Animals and Nature, Awakening, courage, gratitude, grief

Learning how to walk with my ancestors

The other day, an oriole on a watering can reminded me of an important truth.

A few years ago, when my aunt died, I was looking after her estate. Although my aunt had been a very challenging presence in my life, I had a deep affection and love for her. In my grief I was still present enough to appreciate the sharp and analytical mind that had enabled her to keep her affairs well organized, her investments sound, and all her ducks in a row well into her 80’s.

I remember sitting in the dining room with all of her bank statements and bills and investment portfolios spread out on the large table in front of me. Much of this stuff may as well have been written in Greek, because I’m an English major, not an accountant.  Occasionally I would find little notes of encouragement from her scribbled on the top of files – she knew I would be looking after things when she was gone, and while she seemed to have complete faith in me, she understood that I would not be enjoying this part of it.

So as I doggedly worked there in a sea of papers and spreadsheets, punctuated by little jolts of love as I found her notes, I was startled to see a bright, beautiful oriole at the dining-room window.  It was perched on the window ledge and it was literally pecking at the glass, as if to get my attention. I caught my breath and was spell bound, it was so close and it stayed at that window for almost a minute. Cocking its head, looking at me.

When it flew away I smiled. I felt as though my aunt had come to visit and offer me her blessings, perhaps it was her way of telling me not to give up. Regardless, I was just so thrilled to have an oriole at my window.

And then, a few moments later, this same oriole appeared on the opposite side of the dining room, at the other window.  It had flown right around the entire house, to peer in this other window and peck at the glass.

And as I sometimes do when nature speaks directly to me, I burst into tears.

I felt all my aunt’s love flow over me and course through me in that moment.

I felt so blessed and so loved and so at peace with the process before me.

I whispered “thank you, thank you” to that tiny orange bird until it finally flew away. I have held this memory in my heart ever since.

And so last week, as I was once again working on my personal and business income tax papers – a task I can easily find any reason to put off (procrastination) and about which I can feel defeated before I even begin because I don’t think I’m good at it (perfectionism)  – I looked out the window and saw an oriole. It was perched on the red watering can next to our vegetable garden. It hopped on and off that watering can a couple of times. It turned this way and that. It cocked it’s head at me.

I threw open the window and spoke to it.  Whispered words of welcome and love and joy to it. Because of course every time I see an oriole I know my aunt it with me.

And then it dawned on me that I was once again at a desk doing accounting work…and that she was lending me the power of her presence. Lending me her expertise, her business savvy, her confident, analytical mind. She was telling me, you can do it, I’m here to help. So just keep going.

Flowing from her to me through the oriole was all the wisdom and know-how she possessed. How do I know this? Because I could feel it. I was not alone with my task, and I no longer felt so intimidated by it.

I learned (again) that I could do hard things – especially when I called in my ancestors, the wisdom in their bones and blood flowing to me and within me.

And so that blessed oriole reminds me, my aunt reminds me, that I can ask for and receive help from those who came before me. The gifts and talents of our ancestors are available to us. They flow to us on the wings of the birds.

Whatever hard tasks lie before us, many of them far harder than filling out an income tax form, I know this: we are not alone. The ancestors walk with us. And they have done hard things before.

 

 

Animals and Nature, Awakening, creativity, gratitude, Inspiration, Mindfulness and Meditation

What to do when you feel so uninspired

Whenever I think I have nothing left to write, when I feel so uninspired, I make myself move.  And in the cold, icy days of winter, I am not exaggerating when I say that I have to coerce myself into taking a walk outside.

I think of Wordsworth, the Romantic poet, who legend has it would stride across the English moors for hours, in all kinds of weather, finding there the tranquility and inspiration for his poetry.

Movement and nature – at the very least they offer a way to prevent our creative energy from stagnating, and at their best a doorway to infinite inspiration.

It makes sense that Wordsworth would hike, long and often, if his many, beautiful creative works are anything to go by – stirring the pot, moving from yin (passive receptivity, waiting for inspiration to knock down your door) to yang (moving to greet or to seek inspiration).

