Awakening, compassion and trust, coronavirus musings, courage, gratitude, Mindfulness and Meditation

Musings on the meaning of it all

These days I wake early-ish…before the rest of the house is up. I need those two hours to drink coffee in silence and to sit.
I yearn to be alone.
I read from Richard Wagamese’s One Story, One Song…it soothes me, roots me into the present.

Sometimes I pretend that this is a regular morning, that soon I will put my book down and wake my daughters and they will get ready to catch the bus for school.  In my pretending I forget for a moment that this is not a normal day, that my husband is still upstairs.
Today when he comes down my greeting is not warm…I silently wish he would go away.

The day before today I was awash with gratitude for my family, feeling so lucky to have those I love safe under one roof. I stood at the foot of my daughters’ beds and touched their feet and wept. I made pancakes and woke everyone with a smile and a song. I hugged my husband hard and told him how much I love him.

I still do.

But today…I wish he would go away. Go outside. Take a drive in the truck…a long one.

This is day 23 of sheltering in place…I think.

This is normal, I tell myself.
During a pandemic it must be normal to ride these waves of emotion and extremes of love and loathing and anger.
It’s normal to want to hide in my bed and eat nothing but toast with butter.
It’s normal to long to sit on my meditation cushion and burn sage and be still and breathe and then struggle to my feet because I am about to be engulfed by a tsunami, like I am already under water all the time, moving slowly.
So slowly.

Sometimes I think it is enough just to lie on the floor and breathe. I think of those in ICUs all over the world, on ventilators, and with purpose I breathe in and out…I feel the constant presence and comfort of my own breath. I breathe with gratitude, with love.

And this is all I know: that I don’t know much anymore except that these long days seem to be offering us an invitation – an invitation to stop turning away from the hard inner work that is required if we want to change ourselves and our world.
To learn how to sit still, and feel into the murkiness of this time with curiosity and love. To find in ourselves a willingness to undergo our journey with compassion and in total trust.
To listen.
To breathe slowly.

And if the virus offers us anything, it’s the opportunity to practice compassion. For ourselves, and for all the beautiful, imperfect people on this planet struggling in solitude along with us.

In all of this, we are never truly alone…as my dear husband would remind me.

But for now, it is enough to be breathing on this shore, on the edge of the tidal wave, I turn to the mystery with curiosity and love and trust.
What else can I do?



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.

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.”




Awakening, freedom, Joy, Mindfulness and Meditation

Wake up in the morning and laugh

I have often marveled at the intense emotions that are waiting for me immediately upon waking.  Over the winter, I would find myself waking up feeling angry or at least very irritated.  “You just woke up,” I would tell myself, “how on earth can you be angry already!?”

Sometimes my anger would dissipate in the shower or as I brushed my teeth, but often I carried it with me into the morning, and it would affect my interactions with my husband and my children as they went off to school and certainly it affected my approach to my day.

While I realize that there are all kinds of reasons why I might wake up angry, and that my subconscious could well have been dreaming its way through my anger issues as I slept, I still had to deal with this emotion and come to terms with it in the light of day.

So I fell back on meditation, on the principles of peace and Zen to guide me and I found this quote:

Let me give you a wonderful Zen practice. Wake up in the morning…look in the mirror, and laugh at yourself.
~ Bernie Glassman Roshi

As I read it I did laugh, and I realized how seriously I was taking my life and my anger and that this wasn’t really serving me.

While the anger just needed to be felt, it was what I was thinking about my anger that was the problem. I was…getting angry at my anger. I was taking it so seriously, and I wasn’t accepting that it was there, that sometimes you just wake up mad. And as I stomped through my days trying to deny it, I was just strengthening the grip of the emotion I wanted to be released from.

Laughing at myself in the morning has been oddly liberating.  At first I would look in the mirror and start off with a few “ha-has” and even that made me so aware of how serious I was.  And you have to laugh at yourself laughing at yourself in the mirror because it’s somehow so delightfully ridiculous.

This practice really highlighted how I had forgotten to be joyful (after all, this was a new day, a fresh start) and how I was strangling the fun out of my life.


I knew just how seriously I was taking my one, beautiful life because at first when I started laughing in the morning I would sometimes cry, which was also a cathartic release of my anger and a sign to me of how long I had been letting my tension around anger build up. It was such a relief to let it go.

So…if you’ve ever woken up mad, sad, irritated, or even full of joy, I can wholeheartedly recommend looking in the mirror and laughing at yourself.

It is one of the fastest routes to joy I have ever found.

xo Shona

This article was originally published in April 2019 at A Life in Progress. 



Authenticity, Awakening, Women's Work

How optimism is the antidote to positive thinking.

I remember as a child watching the 1962 movie The Miracle Worker, based on the true story of how Anne Sullivan was able to break through the young Helen Keller’s walls of silence and teach her to communicate.  While Anne Sullivan’s tenacity and love are clearly moving, this film actually sparked in me a life-long admiration for and fascination with Helen Keller.

