One with the Wood

Morning mantra…I don’t remember the day it started, years ago certainly, but its why is another matter. I wanted a way to define being in the moment for if I could confine it, then I could experience it. Ha!

I lost the control and kept the mantra, which doesn’t hold back: mine is to meet each moment with compassion, lovingkindness, joy, and equanimity, which is not to say I do. I’m not setting goals just reminding myself to open the door of each day and begin there.

Just waking to some days is easier than others. To meet what happens after that and look to the heart and not only the face is never easy. Feelings may not be facts but they are powerful for at their core is pure energy.

Mindfulness–awareness like no other–helps me open that daily door, which is sometimes to a forest, rare and rich. Every day is a stroll, indoors or out, but a forest floor with sun shadows is stuff for my memory banks.

It is summertime in the Florida panhandle (although the calendar considers it spring), the humidity almost as high as the 90°+ temperatures, some of my best days for my body.

My walking stick is wood, a live branch now fallen, stripped of bark and varnished clear, its knots remembered. I have added black rubber tips to its top and bottom, one to ground and one to grip, for ease of grasp.

My left side is weaker, so much so my left hand cannot hold the stick with any certainty but my right hand, used to leading, finds the walking stick a useful prop. Sometimes, balance looks lopsided.

I waddle and wobble, a slow stagger sometimes, but an evenness of mind and body down a forest path on a late spring morning just after sunrise is–to me–all that and lots of birdsong.

This greenway is 50 acres of forest and meadow with 12 miles of dusty sand trail but to me it is boundless, yet forests have their limits these days and are now carefully tended not to exceed. What is done is done.

I walk until I tire, reaching a picnic table made of concrete, its bench table tops painted brown for natural reasons I suppose. Still, I am grateful for such tables, as well benches, for there are days I stop briefly at each one but today, it is the second picnic table where I will stay.

Not far along, I know, but in the forest, distance ceases to matter, like time. It’s forgotten. To neither, the forest bends. Rather, it gives its all.

Regular readers of this blog may recognize the above picture of a magnificent live oak split down the middle by lightning some six or seven years ago, not even nanoseconds in its life. See how its heart has sprouted so many new lives.

In the distance, in stark contrast, stands another oak, a sentinel stripped of its bark, possibly by lightning but by life, nonetheless. At the tip of one of its limbs, I notice movement, the shape of a turkey vulture when its head switches to profile, but mostly it is one with the wood.

In awe, I watch as all else disappears.

Not even the heart of the magnificent tree, with all its new lives distracts from being one with the wood. No sound nor single thought or emotion, only nothing consumes mind and body. I am neither on the ground or in the air, only nowhere.

In some moment I return to being a human alive with the energy that animates everything rather than being one with it. Such moments never repeat, not in the same way or same place, and in some moment I became comfortable with that, just meeting the moment I am in, grateful for a day as a human being.

Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything” (Gordon Hempton, Ecologist).

The View from Down the Hall

A lesbian lives down the hall from Connie, not that she cares.

It’s a label she has avoided all her adult life and now, at 88, a neurologist asks if she and Babs “are a couple of queers.” It isn’t the first time she has heard that question (in so many different words) for she and Babs lived together for over 40 years but now they live apart with separate lives.

Babs promised to stay but finally, she found a relationship with her daughter, who lived 300 miles away. And then there was the volunteer job as a docent at a local museum. Connie was invited to move, even offered a house, but Connie liked being the one with the money and doing the offering.

It would be five years before she moved to be with Babs in the same town but in an apartment. All their years simmer, a pot constantly stirred, frequently boiling over, their differences the only constant they have ever known.

In her remaining years, Babs is immersed in what it means to be in the workforce at 86. She kept the house, washed the pots, and cared for Connie’s every need for decades. She doesn’t miss the life but she misses the Connie “who could sell ice to an Eskimo.” Business after business, Connie was a success.

Now, her mind is a jumble. Intersecting thoughts, their edges jagged, her past seeping into her present, a rapier seeking its mark. She doesn’t know daydream from daylight.

