Looking into Nature’s Mirror and Finding Grace

Waverly Larch Spring Nubs 0313The cycle of seasons is nature’s mirror, ours for the viewing. Mostly, we celebrate a new season but not always the length of time nature takes to make the change.

We assign spring a date, anticipating an event that may or may not arrive as assigned. Arrival is always a mystery. In a moment of grace, nature unfolds in its own time, in its own way.

“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace—only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.” Anne Lamott

I do not understand the mystery, either, but I am content for the experience of it. All I do know is that grace transforms. And like spring, it is its own mystery.

Grace flows with the majesty of a meandering river. Part of its mystery is the gradual eroding of its course, without beginning or end. We do not know the precise moment we are transformed. We only know that we are.

In grace, we do not wallow or stagnate but discover and re-discover the spring of our lives not so much as to re-live but to be reborn in yet another season.

Spring is not a one-time event.

Grace moves us to deeds we once thought impossible. In each spring of our life, we emerge anew. Grace allows us to bare ourselves as we are—to take the risk again—to meet each new spring we are allowed.

We are given only one body to grow but we have the gift of grace to transform, to meet yet another spring. Our seasons cycle within our hearts, bold with the opportunity each affords.

We need not remain wrapped in winter, blanketed in its protective shell. Like nature, ours is not to stagnate or to wallow but to transform from a winter’s day into a spring’s blossom. It is the way of grace.

The bud opens, and life begins anew, yet again. There is grace in this falling away of one season for another, a radical change replete with uncertainty.

As we are revealed so are we seen. Grace unlocks our softness.

Releasing the Fragrance of Forgiveness

Lately, I have been writing about transformation, in particular the changes I am experiencing with my health. And this week, there is even better news. For the first time, my acupuncture physician felt all of my pulse points. For me, that is huge—to say it is remarkable is not an exaggeration.

It indicates more movement than stagnation. It is as if a way of life, a mindset, is dissolving, breaking up. There is still some stagnation but the decline is being reversed as my cell structure changes in my body’s attempt to balance itself.

Transformation offers what has never been. If not a new body, literally, then a body and a being “falling in love with life, again” as reader Val Boyko so generously offered in the comments on last week’s post.

That more life is pulsing through me accounts for my increased energy level; also, it seems accurate to say—now–that my pain level is also in decline, albeit a slow one.

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Transformation occurs in its own time—patience is essential–but the benefits are life-changing, literally. I find I am more present in each moment. I do not want to miss any of the unfolding of any day so I am less likely to pay attention to mindset. There is so much new to explore.

Still, the mind prefers calling up the tried and true of old, a series of steps followed again and again until they are, well, set, as if in concrete. Mindsets are the known, limited in effect and thus, predictable, perhaps even stagnant.

Yet, I do not believe that a mindset is without its worth. Not at all. Rather, it is our own bank of experience. Mindset makes us who we are.

Mindset is what we bring to the moment we meet transformation. Then, we have a choice: same-old, same-old secure or the unknown of transformation.

“Patience, grasshopper” is a line I have met many times these last months yet sit I did and do still. My impatience is less for I found that in being patient, one finds forgiveness, the ability to let go of the debt that accrues from all regret. It is the way to open one’s heart to all.

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Not a Violet but a Petal

Not surprisingly, I returned to a favorite quote. Forgiveness is the “fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” Though often attributed to Mark Twain (since the 1970s), it seems its present form is a compilation of phrases from centuries past.

No doubt the thought stays with us for forgiveness is such a struggle for humans.

There is a firm delicacy in a violet petal forgiving the heel that crushes the life out of it. Soon, the fragrance dissipates but it lingers just longer than life. That is forgiving the debt.

The fragrance reminds that in forgiveness we are transformed–a mindset shattered for what is yet to come with no regret of what has been.

Transformation requires we accept every step we have ever taken; it requires we acknowledge every action or decision, given or received. None can be undone. All steps are ours to own, to accept, and to release.

As always, forgiveness—a journey deep and often dark—begins within us. We cannot offer to others what we do not give to ourselves. In the moment we accept all that we have been, we release the fragrance of forgiveness.

We focus not on what crushes us but on what releases us.

Losing a Mind-Set and Gaining a Life

My first post for 2014 considered aim for even as a way to live. I saw it something like this: in every experience I give what I am able to give, mindful that no two occurrences are the same no matter how similar they seem.

