Animals and Nature, Authenticity, Awakening, gratitude, Mindfulness and Meditation

When all seems lost I listen to the trees

I know it may seem like a deeply creative act, that is – an act of pure imagination – to presume that I could have a conversation with a tree…but I have.

I have sat beneath Oak, Ponderosa Pine, Sugar Maple, Spruce, Black Walnut, Weeping Willow, Poplar, Cedar, Locust, Birch and Elm to name but a few — and we have silently communed.

Some of the best conversations I have ever had have been with trees and I can assert, like Bob Ross, that “there’s nothing wrong with having a tree for a friend.”

Apart from offering their grounded and immensely healing and peaceful energy, trees have something particular to say to me.  And that is that although I love my time in the forest, and I prefer to go into the forest alone (for those are my moments to commune in joy with nature and the immense design of things) – I am supposed to bring you (all of you) into the woods. “Bring the others” the trees whisper to me, over and over.  It’s like an assignment, my task, the answer to my burning desire to fulfill my purpose.

I am called to bring you outside, into the forest, to the very base of a tree. And let the trees take care of you.

And they already are taking care of you. As my friend, gifted artist and fellow tree-lover Anni Bretschneider  reminds us: “There’s strong growing evidence that trees communicate through their root systems. It’s a thriving community network that includes Mother trees redirecting resources to younger saplings. Trees provide fruit and flowers, food, protection with their canopy, medicine, seeds, temperature control, shelter and habitat for animals and birds. Their roots absorb excess water, provide flood protection and reduce soil erosion. Trees provide the raw materials to build the tables we eat on, the chairs we sit in, the fires we burn and the homes we live in. Your very life and our ecosystem depend wholly on trees to survive. It is a reciprocal relationship where trees filter our air and keep it clean by exchanging CO2 gases and oxygen. And, as a community, trees give us tremendous beauty through captivating forests.”

Science has discovered so much about trees and their role in regulating temperature, weather and climate on the earth. I would like to believe that our salvation lies in science…but I find it easier to believe that salvation can be found in the forests and jungles of this sweet earth.  And I feel that if we do not know and love the woods and trees of the land that holds us, we will not care if it burns.

And if we cannot know the woods and trees of the land that holds us as OURSELVES…we won’t care when it’s all burned down, when nothing is left for our children or grandchildren or their children.

And so many of us are lost.  Not lost in the woods like the children in fairy tales but lost in a wasteland of our own making, relentlessly attached to our technology which pulls us ever further from the calm, healing love of the natural world – a world where we are perfect just as we are – thin enough, smart enough, good enough…enough.

We have forgotten who we are…but the trees know.

They long to bathe us in their love and remember us back into being.  They live, in part, to let us know that we belong in the woods, with them. Although the outdoors may feel like foreign, even hostile terrain to us, gritty with dirt, biting bugs, heat and cold and mud and pollen, and even bears, we belong there.

It’s time to get lost in the woods again.

How can we connect with and have gratitude for trees? Hug one – yes, be a tree hugger. Or at least place your hand on one and feel it’s bark.
Drink in it’s shimmering beauty with your eyes.
Talk to one.
Sit with one.
Paint one.
Write about one.
Love one.
Listen.

And if you will not or cannot go outside and sit by a tree, then at your Maple desk or Pine kitchen table or Mahogany bookshelf, feel that wood grain under your fingers, the vibrant grooves, the way it meets your energy softly, returns your touch in a way that steel or cement or glass never can. Because that wood – it was once alive.

And all that’s left now is for us to be grateful, for all that has been given.  For all we stand to lose.

So will you go outside now and stand with the trees? Will you listen?  Just listen and breathe and be thankful.

For the Oak, she keeps asking me “Where are the others? Bring them and gather here in the forest, beside me. Let us breathe together and be together, again. All the lost children of earth, come to me now and be found.”

 

 

 

Authenticity, Awakening, gratitude, Women's Work

On how I found a way forward by honoring my ancestors

I am the eldest daughter, of the eldest daughter, of the eldest daughter of another eldest daughter.

And so it may not surprise you to learn that I am the keeper of both my maternal and paternal families’ past, keeper of the keepsakes, the objects that mean “family,” “tradition” and “memory” and even “love” have mostly all passed to me.

I have not always wanted or appreciated these items or the task of “keeping” them.

