inner move-

ments, mo-ments,

i am leaf stalks in a strong spring

breeze, shivering in spite

of warm air,

long blown 

away

but

for

my

gnarly roots,

scarred and sprouting pinkish

buds from which emerges new growth.

Listen as the garden teaches

Lilah, pictured above, oversees the garden as the temperature climbs towards 90 degrees.  She appears to be sleeping, but listens as the garden teaches.

It’s not that unusual for us to go from blustery, gray, chill and damp directly to summer. But this year the perennials are more confused than usual. A feast for the eyes and soul, a grand allergy provocation (all those grass and tree pollens.) The sixty-foot Linden tree that anchors our property and shades the house is barely budding. Yet blooming all at once, we have, left to right:

Row 1 Jack-in-the Pulpit, Goldenseal, Solomon’s Seal

Row 2: Pulsatilla, Dwarf Comfrey, Greater Celandine

Row 3: Senencio,  Cramp Bark, Apple

Row 4: Lenten Rose, Horny Goat’s Weed, Tiarella

photo 3photo 4photo 3

 photo 1photo 1photo 4

photo 1photo 2photo 3

photo 2photo 1photo 2

We began populating our city lot with perennials and medicinals several decades ago.

In 2009 we studied how the water ran, the sun moved, the winds blew, the soil clumped or didn’t – and began applying permaculture principles. We dug up and sheet-mulched vast swaths of lawn and added medicinal trees and shrubs: Fringetree, Vitex, Witch Hazel. We put a bamboo-management plan in place. We added a couple of apple trees and a fig to the venerable grapevines planted by an earlier owner. We’ve drawn back the no-longer common swallowtail caterpillars and gold-finches. The neighborhood fox. And many curious neighbors.

Some plants have flourished, some are just hanging on, many others  did not survive.

The garden teaches

1.  Not everything blooms where it is planted.

2. Not everything blooms.

3. Living things do not mature at the same rate.

4. Some parts of the same living thing may mature while other parts remain stunted.

5. It is wise to feed the roots.

6. A tree shaped by storm damage (aka Life) is no less beautiful than before.

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

 

IMG_3048 photo 5                     photo 4IMG_3050

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!

 

 

 

 

 

I welcome the lengthening dark

This season I find myself welcoming, even craving, the blue hour deepening to black. My moods shift frequently and want more space, and quiet, than daylight and activity allow. It’s a bit odd, since I almost entirely missed the summer sun and garden, pre-occupied with endless sorting and winnowing and boxing and giving-away and shredding and discarding STUFF. That is done. So is the painting and the refinishing of floors.

Only in the past few days have I been able to get outside for a few hours to cut down the dead blackberry canes, the brown, dried stalks of Joe Pye, echinacea, and mullein. According to my garden log, in other years I have finished shutting down the garden as late as December 27.  Still, that work seems unseasonal this week.

The lengthening dark somehow offers a balm to my disrupted seasonal rhythms that involves curviness and word-play, a different flavor of sitting in the dark.

 

this lengthening dark

by Sara Eisenberg

 

this lengthening dark

this early dark

draws

me

in

 

twenty-one more nights

geminated

resolve

me

on-

 

ward

mood-

blue slopes

clarify space

 

trewe as any bonde

true as innocence

true as magnet

to iron true

and

pauseless

as the pulses

as true as Tristram

and Isolde were true

as stars true as I live

 

wildly irreverent

 


 

For my poet-loving readers: can you match the “true-ism” to the author?

Elizabeth Barrett Browning                       “true as magnet to iron”

Geoffrey Chaucer                                          “true as innocence”

John Dryden                                                  “true as stars”

John Keats                                                     “true as I live”

Walter Savage Landor                                 “trewe as any bonde”

Thomas Moore                                              “true and pauseless as the pulses”

William Shakespeare                                    “as true as Tristram and Isolde were”

 

 

 

 

Four hymns to Thanksgiving practice

Hymn to a room of my own

The room where I sit to write is a room of my own, the first I have had since I was a child. It is filled with images of strong women on whose shoulders I stand: family, healers, spiritual masters, goddesses. Filled with books overflowing with both knowledge and questions. Decades of journals. Artwork of family, friends, my own. Lilah is stretched out on the healing table for her extended morning nap.