“If this is me, I don’t want it anymore,” Connie says, turning her snow-white head from side to side, blue eyes red rimmed, but her thin face younger than her years. Babs took good care of her, it seems. Still, Connie’s snake-like spine increasingly betrays her with pain and immobility, but that’s nothing like the longing she has for Babs.

Connie never had to care for herself so she never learned how. She always had enough money to hire everything and everyone. “I just can’t do any of that,” she has told me time and again, and I have come to believe what Babs told me, “I waited on her hand and foot.”

Their bond was that they never tried to change each other. Their differences keep them plotting, stirring the pot, making sure the pilot light never goes out. They live as if life–this one right here–is eternity and they have all the time in the world to mold life as they need it to be, at times demand it be.

I admire that, I really do. Of course, I cannot  know their lives, only what I watch through my life lens (with my own boundaries and biases) but it seems a badge of love, this life, for Connie and Babs.

That’s the view, anyway, from the lesbian who lives down the hall.

Courage in Every Size

 

 

Today’s #DailyDose features a favorite place of mine, Second Chance Farm (SCF). Regular readers may remember SCF as the sanctuary of Cooper James and Emma Rose. It lies deep in my heart as do the people who live there.

At the farm, courage comes in all sizes, shapes, years, and species; love seems to persist no matter what. To me, that’s magic. I’ve never known what really led me to the sanctuary, and I probably never will. It doesn’t matter. I found it.

I’m sharing Aim For Even’s post because I want you to meet Phoebe Louise Dooley, a true profile in courage. Hers is a story about what is best in us, so here’s the portal into “Where Magic Lives.”

Mom’s Last Door

Today, the Memorial Mass celebrating my mother’s life is being said.

I am over 2000 miles away. Ours has been a long-distance relationship for almost two decades.

The last time I saw my mother was four years ago. Increasingly, we shared physical disability. Soon, neither was able to travel.

Most Sundays, I wrote a weekly letter to her, just a page or two. She was no longer able to send email so for the last 2 ½ years of her life, I wrote her a letter.

She did not write back. The give-and-take of regular correspondence was not the purpose of the letters. Mom wanted to know about my life, the day-to-day of it, and so I told her.

Some weeks I wrote her about Zen Buddhism within the context of her own devout Catholicism.  It pleased her that I practiced a kind of “faith,” even if that is not how I would have described my practice.

Once that distinction would have mattered but in writing the letters, the word faith fit. Mom had a deeply personal relationship with God, an unwavering faith and trust in His grace. She believed “Let go and let God.”

Mom respected people’s beliefs; they need not mirror her own. She knew how to listen and many turned to her. She showed me I do not have to agree with people but I do have to hear them.

It took me decades to appreciate that in my mother but when I did, it opened so many doors for me.

I think it always opened doors for her, too:

Let my last door open into the light of late spring.

May it be shadowed with the announcements of those who walked

into darkness before me—right foot disappearing first,

body leaning into the unknown, trailing hand making mostly

mysterious gestures: I’m all right or come along; it’s what I thought

or it’s not what I thought.” *

Mom died in winter–in Wyoming–her memorial service is in late spring. Just two days ago it snowed.

Spring still lags. I know she would appreciate that.

An avid gardener, Mom knew late spring better than most. She accepted its elusiveness and never doubted it.

I have no doubt its light opened her last door.

*Wendy Bishop, “My Last Door” excerpt from My Last Door, Anhinga Press, Tallahassee, FL 2007.

Our Outrage Keeps Separating Us From One Another

Ours is to extend good manners to all life on this planet. Having good manners is synonymous with having a reverence for life. It means understanding that the energy of existence connects us all.

Edward Abbey said, “It is not enough to understand the natural world; the point is to defend and preserve it.”

And I would argue that it is ours to explore death in the natural world for it occurs there as a natural part of being alive. In the human species, killing occurs for myriad reasons, many of which have nothing to do with survival.

We act as if we are in control of this planet. We are not. It is not the natural world that needs us. We need it.

More and more, our outrage separates us from the reverence for life. That separation may very well be killing us and the planet.

We are not united in our outrage. Rather, we compare and contrast the act of killing animals with other senseless deaths of humans being killed on the streets where we live.

