In these warmer days, Gibbs has a funny habit during his afternoon walks. He will start off in a patch of shade, sniff around and sit for a while, then run with a big smile on his face and tail wagging to the next patch of shade to repeat this all over again. The park we have taken to walking in during the afternoons has plenty of shade for him to do this in, and grass to run on, and there is always a breeze. And at the end of the short walk there is a stream to drink from and swim in. So he is a happy little walker whose shade hopping amuses me!
Watching him the other day I realized that this is life at the moment though. We hop from one safe spot to the next, running in between them as quickly as possible. We stay in the shade of our homes, then run out to the shops, grabbing what we can as quickly as possible before running back to the shade of our homes. Or deliver meals for the homeless without stopping to chat, or walk in nature keeping far away from other walkers. While some feel it’s safe to linger in those exposed places, even with a mask on I still try to limit my time where I might transmit or pick up CoVid, and not in a fearful way, but in a “I care about you, and want to protect you,” way. I hop from shade to shade, lingering in the shady places for, maybe, a tad too long, but when in the sun scurry along quickly with a masked smile to all I meet. If I had a tail, it might well be wagging as my love for the world shines forth in this way!
I think I am also this way with my feelings. Mostly I try to hang out in the shade, the feelings that are easy, or nothingness, even the apathy and holding it all at arms length. The shade is a place to feel somewhat safe, somewhat protected from the frenetic vibrations of the world around. Yet, every now and then I have to venture into the burning sun of feelings…. The anger, the fear, the grief, the anxiety of the unknown, both the worlds’ and my own. For as much as the shade is ok, the sun is full of life and people and noise and the vibrations scream so loudly that I cannot ignore them any more. It is right to pay attention, to see what the world is seeing. And, yes, it can be hot and dangerous, but these spaces between the shade are bright with truth, and it is more dangerous to ignore these flashes of reality even if they feel like they are burning.
I find though, after dashing through an intense feeling, the shade is no longer a place I want to hang out in. It feels dull, lifeless, a false sense of safety lives there. While it may offer some protection, it slows everything down, makes me feel like I am moving through thick molasses, my thought processes are dull and my body is heavy. The sun is, perhaps, where the life is, the feelings are what brings everything into focus. The shade just keeps it all at bay, yet there is so much more to living that holding those feelings out at arms length.
I think what I really need, though, is that stream of water to plunge into at the end of that sun-shade dance. The water that cools and refreshes, the water where I can soak in God’s love, no matter what I have been feeling before. The stream of grace and mercy and hope. This allows the feelings to be felt in a way that is safe and good, it allows the shade to be seen as a safe, but somewhat lifeless place. The water is what brings true life.
John Lewis wrote these words just before he died:
“When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”
I may write the same sentiment saying, “When historians write this story, let them say it was our generation who stepped out of the shade, who felt the burn of the suns of war and violence and aggression, and waded into Peace and Love, allowing these to guide and refresh and challenge to make good trouble. Let the Living Water be your guide.”
May we not linger too long in the shade, not get burnt too badly by the sun, but let us seek the living waters of Love to show us the way.
Dear Loved Ones,
I was scrolling through Facebook the other day and came across a picture of a friend with her 8 year old son. It was a typical summer photo, mom in large straw hat, son in swim trunks, sun lightened hair glistening, wet from the lake he had just been in, big smiles on their faces. At first it made me smile, but after a while my mind kept returning to the image and a sadness set in.
The sadness was brought on by how much this child has changed since I last saw him back in March. He is in that stage where his face structure is changing, teeth falling out, cheeks loosing their baby look, body lengthening, and all this made me realize just how long social distancing has been happening. While my life has not changed drastically, it has been a long haul since I went to church, ate a restaurant, visited friends without thinking (and only two of my circle have even been on this list), went to a thrift store, visited someone in hospital, hugged or shaken hands… the list goes on. And it made me think of all the lives that have been lost or people who are still suffering from CoVid, many seriously ill for a couple of months. It made me remember all who have lost their jobs, or income from reduced jobs.
And the sadness made me realize that the days are already noticeably shortening, the sun setting earlier each evening, and our CoVid situation is not getting better. We are in this for the long haul, masks on faces, rolling shutdowns a possibility ahead, schools uncertain of what to do, and so many decisions that need to be made with courage to save the most people possible from contracting the virus. It also brought to mind the many conspiracy theories circling that just seem to diminish the severity of loss and grief and allow people to bypass their true feelings.
Along with all this, there is the unrest in several cities, peaceful protests being turned into zones where tear gas and unmarked ‘law enforcers’ stir up trouble and take citizens away without identifying themselves. There is talk of division and hate that comes from those who should be setting an example. There is the story of a congresswoman being called names by others in congress and death threats against those who are working to contain viruses. So much. So, so much.