Born in 1880 in Alabama, Helen Keller was rendered deaf and blind as an infant from what was likely scarlet fever. Thanks to Anne, Helen learned to communicate through sign language and eventually to read, to write and to speak.  We can only imagine how incredibly dark, confusing and lonely a place young Helen’s world was, until Anne Sullivan arrived on March 5th, 1887 – a day which Helen describes as “my soul’s birthday.” (

Helen Keller went on to become the first deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. She gave talks and lectures all over the world, was the published author of a dozen books and an intellectual hero (certainly she’s my hero!) and one of the most celebrated women of the 20th century.

Who better to write about optimism than Helen Keller?

Long before our era of “positive thinking” and decades before any scientific evidence would appear on the health benefits of optimism, the remarkable Helen with love and grace was writing about optimism as a life philosophy.  “Her essay, simply entitled Optimism was originally published in 1903 and written – a moment of pause here – after Keller learned to write on a grooved board over a sheet of paper, using the grooves and the end of her index pencil to guide her writing.” (Maria Popova)

So I talk to my children about Helen Keller, the little girl imprisoned in silence and darkness whose actions and outlook show us all the way to the light.  And I focus on these two things:

1) How optimism will serve you better in life than positive thinking. Although not yet teenagers, my daughters have heard that it’s important to “think positive” and of course they struggle with this in the face of life’s day to day challenges – and don’t we all?  The plain fact is, that it’s simply impossible, and I would argue unhealthy, to be positive all the time.  In fact, in asking ourselves to be positive all the time, we often stuff down or gloss over the pain and reality of whatever we may be feeling – sadness, guilt, anger, frustration – they all have a place in our lives and are the emotions that help us to develop the skills to navigate the world as it is.

So often we leap into “raising our vibration,” into “fixing” a low feeling that we miss the opportunity that it presents.

Or, to put it more eloquently, in his poem The Guest House, Rumi explains:

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in…
Be grateful for whatever comes.
Because each has been sent
As a guide from beyond.
Welcome difficulty.
Learn the alchemy
True Human Beings know:
The moment you accept
What trouble you’ve been given,
The door opens.

We have “pathologized the wisdom of the darker, lunar shades of the spectrum” says Matt Licata, we have labelled some of our emotions “bad” and “negative” to our peril.  And in our efforts to be always “up” and sunny and happy-happy we have forgotten the gift of hope – which can only be found in the darkness.  What do you need with hope if everything is always, already great?  To be optimistic is to have confident hope that things will get better, that it wont’ stay hard and dark, that things will change and shift and the sun will rise again.

Optimism: it’s what gets you through the hard, dark times which come to us all.

Few had to work harder or live through darker times than Helen Keller…and perhaps that’s why her light is so bright.

2. My children also know, that for me personally, Helen Keller is my talisman against crippling self-pity. Whenever I start to feel sorry for myself, I allow myself to be inspired by her story.  Quite simply, it gives me hope. If she could accomplish what she did in the face of so many challenges, then how can I possibly think the odds are stacked against me?  I can see, I can hear, I can talk, I have been well educated and I am well fed and comfortable.  All that’s missing is a disciplined mind and a different perspective.

There’s nothing stopping us from living purposeful, intentional, happy lives except ourselves, our limiting beliefs, and our negative self-talk.

Helen Keller knew this and proved this better than anyone I know. And before I am accused of using Helen Keller as a way to “think positive” I can assure you that like you, I have bright days and dark days, days when I am not so proud of myself, days when I weep in sheer frustration and days when frankly I have no idea what I’m doing.  I have been speaking with a gifted Jungian therapist for 15 years because I know I have to explore what makes me uncomfortable, I know that what Susan David asserts in her Ted Talk is true: “Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.”

I choose hope, for in the dark messy weeds of my issues lies the golden light of opportunity and redemption. 

Most days, I am more than willing to work hard at this because like Helen, I am not interested in a falsely positive life, I am interested in a real and meaningful one.

Helen’s ability to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles in her life was a superpower. People who heard her speak reported that they felt lighter, even happier after being in her presence.  I can imagine the golden glow of optimism that must have fallen from her like gentle rain on her audience.  How hope, like honey in her veins, kept her going in the quiet, dark but undoubtedly full and happy world that was eventually hers. Against all odds, and indeed because of those odds, Helen Keller was able to bring us the grace and beauty of her optimism.

I often believe that this is what is needed, in a world that seems to be growing ever darker, where we seem to have lost our way, where you could turn to the dark and let it engulf you — can we instead look to the brilliant example of a woman unconquered by darkness, who by the light within her shows the way to the light through optimism.  This is not the endless call to pretend all is well or to give up in the face of pain, but to acknowledge the dark and keep going anyways…with optimism in our hearts, following the light of hope.

xo Shona