Remembering that uniqueness is not easy but is key to maintaining my balance. If I offer more than I am able to give or if I give less than is possible, I miss my mark.

In 2014, I aimed high and low aplenty but by year’s end I found myself more and more in the middle—in balance, even—as I let go of a  mind-set that skewed my aim.

Letting go meant giving up tried and true ways that comforted—at times even protected me—from the chronic pain inherent in my life. The subconscious is not easily dissuaded for it has had a lifetime to fine tune what comforts in order to cope. It’s its own infinite loop.

It would take me most of 2014 to break out of this mind-set. I wrote about it—a lot—on this blog.

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In “The Winds of Change,” I believed I was slowly but surely losing my ability to walk. My response was I would adapt, like always. After all, I have an active online life and a great picture window with a view of the woods.

By September, “Some Awareness My Way Came”  in the form of spinal and cognitive issues. Yet, I would need another warning from my body that old ways would no longer serve. My kidneys sent a short but clear message.

“Only in Expanding My Cone of Habit” did I begin to dismantle the mind-set that had comforted me for decades. I turned to traditional Chinese medicine believing I had nothing left to lose. As I would discover, I had a lot to lose.

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Transformation leaves behind habits of a life lived. There is no “getting my life back.” Life anew is an accumulation of every misstep, every revelation I experience. The stuff of transformation is recognizing that the great teachers in one’s life have always been there.

One of mine is chronic pain. Our relationship has changed completely. I no longer need to cope because I no longer fear pain, emotional or physical. I no longer fear pain spiraling out of control. Rather, I sit with my emotions as my body sends sensations.

I aim for even.

My transformation is far from complete but the changes I am experiencing I cannot explain other than through my new relationship with pain. I walk–slowly–without any limp and am just beginning to take short—really short—walks.

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Every day, and I mean EVERY day, I have a level of energy, something I lost decades ago. On the same day, I can complete errands, do some housework, and write–if necessary. Nine months ago, I thought I would live from my adjustable bed.

The pain is not gone but the mind-set is. There is no seeking comfort to mask the pain. Rather, there is the slow movement of yoga and the stillness of meditation, the balance of acupuncture. And there is food that fuels the biological changes taking place in my body rather than inflaming it.

Every day, I aim for even.

As I was writing this post, I kept trying to find ways to impart what aim for even might look like separate from chronic illness. August McLaughlin seemed to read my mind when she posted this graphic in her wonderful blog post.

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She captures aim for even beautifully. In giving what we are able to give, no more and no less, we resolve to live life as the ebb and flow that it is. We keep ourselves afloat.

Finding Refuge on the Eve of the Winter Solstice

It is early morning on the eve of the winter solstice, neither dark nor light but both—in a way. Even for north Florida, it is cold. I have the car heater on low as I drive to St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge on the Gulf of Mexico.

It is perfect winter solstice weather.

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The solstice celebrates the dark during a season given to light, a reminder that in light there is always dark. Yin-Yang. Oneness.

And there is the inherent stillness of the solstice. The increasingly dark and deepening autumnal sleep culminates in the pivotal moment of the winter solstice.

After this day, every dawn will mean more light and less night, as slumber gives way to the awakening of the spring solstice.

Every year, I write these words or similar ones regarding the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere. Usually, I celebrate the event with a walk around Waverly Pond but this has not been a year of “doing things as usual,” even holiday traditions.

Rather, it has been a year of firsts. Some may mean new traditions for me, among them driving to St. Mark’s on the eve of the solstice. Perhaps more than any other season of my life, I am immersed in transformation.

It is not surprising that I am drawn to the Refuge where transformation is in evidence everywhere.

Areas of longleaf pine stand stark in their burnt orange and black beauty against gray, morning skies. Wiregrass is the color of wheat ready to harvest.

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It is the season for prescribed or controlled burning, a matter of survival for the longleaf and wiregrass ecosystems. They depend upon the transformation fire brings–first alight with flame and then, darkness.

Transformation always involves the falling away of things we have relied on,

and we are left with the feeling that the world as we know it is coming to an end

because it is.

(Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening)

As I look across saltwater marshes in seasonal slumber—timeless transformation–I cannot imagine being anywhere else on this dark, gray morning on the eve of the winter solstice.

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In the quiet dark, I am mindful of the necessity of letting go in life. It takes time, transformation does, time to awaken to the light of a life yet to come, time to welcome the world anew.