So on one of my last walks, stirring the yang with dogged determination (a beautiful blue sky, sun on the snow and frigid temperatures– my cheeks red, my nose and eyes watering, yet somehow sweating my way up the hills in my big, down-filled winter coat) and thinking of Wordsworth (as you do), I notice how inspiration almost always comes to me within the first five minutes of my walk, it starts before I’ve even crested the hill…and along the river it unfolds in my mind. And I smile.

I used to worry that I would lose the idea, that I should rush home to write it down – but even when there is a delay between the inspiration and the writing, the words always come back to me.

Perhaps that is the nature of inspiration – it is not springing from my mind but entering my mind from a divine source that does not rely on my thinking mind or my memory – it only needs my willingness to receive…to enter back into a yin state like a fluid dance, to open myself to inspiration through a willingness to move my body and to quiet my mind.

I confess that Wordsworth was never my favorite Romantic poet – as a student I found him too flowery, too earnest, too…cheesy (I prefer Blake or Coleridge).  But he has helped me here in some tangible way, for the Romantics held all of nature dear, in the face of the Industrial Revolution that saw the countryside depopulated, and the rise of science with it’s relentless rationalizing of the natural world –  in their writing they offered us daffodils, a grain of sand, an abbey in the moonlight.

They knew what was being overlooked, lost, and forgotten…they saw nature through the eyes of love and wonder.

They were humbled by her beauty and they spoke for her against the great noise and machinery of progress.

On this walk I imagine Wordsworth, I imagine how- had he lived in Ontario- he may have written in his elegant hand about the humble Humber River that flows near my home.  I take joy -as I am certain he also did- in the movement of my body through the fields, in simply being outside in the cold air, among the trees, next to the swift-moving but silent river full of fresh snow.

In the midst of this natural beauty I am glimpsing the never-ending winding stream of time that brings us all back here – to a moment of movement, vision and eternal stillness.

A perfect present moment under the sky, where hope and inspiration lost are found, where:

I listen’d, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill,
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.
– William Wordsworth, from The Solitary Reaper

 

 

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.”

 

 

 

Animals and Nature, Awakening, freedom, Joy, Mindfulness and Meditation, Mystery and Magic

This is why I walk barefoot in the woods

Today on my walk I did something different.

At the start of the trail, I took off my arch-supporting runners and my sweat-wicking, odour-controlling socks and walked barefoot through the woods.

I had to really concentrate on where I was going, to really look at the dirt of the path, the rocks, find the patches of still tender green grass on the side, avoid the roots and mud.

The difference to walking with shoes was both dramatic and subtle.

Because I could feel every part of the path with my feet, and I had to slow down, it was as if I was seeing this forest and this trail for the first time.

It felt…different…because for the first time the soles of my feet were greeting this landscape. And when I paused, I could sense a subtle change in the way this forest, this beautiful piece of nature reached out to me; no longer disconnected by the insulating rubber barrier of my runners, I felt recognized and yet at the same time undetectable, almost invisible.

As if I had become part of the forest,

a rock on the path,

a fly in the air,

the dancing leaves on the tree.

Birds seemed to startle at my quiet barefoot approach in ways I hadn’t noticed when I walked (probably faster and more stridently) in my shoes.  I had to slow down.  The bugs, the squirrels, the blackbird all got a good look at me.

Near the end of the path I was slow and quiet enough to notice a pitter-patter on the long grasses and low bushes next to me.  The sky was blue, cloudless, and I could see that it wasn’t raining…so I peered closer…and discovered that it was in fact raining caterpillars, from a nest high in the tree above.  I laughed, for this felt like a perfect ending to my barefoot roaming, the fuzzy brown tent caterpillars, in their cozy fall sweaters, free falling and dreaming of flying again, with white wings in the autumn breeze.

I share this because all of my barefoot walks, but especially this one, continue to show me how nature is not for me, it is part of me and more importantly I am part of it.

I am learning to listen when it calls, to walk the forest paths barefoot when I can, so I can slow down, so I can be found again. The forest tells me I belong here, just as I am.

Her dirt is still between my toes, and on my heels, now on my kitchen floor, I feel young and alive and somehow free.  I have found the way home, it’s right outside my door, it’s right outside your door.

My bare foot prints in the dirt are an invitation answered, a longing understood and redeemed, a deliberate stepping into the great cathedral.

Won’t you join me in the woods?

Walk barefoot in the fields, by the river.

Let yourself be found.

 

 

 

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