“O Joy! that in our embers is something that doth live.” —William Wordsworth

Driven from the woods by a well-meaning park ranger warning of the brown tail moths shedding their meddlesome hairs along the coast of Maine this season, I find myself now at a picnic bench in a farm field.

I’m looking out at a fenced pasture, peppered with yellow flowers—buttercups, I think—contained, yet empty except for a light blue tractor in the distance making its way back and forth across the landscape in some seasonal chore. The Casco Bay stretches out behind me just beyond a thick row of trees so that I cannot view this favorite, rocky spot where I sometimes come with my boys to skip rocks and take them in as they test their courage and agility.

The air is warm and thick—welcoming to the black flies that bother my face every now and then. The birds are deep in boisterous conversation and suddenly they quiet all at once as if in acknowledgement of some other presence listening on. One particular bird—a Yellow-headed Blackbird, I think—has the most to say and sounds almost robotic in his delivery. I could sit all day trying to decipher their messages, the individual meaning of these numinous sounds in my midst.

A few weeks back my friend was grieving. A group gathered at her home. It was a day most unlike this one. It was quite cool and drizzling rain. Maine can be so changing like that—most places can be. When I arrived, there was a small bonfire being tended out back. There was plentiful food in the kitchen, people speaking in lower tones than they normally would in our friend’s home. I spent some time inside and then gradually found my way out to the blazing fire.

The yard sits on the cusp of a wooded area surrounded by sprawling trees—some are alive and thriving—mostly Pines. Others are long dead and remain like towering sculptures—like art—stretching up into the sky. There was a pile of twigs and branches, bark and weathered logs just beyond the edge of the yard being drawn from and placed onto the bonfire keeping it going and the heavy moisture in the air at bay.

I joined in readily, finding my place in tending to the heat—the heart— of this place that remains within each of us even in our suffering. With each piece of wood that I added, each ember I stoked, I began tending to the spirit of my friend and to her home and family. Some of the children were barefooted despite the cool temperatures. I took in the nature of their soiled feet, the freedom they had in this company to just be. Many of them had found a stick to do their very own tending and roasting, unaware of the matter at hand.

The rain came down more strongly at times and then dissipated again, resting in a mist. I wasn’t particularly well-clothed for the conditions but I felt very, very warm and at peace. I had a hood, but kept it down, wanting to feel the dampness on my hair and face. It felt just right to be there keeping the fire going. I could have stood there well into the night.

A few years ago, my husband decided to have a large, old stump ground out of our yard. He made the arrangements without my knowing. He had no idea how much I loved that old stump! I mourned its departure, my heart sinking when I looked at the empty space where it had been. To me, it had been breathing. It had been a memory of something from long ago. It was just beautiful.

My husband was so sorry when he realized. A large circle of sawdust remained in our yard where it had been, never filling in with grass—as if in protest, the tree still grasping to be a part of this life.

A few days after the gathering at my friend’s home, and on the last day of school for my children, I began lining the circle of dust where the stump had been with rocks, creating an impromptu fire pit suited for the blustery day. I felt a little anxious about starting a fire with the gusts that were coming across the shoreline and through our yard.

Jonah and Adrian were deep in play out front. Occasionally they would run in their bare feet into the back checking in on me and noting my progress. When I was finally ready to start the fire, I asked Jonah what he thought—whether he thought it was safe to light a fire in the wind. He is still so young—only, seven—and yet, I trust his instincts about so many things. He thought it would be ok and so did I, ultimately, so I set forth in creating a tiny, slowly burning blaze and tending to it so that it was just big enough so we could roast marshmallows.

I ended up sitting by that simmering fire for hours and hours, gazing at the orange and crimson embers. At times it would get a little scary with the wind kicking up. I would pile a few small logs on to keep the ashes down.

I sat and I contemplated the tending of my own inner fire, of my own heart and all that I hold within me as sacred. There are so many dreams, so many sorrows, so much joy and love resting right in there in the center of me to be kept tenderly in a steady glow.

Strangely—or not strangely at all—it has begun raining here in this field as I have been writing and I have moved into the back of my car with only the hatchback covering me. The climate of my life—of all of our lives—is always changing. Whatever the weather, I plan to keep tending, to keep nourishing that which is golden and glowing within me. I plan to keep stoking the fire so that I might always stay good and warm.

 

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“I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.” —Louisa May Alcott

I’ve just come off of another breathtaking weekend with the brave and beautiful souls in my yoga teacher training. I’m still in my pjs curled up in a blanket on the couch though it is nearing noon. My kitty Autumn is sprawled out on our ottoman giving herself a bath with my legs stretched out beside her. Every few moments if I glance at her, she will stop her bathing and stare back at me with her sparkly green eyes—like a human. A drizzly, foggy landscape is to my right through our glass doors—our back porch seeming as if it were just painted with a thin coat of water glazing the grey, wooden boards. Chip Hartranft’s nuanced translation of The Yoga Sutra is sitting next to me, and my day calendar, too—nearly overflowing with the many activities and commitments to come in the weeks before summer’s arrival. My energy is still buzzing inside from the flood of information I received both from Chip himself as our guest teacher this weekend as well as from my very own inner teacher who showed up ready to witness as well. Sometimes I feel that I have come so far in my inner unfolding. Other times it seems that I have only just begun. I looked on with curiosity at what Chip decided to write in my book when he offered to sign my copy. “To Meghan, A new friend on this pathless path,” he wrote. At first, I couldn’t quite make out the word “pathless” in his inscription—the “a” only very lightly recorded, almost skipped over. When I did finally connect with what he had shared, his words resonated deeply with this sensation of having traveled far and having just begun—like the paradox of pure-awareness with its description of having no qualities at all.

Although I feel deeply joyful and immensely grateful this morning, I have been thinking about grief. On Sunday, there was a yoga class offered before our training would begin. Knowing that we would be sitting for many hours I felt compelled to attend the class, to interact with the soreness in my body that I felt from the previous day and clear my mind—making room for more input of the dense information in our studies. Leading the class was a teacher I had never met. He had trained with one of my teachers and so his way was somewhat familiar and very precise. He was warm and kind but very much offered a blank slate in his teaching. I was able to fall deeply into a meditative experience of my practice dropping my eyes closed and nearly forgetting there were others in the room—my breath became long and far reaching, the gripping I felt around my heart for leaving my boys on a Sunday began uncurling. It was a strenuous practice with a focus on hip and heart openings. Our hips being the primary home of historical pain, the heart the place where we retract when love feels withheld, I might have known what was to come.

We were nearing the end of our practice, my mind was still. Lying on our backs, the lights were dimmed. I noticed a space in the back of my throat begin to soften and tears slowly heating up and coming to the corner of my eyes, my face felt very full and warm. My heart seemed to grow larger and larger like a belt buckle was being undone from having been tightened around it. Waves of energy passed through me and I allowed them to arrive like a gushing river through a dam being opened knowing its way straight to the sea. I wasn’t thinking about anything or feeling sad, I was just allowing these ancient energies that I no longer needed to hold to come through me like a storm—though it wasn’t violent at all. I was perfectly quiet in all of this. It was incredibly freeing to let go and in the end there was one image that came before me. In my mind’s eye, I experienced a thin layer of glittery dusty rain falling away from my body and there grounded on the yoga mat in the silent studio, I could feel the dust settle around me and be absorbed right up by the earth beneath me in its infinite wisdom.