So, it is unsurprising, I guess, that sadness came.
I sat with it for a while. I cried some tears. I got upset over some small thing and was irritated over nothing. And I tried to get quiet.
The more quiet I became, the louder the world seemed. “Look at this,” it cried. “Over here,” it shouted. So I stayed searching for the quiet. I pulled weeds and scraped old paint off the garage, I went for walks and immersed myself in a lake, I read a book and sat with directees.
Slowly, the quiet seeped in through the noise. The quiet worked its way through the tears. The quiet got under my skin like the dirt under my fingernails. And beneath it all, beneath the sadness and the noise and the tiredness and the uncertainty; beneath it all, there was peace. An assurance that agreed we are in this for a long while more, that acknowledged the grief and fear, that saw the changes and the things that have been lost. And in the quiet, these lines from a prayer that we say some nights came to me:
“Protect us through the silent hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this fleeting world, may rest upon Your eternal changelessness.”
I turn again to God’s eternal changelessness….. this is a time of change and challenge and grief, but in it God is with us, God is walking with us with hope, God is a beacon of light to follow, God is not fleeting but in it for the long haul. God is the one on whom and in whom we can rest. It’s like the very center of a fast spinning roundabout (I don’t know if you had them in the US… they were a playground toy, a large metal circle divided into 4 or 5 sections by metal bars, held by a center post. Someone runs around on the outside turning it as fast as they can run while those on the roundabout hold on tight, screaming and laughing. They were banned soon after I was a child as they were super dangerous!). While the outside of the roundabout is spinning wildly, faster and faster, the center is barely moving. While the spinner, if they run fast enough and hold on tight, can lift their feet off the ground and feel like they are flying for a few seconds, the center post holds still and steady. The closer we can move to the center, the stiller we can be. The more changeless we can become and the further away from danger we are.
This sadness helped me move back from the edges, toward the center once more, toward God’s stillness, toward the knowledge of the changelessness of hope and Love. While the world seemingly spins out of control, our task, my task, is to stay close to the center, the Truth, the Love, the Peace. The sadness and fear and guilt and horror are all still there, but I can be with Peace, silent and ready to move and speak as the silence calls me.
It reminds me of this poem by Ana Lisa de Jong in her booklet “Poetry for a Pandemic.”
HOPE IS MADE
Hope is made for such a day as this.
It is not made for when all
is sweet and light.
Although the memory of the good
can be a fueler of the flame.
Because hope was made for when the darkness
is most apparent.
Hope was made for when the sky has changed
Hope was made for those who cannot wake
And for those who have lost their balance
Yes, hope is not made for the day of goodness.
It isn’t made for when our many blessings
cannot be counted,
gifts showered as blossoms
in the wind.
Hope is made for when the world has been shocked
to silence, except for the ‘O’ of disbelief,
and mouthing of a prayer.
Hope is made for the day that tries our understanding.
May we allow the feelings of sadness and grief and fear to arise so we can stay in hope!
With love and hope,
Gibbs has been having a hard time of it recently. It started with a thunderstorm, then fireworks were being shot off each time we stepped outside, then the big firework display held right across the street from us, more thunder and fireworks followed, leaving Gibbs a shaking, tail between legs dog who wasn’t enjoying his walks anymore. We would walk and he would get 100yds from the house, sit down and look back and forth between me and the house, imploring me with his eyes to just take him home. If we did get further, he would walk close, not even stopping to smell his favorite smells in his best places to walk. And at home, every time a loud noise or a shake of the house happened, he curled up close shaking and panting. Nothing I did seemed to help and I was beginning to get worried, thinking my happy, smiling pup had been broken beyond repair. It took several short, safe walks and lots of love to get him back to his tail wagging, smiling faced, curious about the world around him self. And although loud noises still make him enter into a time of shaking, he is not living in fear anymore, and the shakes subside quickly, leaving him in a place of peace once more.
While his behavior was troubling, I was thankful he was shaking, for this is what allows that trauma to be released from the body. When we experience a trauma, our natural response is to shake. I think of a time when I broke my ankle. I went into freeze mode, but later that night, lying in the hospital bed, I began to shake and had trouble stopping. The shock was finally being felt and released. And this is a good and natural response to a traumatic event. Yet people who experience a trauma in a place or time when they cannot take time out to shake, can end up with that trauma stuck in their bodies. When childhood abuse happens, when there is no escape as the abuser is often a parent or close family friend the child has to freeze their emotions, and these get stored in the body, as memories and blockages. It’s one reason why those who have experienced childhood trauma often get sick as adults. And I think of soldiers on the frontlines who have no time between attacks to allow the trauma to sink in, but, instead, keep on going as a survival technique, pushing themselves to the limits, then collapsing into sleep when they catch a break. This has long lasting, ongoing affects, until the trauma is looked at.