Here I exhale. Here I feel myself. Here I meet with other women who are in pain. Here I plug into Zoom and meet with colleagues across the country and across the ocean. Here I watch a strong wind speed clouds towards the southeast. Solitude and connection.

 

Hymn to writing 

I have been blogging weekly now for fifteen months. As with any practice, sometimes I am inspired, and other times it’s a slog. Always, the practice demands honesty, the most impeccable discernment I can muster. And it hews me to conventions of language and grammar and a willingness to break with them for good reason. Drop the subject from a sentence. Run on like a Proustian paragraph. Give up on narrative altogether and turn to poetry.

Poetry – here too I exhale. I trust sound and line length and white space. A period: ●  Or its absence. When a Hebrew word לְדַבֵּר speaks or detracts. This is my brief hymn of Thanksgiving to punctuation.

 

Hymn to gifts received

A life that is more stable than most. A body with some growing limitations that still allows me to move around the world in the ways I treasure. A mind that is wedded to one passionate inquiry after another. Currently: bringing the wisdom of nondual practice to working with social identities; and the Hebrew letter Gimel, which is said to personify Giving and also has a numerical value of 3. A husband who silently recites his wedding vows to me every Friday evening at the Shabbos table as he slips the wedding band on my finger. Daughters who continue to teach and inspire me through shring books, moveies, and their own  life lessons. Friends who loaned us their condo for a month while we had work done on our house. A colleague who takes so much responsibility for her opinions and actions that I am actually learning as we work together how to be in conflict, even disconnection, and stay in relationship. A richness of communities and colleagues – of healing, of inquiry, of writing, of practice, of vision and action, of readers.

 

Hymn to the Thanksgiving Table

This year I come to the table as a guest, in a tradition-breaking and welcome change, the table….

….. as a gathering of aromas and flavors and recipes to be exchanged

….. as a an invitation to listening and sharing and rewriting stories

….. as a privileged place of safety in a world where legions of humanity are without roof, walls, table and food

….. as an altar and a focal point of ceremony and ritual

….. as a place of healing, where each guest may take in nourishment she needs to come  home  to  herself

May we each be inspired to work in our own way

to bring about food, table, walls, roof, a place to exhale,

for every human being.

Changes of season, changes of state: they matter

We humans, as all life on our planet, are made to shift with the seasons,  change our state,  our activities, our being.

Changes of state fascinate me.   The roles of temperature, pressure, motion, scale. Vapor to water to ice.  Relaxation to anxiety.  Mystery to revelation. A sudden change of mood, perception, mind, heart. Uncountable changes of all these types fly past us unnoticed every day.  These moments matter, and so do the properties they exhibit.

Venetian Glass i was inspired by the following curated description:

Although glass … acts like a solid, it is actually most like a super-cooled liquid. When glass is cooled, it cools too fast for the atoms to form a crystalline structure. This means the atoms are still able to vibrate slightly but not rotate or translate the way they are able to do in a liquid or gas phase.
Quote and banner photo above: Dale Chihuly Venetian Glass exhibit
Alamance Arts, Graham, North Carolina
August, 2016

 

Venetian Glass i

by Sara Eisenberg

gone, the season of

august heat,

air heavy with with-

held rains,

sun-loving plants thrusting straight,

straight up into the open furnace-door of sky,

shade plants and me

on our knees,

hugging the ground then

 

cooled down,

I’ve been cooled down,

swung, sassed miles riding on

blue notes wailed by some

saxophonic wind-force

 

vacillating still between

demon and angel.

 

You can still trace my shape with your fingers,

follow the gold strands embellishing my surface,

feel how I vibrate slightly.

 

I occupy the same space,

act like a solid, yet

I can no longer

pour myself into the shape of my life

nor diffuse through it.


For more poetry:

 

 

 

Elegy for Young Elm Trees

Six young elm trees have volunteered over the years, taken root right up against our home, as if protecting us from unwelcome forces of nature that might come from any direction. The tallest among them hugged the west side, and provided welcome shade from a summer afternoon sun that seemed to hang in the west for an unnatural number of hours, baking the house and its inhabitants. But it was starting to dislodge the roof shingles, and I had put the tree work off as long as I could.