Mindfulness gives you time. Time gives you choices. Choices, skillfully made, lead to freedom.

Bhante Henepola Gunaratana

The solstice seasonal slumber reminds me to quiet myself, to observe the dark that is as much a part of this festive season as is the light. In the stillness of the dark, the light swirls.

On the marshes of St. Mark’s on the eve of this winter solstice, I let a life lived end as a life I have not begins. Each ending is yet a beginning, a time for slumber in anticipation of awakening anew.

In keeping with the light and dark of the season, regular blog posts will return in 2015.

Final Days of 59

“… Transformation always involves the falling away of things we have relied on, and we are left with the feeling that the world as we know it is coming to an end, because it is” (Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening).

This past February, I wrote a post about some unexpected milestones at age 59 ½. At the time, I was struck by the synchronicity. Still am. As this is my final week at age 59, I decided to revisit those milestones before I step into my sixth decade, one that promises even more transformation.

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I have continued to lose weight beyond the 59 ½ pounds of February; I am down 69 pounds with another fifteen-twenty to lose but no more than that. My eating habits have not changed in the past six months but my taste buds have adjusted to other options, and I enjoy eating again. I found millet-buckwheat bread made with chicory root and without refined starch, absolutely critical for me.  Almond butter sandwiches are now a staple. While my future remains gluten, yeast, sugar, dairy and soy free, my grocery list items are crisp and fresh.

In my last week as a fifty-nine-year-old, I am in better health than I was at 58, sans an arsenal of allopathic medicine. I remain convinced that Eastern medicine– Ayurveda and Chinese–has a better understanding of autoimmune disease. Ted J. Kaptchuk’s The Web That Has No Weaver is an excellent overview of traditional Chinese medicine, and I am searching for a similar Ayurveda text. Until I find it, I am enjoying Deepak Chopra’s Perfect Health, an informative volume regarding Ayurveda traditions.  This Tuesday, I have my first meeting with a practitioner of Eastern medicine.

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But in these final days of my 59th year, it is my writing that is undergoing the greatest transformation. My numbers alone are major personal milestones.  I no longer publish blog posts twice a week as I did in February but on June 2, I began writing the initial draft of a nonfiction manuscript. Currently, I am producing over 9200 words per week on this manuscript alone. At my 59 ½ milestone, my word count was 9800 words for the entire month of February.

While I do not write for a specific word or page count, numbers gauge a manuscript’s size so I knew the end of the nonfiction manuscript was close: currently, it is 330 pages or just over 91,000 words. But even before I tallied the numbers, synchronicity had come to call; what Deepak Chopra calls “a quantum leap of creativity…a relinquishing of the known for the unknown.” And like milestones, coincidence comes wrapped in the ordinary.

In February, I included my participation in ROW 80 as part of my regular blog posts.  Frequently, I discussed the initial draft of a novel that I wrote seventeen years ago; in some blog posts I’d opt for rewriting the novel and in other posts I’d refer to the novel as a life once lived. Rather than letting go, I was very like the speaker in Linda Pastan’s poem, “Ethics,” unable to decide whether to save the old woman or the painting.

So, I signed up for an online workshop, Conflict and Idea with Bob Mayer, and learned about “kernel idea.” I have not been the same since so I consider it my toehold in the unknown, a piece of a milestone.

Bob says that the kernel idea is what initially inspires the writing of a novel–it is the Alpha and Omega of a book–it starts and completes the creative process but here is the key point: the story that you write may and probably does change but the kernel idea of a book does not, ever.

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During the course of the workshop, I came to understand that the “kernel idea” for my novel was not the story I had written. The kernel idea had not changed but the story I wrote moved away from the idea within the first 100 pages. Finally, I realized what I was hanging onto for seventeen years—my kernel idea and 100 pages—yet, it took me a while to understand just what that might mean but when I did, it felt like a “quantum leap of creativity.” Still does.

Thus, as I started writing a new nonfiction book—my current manuscript–I discovered the way to tell the story of my original kernel idea. Maybe the years sorted themselves, maybe I was letting go of what no longer serves but with transformation there is also revelation. In letting  go of a seventeen-year-old-story that no longer served, I discovered the kernel idea for a new nonfiction book.

“When faced with great change—in self, in relationship, in our sense of calling–we somehow must take in all that has enclosed, nurtured and incubated us so when the new life is upon us, the old is within us” (Nepo).