When the body stores the trauma, it is not able to achieve ‘biological completion’. The body has not been allowed to process and release the traumatic event, and when these events are recurring, the trauma gets more and more stuck. When this happens it can show up in ways far removed from the actual trauma, such as explosive rage over little things, suicidal ideation or self harm, addictions or depression. The person is trying to shake itself from the trauma, but using techniques that cause more harm than healing.
Often, when I am working with someone recounting a time of trauma, we pay attention to what is happening in the body, and shaking happens. Sometimes for a while. This can be scary for the person experiencing it, but it is a good thing, for it is allowing the body to release the trauma on a somatic level, moving it through in a more thorough way as it includes the whole body, not just the head or emotions. The shaking works it’s way out, taking the pain and shame and feelings and thoughts with it, little by little, until there is a completion. It may need to occur multiple times to allow the multiple traumas to be worked through, but biological completion will occur. And the stillness that comes after the shaking is often filled with a peace (along with exhaustion sometimes), but peace in which the stillness inside is deeper and truer than any stillness felt before.
This reminds me of the many times in the Bible when chaos is followed by peace. There is the swirling of tumult, the tossing of the waves, the wrestling. And when that has worked itself out, peace. A quietness or stillness that is more than just the noise or the waves. A peace that seeps through the pores and into the core of who we are, that carries a voice of love and hope that cannot be felt very often. The shaking subsides and there we see God, the very God who has held us while we shake, but now we can really see and feel that Divine love for us, that reminder that we are called God’s beloved, an awareness that drops into our very hearts, even if we only catch it for a moment.
So if something happens that causes shaking, allow it to shake. This feels like it goes against every instinct to try to stop it. The shaking is working the trauma out, and, unpleasant as it is, will allow us to return to normalcy, to heal, to even wag our tails again!
I have been spending a fair amount of time recently with my vegetables. I have three separate spaces they are in…. one large summer garden, one pretty big planter and a bed at the side of my house. Two are ones I can plant early with cool crops, while the large one waits until May. And it has been gratifying this year to see things growing (at least the plants, even though not much harvest yet) much better than last year. I have been out there staking the climbers, caging the tomatoes, laying straw down as mulch, planting a second round of beans and beets, weeding and pruning, and so far I have been rewarded with some really sweet peas! But the other day I was doing some work when I spotted something amongst the leaves. My first zucchini had seemingly sprung up overnight and grown to almost ready to pick stage! I was excited and gave thanks, searched for anything else that might be hiding (nothing) and continued to work, letting this first zucchini grow to maturity.
It occurred to me, seeing that zucchini, that gardening is the same as doing our spiritual, healing work. We can work and weed… doing all those unpleasant, sweaty, dirty things that need to be done. We can water and plant and fertilize, trying to draw out the goodness and encourage the things we want to grow. We can struggle to find time to really do the work, or avoid some of it all together. We can get frustrated when unwanted beings and bugs get into the garden.
All of a sudden
When we least expect it
We spot new hope!
Sometimes it is hidden, hard to see. Sometimes we play that game of showing it to the world now or risking the wait until it matures, hoping that something doesn’t come in to get it. Often it takes us by surprise, seeing all that hard work pay off in one quick new swoop.
For me, gardening is also an issue of justice. We must take care of the earth we have been given, creating spaces for butterflies and bees and squirrels. Planting for future generations, both human and other than human. Sharing the bounty with others. And, again, this too is our healing work. We don’t just do it for us. We do it for those around us, those who have come before us and those who will come after us. For the very creation that, as a peoples, we seem to be destroying, but also for our communities and families.
What in your life needs weeding? What needs watering and nurturing? What needs to be pruned? What seeds of hope and justice need to be sown? What needs to be mulched to keep that moisture of love in? What simply needs to be left alone to mature? What is ready to surprise you!
I’ve had a lot of people ask me recently to describe to them what EcoDirection is. The problem is that it’s one of those things that is hard to describe in a few words! The closest I can get is to say it’s a way of being in nature prayerfully to pay attention to how nature is aiding us, responding to our questions, or showing up in our healing.
But maybe the best way to talk about it is to give a couple of examples.
I was out with someone the other day, and she was talking about how to find space in her life for herself with all the responsibilities she has. As we were walking and talking, we came to a long line of lilac bushes, about 12 feet wide and 100 feet long. On one side of the trees was a lot of noise and people working, cutting the grass, moving things around. On the other side was a hermitage, a large field, silence, and no people. We stood in the middle of the line of trees, feeling the dichotomy, sensing the way the bushes were setting a boundary with no feelings of guilt or ‘shoulds’.