The responsibility of continuity, the weight of time, I didn’t want it.  So I pretended for many years that it didn’t matter, my long, winding Scottish/Welsh/Irish ancestry was not important, the family I was born into was irrelevant. I wanted to be modern, to look forward, to shed the outmoded traditions of the past.

In my desire to walk my path unencumbered by the weight of so many people, old ideas, old outmoded expectations, judgments, and memories – I forgot that there was love and strength flowing to me.

I forgot to be humble and honor the great trust that was being handed to me, I forgot what it meant to be the eldest daughter of the eldest daughter.

Over the years I packed up these items and the stories that went with them – stories of war and love, hardship and loss, and joy. I stored them safely away, agreed to hand them down to the next generation – perhaps unused, unappreciated, by me. Never brought into the light, the flame of memory, of love and continuity.

But I see things differently now.

The strength in the bone and love in the blood of this lineage, my lineage, it matters.

It deserves so much more than my offhand acknowledgment, my casual care.

And so does yours, your lineage matters…because you are here now, singing its future into being, it matters.

“When you proceed on your course, never forget you are not alone. You have friends and family, but you also have your ancestors. Your ancestors sing in your blood. Call to them. Their strength through the ages will come into you.” Patti Smith

I have called upon the deep ancestries of others, I have cherished and practiced the traditions of other tribes and I have found there profound healing and grounding and I have felt rise up in me a loving connection to this land I call home, the forests and fields and hills of the sweet piece of earth I live on now.

But the question was asked: what about your own ancestors?

Are they not the medicine of your bones, is your own being not also rooted in the long line of people from which you spring?

All the ones who came before you in order for you to exist now, as Shona.

Do not dwell only in the borrowed wisdom of another family, dwell also in the sacred ground of your own blood and bone.

And from that moment on, I was able – for the first time – to truly see and cherish my own ancestors. I was willing to root down in to the truth and the customs and the love that was theirs.

I can hear them singing in my veins now…they have suddenly come alive in me. The flame of love and gratitude and reverence has been lit.

What is the story you hold in your being that longs to be told?

Can you let yourself be the bridge, the arc, that binds the past to the present and the light of an unknown future?

Can you, through your own healing, through your own understanding of who you truly are, light the way for all those who came before you and for all those still to come?

Can you call on them in times of need, find yourself and your way forward by resting into the arms of the ancestors who carried you here?

I know now, that to find my way forward, I will need to sing the song of the earth – who is mother to us all, our most ancient ancestor, the song in my very body that is my ancestral past, and the song in my heart that is mine alone to sing, and is the future of my lineage.

We all hold that sacred, fragile and potent potential within us.

I am the eldest daughter, of the eldest daughter, of the eldest daughter of another eldest daughter… it is a burden I take up willingly now and with joy. It has become a privilege.

Blood of my blood and bone of my bone, deep river, bounding deer, black earth and ancient rock…bring us all together in all our divine diversity to live again in love…bring us back to the love that carries us forward forever.

xo Shona

 

 

Authenticity, Awakening, courage

This is why what you have to offer is enough

Above my desk I have pinned up the following quote:

“Forget your perfect offering.”

You may recognize this line from Leonard Cohen’s song Anthem and the line that follows is the often memed: “there is a crack in everything, that‘s how the light gets in.”

I am a big fan of Leonard Cohen’s music and poetry and when I listen it feels like all he offers is perfect. In Anthem he speaks of the imperfection of the human condition, and how it is through that imperfection that we find our redemption and our hope.

And such is the nature of Cohen’s work that in this song it also feels like he is speaking directly to me.  And so, I listen and I am inspired.

Last year I was lucky enough to see the Leonard Cohen exhibition on it’s last day in Montreal.  And one of the things that stood out to me was the story of how in order to have his poetry reach more people, to have his “voice” heard, (and indeed in order to continue to make a living writing poetry) he started putting his poetry to music and singing.

And – especially when he started – he was not a good singer.  Video footage at the exhibition of some of his earliest forays into music were cringe-worthy, but even then he sang with joy and with a gentle, almost wise smile on his face, knowing his poetry was beautiful – and that we were finally listening.

Forget your perfect offering – even in a crowded exhibition hall – he seemed to speak directly to me.

He was generous enough to himself and his art to let himself fail.