There is not time to mourn one life before another is taken. There is no outlet for our outrage.

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At the core of this divisive anger is a lack of compassion, although compassion is at the core of every major religious tradition, as is the fragility and importance of each life on this planet.

We are not open to that reality. Rather, we are angry.

All of this outrage over which life is more relevant/important is like comparing apples and oranges. How can one death matter more than another, if we profess a reverence for life?

There is confusion of equality with equanimity because we do not examine why we keep ourselves separate from rather than connecting with reverence for life.

We prefer apples to be oranges and vice versa–on demand. They have a relationship as fruit yet they are not the same from the outside in or the inside out.

Each apple or orange has its own unique characteristics and to have the same expectations for both is to deny the life force as well as our connection to it. We are denying our own existence.

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No matter how many times we say it, there is no comparison of one life with another for one life does not matter more than another. Such a comparison separates us.

In Buddhism, being separate from life is to believe we have a kind of “supremacy” over all life, as if we owned it. We do not. Our belief in this ownership is why we suffer: attachment, aversion, and indifference.

Our attachment to a certain way of life and our aversion to another way of life lead to a general indifference to death, until it touches us. We have no outlet for our outrage.

Anger fragments easily for fear drives it, and fear floats through us, powered by our own biases. We separate ourselves from what connects us, the life that animates us all.

We demand the natural world respect our human boundaries. Often, species extinction is the price. What does it say about us that we are willing to destroy the very world that sustains us?

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It is our unfortunate history and legacy that we have never understood this from our earliest days on this planet.

Matthew Wright explores this point in his excellent essay, “Cecil the lion’s death highlights the fact that humanity is the scourge of a fragile Earth”:

“…we unerringly manage to destroy every environment we go into. All, I suspect, downstream of a survival technique that worked quite well when there were only a few thousand of us and all we had were stone tools and sticks. “

In another fine essay on controlling our lives, “Breaking Free,” Liz Beres offers a unique perception on living in the here and now: she offers that it requires “an incessant acceptance of permeable principles. “

With “permeable principles,” life is approached with equanimity for there is a respect for each and every life on this planet. There is an openness to reverence for life. We extend good manners.

These days, it is difficult not to be angry. Some days, I just cannot stop myself. However, I have learned that in hanging onto my anger, I will only give it life in other places, inadvertently or no.

I have done that too much in my past. I no longer want to separate myself from life. Not for one more moment. The price of anger is too high.

In maintaining a connection with all life, I have an outlet for my outrage.  That may sound too simplistic. Maybe it is but I know it is difficult to do. Human history reveals that.

The natural world provides for our existence. We need it. It does not need us. Never has.

Not all the anger in the world will change that.

We are Lacking in our Attention to Signals

We are in constant relationship with signals, as senders or receivers. There is not a moment–or nanosecond for that matter–that a signal is not sent or received. Response is an individual matter.

Each signal is a demand on our attention, and often, we feel bombarded. In order to be part of 21st century life, it feels as if we must be sender and receiver simultaneously.

At what cost to existence?

Bloom of Peace 0613For me, signals are the energy of existence, a constant competition for our attention whether as a hand gesture or the tugging of “our gut” begging us to respond.

Beyond our physical senses are magnetic fields and electric currents, and the technology that allows us to send and receive 24/7.

And what of the signals we do not know about? I suspect there are signals sent that remain unheard for there is much yet to explore in this dimension of existence that we inhabit.

Yet, we do not lack for signals. We are, however, lacking in our attention to signals.

In response to the signal overload of our lives, we pride ourselves on our ability to send and receive multiple signals. We believe we are good at it.

We split our attention among signals, responding as if each were not a unique signal. Yet, as weary as we are at the number of signals demanding our attention, we anxiously await the next signal coming through.

Our mind-body is all about maintaining balance, right down to each and every cell. It is a constant challenge for our mind-body to keep shifting in this scramble for signals.

Our mind is not hardwired for such splintering. There is no multiple signal software for the heart.

More than we ever admit, we mix up signals. Sometimes, we completely miss a signal while other times, we send a signal best left not sent.