 

IMG_2552So last night at dusk I took  a chunk of my favorite dark chocolate (Icelandic, 70%) and a handful of ceremonial tobacco and circled our city lot in clockwise fashion. I made my offerings to the young elms. Gave my thanks for their shade, their anchoring and protection, and suggested to them that they might want to loosen their roots a bit in anticipation of the saws that would arrive this morning.

This morning Excel Tree Service made quick and noisy work of the whole thing.

 

Tonight I grieve the elms. This plot

of land is altered, atilt, ill at ease. I am

exposed, off balance, as if someone has made quick

and noisy work of me. These rough-hewn lines

stand. I run

my hands over their rough bark.


A Hymn to the Plants:  http://alifeofpractice.com/musings/915/

 

Instructions to a gardener: know your gesture, praise life

I’ve been taking instruction from weedy plants now for some time.

Dandelions tell me where the topsoil is depleted of nutrients.

Blackberries and creepers teach me close and diligent observation and pruning.

Plantains reveal the paths that heavy rains travel across the surface of our back yard,  a low point into which the whole block drains.

Every  plant – and every human being – makes its characteristic gesture.

The plants remain single-minded in their praise-fest of life.

We humans, not so much.

 

Instructions to a gardener

by Sara Eisenberg

 

Let the dandelions

root

and carry buried nutrients to my soil

surface.

 

Give the thorny blackberries room to spread, increase their fruiting.

 

Let-be the creepers to shade

an interior

life.

 

Prune

the

mind.

 

Follow the plantains as they

follow the

water

path.

 

Every green thing is pre-

occupied with,

gestures us towards

redemption.


More praise for the plants: http://alifeofpractice.com/musings/915/

More on spring plants for cleansing: http://alifeofpractice.com/herbalism/choose-a-spring-cleanse-thats-right-for-you/

More poetry: http://alifeofpractice.com/poetry/still-life-with-cat-2/

 

 

I’m gonna rock my rhythms into 2017

I am about to rock my way into 2017, re-membering and re-calibrating to my own rhythms.

As the year turns, I will be blessed once again to visit Assateague Island, wonder at the shaggy wild ponies as they wander roadside fields, see what changes the weather has brought this year.

Assateague is a barrier island, 37 miles long, stretching offshore of Maryland and Virginia. At no point is the island more than a mile wide. Overwash continues to move the island landward: winter storms move sand from ocean-side beach and dunes and deposit it along the landward side, sometimes opening new inlets or closing old ones. Depending on the severity of the storms and the extent of the changes, recovery may or may not take place over the gentler summer months.

I will take some time to sit in one of these generous wooden rockers on the deck at the Visitor’s Center and consider how the year has re-shaped me.

A year a go I found myself aware not only of possibilities but also of hesitancies, uncertainties, limitations: irresolution. I passed up goal-setting in favor of some open questions – and now I have a few answers.

How am I being drawn forward in my life as well as shaped or impelled by my past?

I have been drawn forward into teaching and group facilitations by hearts, minds, and hands extended toward me in partnership and collaboration. And impelled forward by consuming interests  from my past (I mean past, as in 20 years!) that have reappeared, seeking re-integration: social activism, Jewish renewal, the texts of Kashmir Shivaism.

It has, in fact, been a little spooky how people from that earlier era have made a series of reappearances into my life, and we have picked up conversations as if we had left off just yesterday.

Clearly there is some Very Large Rhythm at play here.

What is the thread I have followed, sometimes consciously, sometimes not?

When I posed this question a year ago, I had in mind some theme, a result perhaps, like, oh, becoming more myself. But I think the thread I have followed has been a process thread: listening and choosing. Listening to what Life is saying, what Life is offering, what Life is denying. And then choosing. And then making myself responsible for my choices.

What do I know that I have not allowed myself to know that I know?

That the Universe has my back. And not just sometimes. All the time. I’ll admit I have come to this from a place of doubt, even skepticism. I came to it through outcomes much grander than my partners and I could have created out of our own volition and skill. And through losses that did not fell me.

That with the Universe at my back, I need no longer sit when I should stand, stand when I should walk, walk when I should dance.

Which is a very good thing, because, my friends, 2017 is calling us loud and clear to stand together, walk together, dance together. 

There are some very Large Rhythms at play, and some very Large Dissonances at play, and the Universe has our back.