He stepped out of his comfort zone to ensure that he was seen, that his “music” his poetry was heard. To ensure that he could continue doing the work that was his calling.

He took a risk, did something he wasn’t good at in order to offer…to offer.

And so I remind my perfectionist self, who is sneaky, pervasive and crippling, who would allow me to stagnate and die inside the walls of my house – a healer hiding in the attic – to forget about being perfect, to forget my perfect offering.

I print off Leonard’s words and tape them, yes scotch-tape them, to the wall by the window. Purposefully not framed in a Pinterest-worthy handwritten script on canvas – just imperfectly there. A reminder.

In this way I remember, to forget my perfect offering.

To just offer what I have to give, to step out and be seen – to speak, to write, to stand in the circle and be counted – to bring it and trust that those who need it will hear it, will feel the genuine vibration of my love rising from my imperfect hands.  Hear the song rising from my broken and healing heart.

May you too know you have something to give – perhaps something you have long denied, or something you might let slip away – may you find a way to share it, imperfectly.

May you and I be brave enough to step beyond our comfort zones and sing.

The broken world needs all the love and light we have to offer.

Forget your perfect offering and bring what you have.

Bring it. It is enough.

Animals and Nature, Authenticity, Awakening, courage, freedom

Self-reliance and the powerful medicine of the heron

Twice this week we have been gifted with the arrival of a magnificent great blue heron on the shore of this small lake.

We watched him walk through the fog on long legs, we saw him swiftly spear for fish, we watched him fly away on huge wings, flashing blue, a regal spirit-bird disappearing across the lake into the mist.

We were in awe, seeing the soul of this beautiful bird that came to our shore, a visit from a winged messenger.

I know now the art of connecting the appearance of a bird or animal with an issue I have been wrestling with.  On my mind these days has been a reworking of the expression of my authentic self, of letting go of aspects of myself that just aren’t true for me anymore – those things I do not want to take with me into the future.

So as I gazed at the heron I found myself remembering this: in past careers, I have been lucky to have had a boss or director who saw potential in me and wanted to develop it.  On at least three occasions I had a boss who wanted to groom me for promotion, who beat the drum for me, gave me opportunities, planned my upward trajectory with me.

And while this is something I was and still am very grateful for, when I look back, I see a revealing pattern. In each case, the person with the pom-poms was removed from the picture before the vision for my career leap had taken form.  In one case it became clear, after many years, that the person whose job I was being groomed for was just never going to leave that job, one director was let go due to corporate “restructuring” and another left for work in another city to be closer to family.

And in their absence I was left to wrestle with the fact that I didn’t really want for myself the dream they had for me.  I didn’t doubt my ability to accomplish it, I just didn’t really want it.  I didn’t hunger for it.  Without their enthusiasm behind me the dream just fizzled out.

And I think that’s why, each time, my mentor/promoter/boss was removed from the picture…to help me stand on my own and figure out where my true path lay.

To show me that I had to bring my own pom-poms and that to do the work required it had to be for something I was truly excited about, something I wanted to reach for.

Which brings me back to the heron.  It’s keynote message for me is about self-determination and self-reliance.

“Heron reflects a need for those with this totem to follow their own innate wisdom and path of self-determination. Follow what is best for you, rather than the promptings of others.” Ted Andrews.

I can see now that I am not traditional in my life roles. I don’t want to be.

I want to stand in my uniqueness, with joy and power, dignity and grace, and follow my own path, unapologetically.

Even aggressively if needed. The editing voice in my head says that the word “assertive” would be better received here, but the way the heron catches his fish is aggressive poetry in motion.

Because the heron, when he aims for a fish, is not messing around.  He is spearing with precision and speed, grasping the opportunity presenting itself, while strongly standing in the water.  He is not apologizing for who he is, he is simply his magnificent self.

He stands on his own.

This is his message to me about self-reliance, his medicine so gracefully given.

From out of the mist I hear him, on blue wings he tells me:  stop apologizing for who you are, stop explaining, stop holding back.  The way you want to live is not for everyone.  Shed the burden of others ideas of who and what you are or could be – for this muddies the waters.  To do this work you will have to stand on your own, root yourself into the earth and balance in the currents of life to recognize and seize the opportunities that are truly yours.

An opportunity he immediately taught me to grab is to share the healing medicine of the natural world with my daughters.  My youngest is as transfixed with animals and birds as I am, she has a natural way with them, and may she always treasure this gift.