It is a rerouting of the energy of existence, a change in the coming and going. The nature of our response creates a new series of signals. The change has been sent.

It is like an O. Henry story, in which signal and after signal is sent, often in desperation or good intention. Yet, in the final sentence of the story, we discover the signals scrambled. Attention misplaced or never given at all.

For things to reveal themselves to us,

we need to be ready to abandon our views about them

(Thich Nhat Hanh)

Moments are a series of signals, options readily available to us. We need to receive each signal singularly so that its Clarity in the wild 0413unique story may unfold as it originated.

These stories are the moments of our lives. We owe each one our undivided attention so that we may respond mindfully.

It is for the earth to spin on its axis. Ours is not to spin but to stand and receive the signals–the experiences of our lives. How else will things reveal themselves to us?

Always, the choice is ours. We can focus on receiving a clear signal and respond or live a life of static, simultaneously sending and receiving, unaware of how we are changing existence.

An Interlude…of Sorts

This post appears a bit late. It is an interlude of sorts–an interruption of my usual posting schedule—to revisit St. Mark's 0215some recent travel along the north coast of Florida, beginning the first weekend in February.

For me, the first weekend signals the promise of spring. If nothing else, this first weekend is the WHO festival–Wildlife Heritage and Outdoors–at one of my favorite places, St. Mark’s Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge.

Each year, spring’s promise seems a bit soggier and maybe even a bit colder but  my memory is less sharp. I always remember the previous spring as warmer but then, I seem to A Winter's Day 0215require warmer temperatures.

This year’s WHO festival kicked off a week of exploring. A dear friend had come to visit. It was a true vacation, our visit of north Florida, its Gulf coast, its rivers and an occasional inhabitant.

We enjoyed winter temperatures—I complained; she did not–but the promise of spring never left either one of us.

It is one of the many treasures of long friendships that in seeing new lands, old lands are remembered, different as each is. In the discovering, memory relays moments long forgotten. In the creation of new memories, the old is perhaps even more golden.

We grew up knowing rivers of the Rocky Mountains, clear and chatty, sometimes white in their rapids. In north Florida we visited blackwater rivers mostly, their own southern brew of organic acids and tannins.

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On a particularly brisk day we “went down upon” the Suwannee River; she is deep enough that steamboats once paddled her strong currents. In these days, wooden gliders afford the visitor a comfortable seat for reflection.

The Ochlockonee River (“yellow waters”) intersects with the Dead River, perhaps so named because its movement isWho Has My Back 0215 barely perceptible. Together, the two make their way to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Ochlockonee State River Park is one of the most pristine parks I have visited in Florida and is particularly rich in wildlife, some whose existence were unknown to me such as the white squirrel.

The “history” of the white squirrel is rich and varied, sometimes involving King Charles of Spain (1499) while other explanations are more scientific and involve gene mutation. We enjoyed all the brochure stories and went in search of the white squirrel.

After some time on our own, we decided to ask a park ranger. Memories of past searches reminded us we might not be in the right location but we were among the live oaks, prime squirrel territory regardless of color.

What we did not have was a bag of chips to shake. Yet, we are a resourceful duo and are not given to giving up. While I rested, my friend walked among the live oaks, crinkling a bit of cellophane from a tissue package.

It was only as we began to drive away that we spotted a bit of white at the base of a live oak. It did not move—we almost did—before it did. While the squirrel snacked on acorns— aware of our underwhelming presence—we worked with the digital overload of our cameras.

For me, focus is always a challenge. Mine is the “aim, shoot, and hope” philosophy of photography. That may be why I prefer shots of the sea for no matter where I focus, there is always a wave.

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On some days the Gulf chopped, white capping in stark contrast to its tannic underbelly. Near the lighthouse of St. Mark’s, spring seemed a distant promise.  Off the shores of St. George, a barrier island, the clear Gulf waters lazily made their way to shore as if to say spring is on its way in its own time—as always.

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On Monday, February 23, this blog is participating in the Beauty of a Woman BlogFest, which my next post will feature. On March 1, regular Sunday blog posts will return. For now, let’s enjoy the interlude.

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