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?
Dear Loved Ones,
I’ve been reflecting a lot recently on hope, joy and tenacity. During this time when we are uncertain of the future and what it’s going to look like; when people are ignoring science and common sense because they believe their freedom is being limited; when the slow opening up of businesses and stores is most likely going to cause a surge in the pandemic (with the hope that we now have the needed medical equipment and ICU beds to deal with the influx), how do we hold on to hope? How do we keep putting one foot in front of the other? How do we find the energy to move through this world with kindness and love? How do we dare seek joy?
I was pondering all this the other day as Gibbs and I walked. We had gone a fair way and were walking on a grass path close to some woods when I almost stepped on it. A tiny turtle was on the path, crossing into the meadow. And then there was another one. And another. The first was just stopped as the others slowly made their way. And I stopped too. I had never seen such a small turtle… it was about the size of a dandelion crown. I looked around and didn’t see a parent, just these three babies. I wondered where they were heading, and what kind of turtle they were and how come they were here.
After we had visited, this turtle and I, I continued on my walk, and noticed a smile on my face. A simple, small gift was enough to answer my questions!
Since then I have been reveling in the little gifts, the blossoms on my apple trees, the chance for an afternoon spent on a lake, the air hug and big smile from Sister Renee out in a golf cart at the monastery, the head bump of a cat or a wag from a dog, the echo of a thank you in a hallway after delivering a meal to a homeless family while practicing social distancing.
All these things are small things. But each one brought me hope, joy and reminded me that this is what it looks like to just put one foot in front of the other. It doesn’t change the bigger picture of our circumstances, but I believe it changes the inner disposition of how I deal with it. Little gifts from God that place enough hope and joy in my heart to make it sing. Glimpses of new life that remind me of the big arch of life, not just these moments. And while the grief of the loss of life is real, there is this world that continues to unfold and embrace and astonish, which, in turn, allows the grief to be felt and acknowledged and held.
What small things bring you hope or joy? What keeps you going?
Dear Loved Ones,
The other day I took Gibbs out walking in some close by woods. It was the first time we had ventured there since the snow melted. The woods are quiet…. there is a noticeable difference when you turn from the path parallel to the road and drop into the woods proper! A deep sense of peace permeates this place, there are not many people around, there are several trails to follow and wildflowers popping up everywhere. And this is the prime time to go, before the mosquitos come out with a vengeance! Gibbs and I walked nearly 4 miles, through the forests, past streams and ponds and lakes, through heavily treed areas and marshland and meadows. We saw forest birds and waterfowl, butterflies and dragonflies, mushrooms and flowers and trees in blossom. And when we left that sacred place I felt restored and at peace with all that is.
But it caused me to reflect. Why had it taken me so long to get out there? I know what a treasure this place is, so why had I avoided it since the snow left? Sure, it’s a longer walk and I need to give her more time if I want to go on my favorite trails. And it means my to do list won’t get as done. Sure, it’s more up and down and Gibbs gets tired. But none of these thoughts felt true.
Later that day I went into town to meet up with a small team from church. We were delivering meals from a homeless shelter to families that were newly homeless and being housed in motels. We bagged 110 meals and set off in two teams to leave them outside of people’s motel room doors. The corridors were dingy, with low ceilings and lighting and a musty smell, and the doors we knocked on were insubstantial. Yet the people who opened them were grateful for this meal delivered to them.
As I sat with this day, the question returned. Why don’t I get out to these woods more? And the feeling arose that my feeling a sense of peace while the world is in turmoil is bad. Now, logically, I know this is the exact opposite of truth. But that feeling of the fear of entitlement arose in me. Why should I get to enjoy a long time in the woods when others where putting their lives at risk simply by going to work? Why should I have access to woods when so many are surrounded by concrete jungles? Why should I be blessed with the light filtering through the trees when others are holed up in dirty, dismal motels? What makes it so I can sink into this place of beauty and let my worries go when others are juggling kids and home schooling and sickness and homelessness and unemployment and……
I prayed with these feelings, allowing them to arise and be. And as I did I began to feel the peace of the woods once more. A voice began to whisper in my heart. “Go to the woods. Feel the peace. Sink into the beauty. When you meet others who can’t get there they will feel this emanating from you. The blessing you received gets passed on.” I also got the sense that because I questioned my right to this, I wasn’t falling too badly into that trap of entitlement. For I still believe and work for everyone to have access on many levels. And that I should soak in these woods before the bugs come, sharing the beauty, the sense of peace, the pictures of spring flowers, the groundedness and gratitude.
What has fed you recently that you can share with the world around you? Where are the places where your sense of entitlement is an invitation to search your heart? Where have you seen beauty?
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.