And so I take this opportunity to be my authentic self, to stand strong in the swift flowing waters of life with the ease and confidence of a heron, that my daughters may hear their own inner wisdom coming forth and know how to answer it.  To help them unravel the medicine and mysteries of all the plants, trees, insects, animals and birds of this sweet earth.  While they are still receptive, before the noise of the world closes in.

My deepest gratitude to the great blue heron who has shared his powerful medicine with me, and sends me forward with more strength and determination and greater clarity than before.

Truly your sweet arrival through the mist was a gift.

Xo Shona

 

 

Authenticity, Awakening, grief, Joy, Mindfulness and Meditation

How to help when you don’t have the answers

Last spring, my 12-year-old daughter said something to me that has been reverberating in my bones ever since.  She was struggling to cope with a group of girls at school who were being incredibly unkind to her, and I very much wanted to help her.  And so I was constantly jumping in with advice and solutions, speaking daily and at length about how I thought she should handle it.

Finally, she said to me: “Mom, I don’t need you to fix this.  I just need you to listen.”

And so, in the months that followed, I resisted the urge (on most occasions) to jump in and “fix” her situation and I practiced just being present for her, just listening with love and gentle curiosity, grateful that she wanted to talk to me about what was happening in her life.

Usually, I only offered advice if she asked, which wasn’t very often at all.  She really did need me to simply listen.

And this practice, inspired by my wise daughter, has actually changed the way I see my role not only in my relationship with her, but with everyone I know.

To start with it made me so aware of how often I tend to jump in and “help” everyone, offering unsolicited tips and strident words of encouragement and commandments in the face of their tears and turmoil.

I would feel their pain and want to talk them out of it, shepherd them through the darkness to the light.  I thought this was how I could help.

I believed this was the best I could offer…but it wasn’t.
I realized that I could be offering so much more – in fact, we all could.

Perhaps like I did, you believe that this desire to advise and problem solve comes from a place of love, but it is more often a result of what Matt Licata calls “an avalanche of our own urgent, anxious, fixing energy” that likely springs from an unresolved desire to fix our own lives.  It can also be a reflection of our discomfort with the chaos of strong emotions.

So I told myself this: Shona, if a friend comes to you in emotional turmoil and you wish to respond with love you simply open your arms and your heart and close your mouth unless you are going to utter kind and soothing words.

Over and over again I resist the desire to solve or resolve the other person’s crisis/challenge/pain – because I now know that unless they actually ask for my advice, that’s not what they’re looking for.

I know how powerful the act of being quietly present and attuned in the face of someone’s pain can be,  because I am blessed to have someone in my life who holds this space for me.

I have noticed the space that opens up when you feel like you are falling apart and someone simply listens to you with compassion. Not problem solving for you or thinking about what they are going to say to you next or analyzing why you are having this experience but REALLY listening.

Without judgement. Without rushing you to a resolution.

Listening not just to the words you are saying but to the unspoken depth of feeling emerging through the panic, grief, and confusion of the moment.

You are heard.
You are witnessed.
You no longer feel alone with your pain.

You are offered safe space to process what is happening, offered not a sermon but a sanctuary.

And in that moment, you are touched, even healed in a way that well-intentioned advice could never accomplish.

I confess when my daughter asked me not to fix but to listen, part of me was relieved. Because I simply don’t have all the answers and in this mad world, who does?

But I know what I CAN do. I know that no matter what is going wrong for her I can slow down and listen with love, I can welcome her words and her hard story and let her know that even if things are not ok, that that’s ok.

With my quiet, loving, compassionate presence I tell her: “sweet girl, you don’t have to heal or have it all figured out in this moment for me to stay by your side…I am here.”

So perhaps you are relieved along with me, relieved to know that if you are a compulsive fixer that you don’t have to offer any solutions.  Because in fact that is not what is needed.

What is needed is just one moment of genuine, loving, quiet connection to change pain into peace.

We all have the power to be still and let healing come through us into the world, simply by being present with another, without judgement.  To hold a safe space for a friend or a daughter as they struggle to make sense of this messy, confusing but beautiful life.
To help them know that they are worthy and loved. To offer them, in your grounded presence, shelter from the storm.

When you are unsure of how to help — this is how.

Xo Shona