When we were ready, we continued on our way. After a minute or so I stopped in my tracks with a smile on my face. There was a car parked by the second hermitage with the license plate, “RU BEEE”. How perfect! Can we ‘be’ in the present, allowing the world to fall away, staying in the presence of the Divine, allowing the world to be there without drawing us into its dramas and demands, without expectations or being caught by the needs of the world, just for a moment or three! The joy on my clients face as we reveled in this unexpected gift of a license plate was expressed with abandon!
Another time, during the training I did, I had an experience I had has stayed with me. As a child most of my remembered physical experiences were hard and painful. As a result I spent a lot of my childhood living outside of my body, disassociated from the physical-ness of life. I have done a lot of work with these painful parts, remembering and re-experiencing them as a path to healing, but it was a surprise when I had a memory of a pleasant physical experience of being a child. It began one night when the rain was coming down hard, and coming into my tent. My sleeping bag was wet, and the sound of rain was hitting the tent, leading me back to times of camping with the Girl Guides as a ten year old. I loved camping, so although this may sound unpleasant to you, it was a gift to have this body memory of a time when I was safe and able to be myself! During a training session I wanted to explore this feeling, to allow a good physical memory to sink into my being. As I explored it with my partner, we found a pool of water, and we waded right in, allowing the water sensation to help me truly feel and remember and ground and be in my body as that ten year old. This was truly a moment of reframing the notion that my WHOLE childhood was physically hard, and allowed me to reclaim that there were moments of joy and freedom that I had full body lived into.
When we are in nature, we can find reflections in the physical (and spiritual) world that can help our inner world, and I find it is helpful for people to not only see this, but to linger for a while, allowing the outer physical things to become a part of us through playing with them, experiencing them fully into the cells of our being, incorporating them into our life and the cells of our body. Standing on the boundary and feeling both worlds, for example, or moving nature objects around, or finding something that is a reflection of where we are in the moment. It can help us really embody a new way of being, take a step into healing, find a new, safe way to express feelings with the support of the world around us.
I don’t usually write political posts on this blog, but my heart has been broken again over the last few days with more, well publicized examples of white supremacy and police brutality against people of color. From Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd to Christian Cooper. From white, armed men allowed into capitol buildings with no repercussions to people gathering peacefully and unarmed to protest the murder of George Floyd being tear gassed, the discrepancies are evident, and, sadly, unsurprising.
I think one reason I really feel called to write this post though, is to encourage each of us to look at our own healing, and to be brutally honest with ourselves about the areas we still have work to do. For I don’t believe that fully healed human beings can look at another human being with so little regard, with such great fear and hate, without seeing that they, too, are created in the image of God.
I think I saw this especially in the recording done by Christian Cooper. Here was a black man making a reasonable request of a white woman to leash her dog in a sensitive natural habitat where he was bird watching. What came across to me in that video was him being grounded and calm while the woman was triggered and possibly acting on past trauma as she escalated the situation in her own mind to something dangerous. This, in no way, excuses her behavior, but she seemed disassociated from the present reality.
Each of us has the responsibility to do our work of healing to ensure that this doesn’t happen. We need to look at our hurts and traumas form the past so we can move through this world fully present to what is. We need to do the hard work of exploring our triggers, of speaking about and processing our pain, of re-wiring our responses so we can re-act to situations in a reasoned and logical way that is appropriate for the current time. When we fail to do our work, we over react, and we run the risk of layering the current situation with all the other situations we may have been in that this is reminding our body of. It’s not logical or fitting. And it can be dangerous, or even deadly.
For what healed and whole human being can kneel on another human being’s neck until they die, even as they plead for their life. What logical and present human being can hunt down and kill another human being for jogging in their neighborhood. What human being, who has done their healing work to be able to stay present when a perceived threat appears, would threaten another human being’s life by calling the police on them when asked to restrain their pet?
I know there is a lot of systemic change that needs to happen too, but each of us can do our small part by taking an honest and hard look at ourselves to search out those parts of us that are not healed, that over re-act, that are unable to stay present to the reality before us, those parts that are quick to judge another human being as less than based on the color of their skin, or to feel attacked when we are the ones causing a danger. Each of us is created in the image of God. When we do our work to remember this for ourselves, we can remember this truth for the rest of humanity too.
Will you commit with me to look at yourself? To seek those places where you can still be triggered? To do your work to make yourself whole so that you can see each other human being for the beautiful life they hold, no matter the color of their skin, no matter the accent they speak with, no matter their religion or education or gender? Will you do your work, so we can join together to do the collective work we all need to do?
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.