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“Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher.” —William Wordsworth

It seems like a lifetime ago that I sat in this quiet, tucked away space in a small-town library in Maine working on various study surrounding my deeper exploration of yoga. Today I’m nestled here again with the art and architecture tomes on one side of me and the faint smell of ash lingering from an old fireplace on my other side. The familiar feeling of sitting down to write washes over me, churning up every cell of me. It’s as if all of the various pathways of my being have reached out beyond my skin and gripped onto their connections—their outlets—and have been plugged in.

A few years ago I planted a type of rose bush in front of our home that produces rose hips—round, red, berries—the fruits of the rose plant. I had been admiring these perennials for several years along the beaches of Maine, noticing their heartiness throughout the seasons and ability to grow among the sand dunes. Once a friend made a rose hip jam to share on a camping trip as a gift to our family. I have sometimes collected these berries on beach outings to decorate the fairy houses my boys and I have pieced together throughout the years. Our plant out front has been thriving and growing rapidly. This last month or two I have been observing its leaves transforming from a bright green in the summertime into a soft yellow in the early fall and now, suddenly, the branches are adorned with a vibrant and glowing gold and tangerine that bursts like a sun across the greying background of winters’ approach. With windows along the front of our home, my eye catches these magnificent hues again and again taking in this generous contribution of nature in this breathtaking transformation. I can feel my body—my too-full mind—absorbing the powerful warmth of color and beauty so gracefully given and intrinsic in nature’s presence.

I live a stone’s throw from one of Maine’s most beautiful state parks—200 acres of wooded trails and coastline filled with sprawling Hemlocks and White Pine, giant boulders, overlooks and salty marshes. In the hour before picking up my children from school I sometimes slip away and find myself there in a rendezvous with the trees. It is rare that anyone knows that I am there and I only cross paths occasionally with another wanderer.  On a crisp afternoon a few weeks ago, I found a window like this and stepped onto a wooded path that would take me away from the coastline—away from the busyness of my mind—and deep within the Hemlock forest. I walked slowly, purposefully, a sense of reverence coming over me with each gentle step. I was aware of my breath, of the ground beneath me and the vibration of so much doing in my life began quieting to a whisper.

On that day I was especially drawn to the trees. I had been working on a new piece of art—a “Tree Hugger”—and these lofty, magical beings had been on my mind. The process of bringing to life a woman draped up against a tree, arms clasped around its thick trunk, lips nearly grazing its rough surface, had allowed for many hours of contemplation about the places in which we humans collide with nature and the energy that is exchanged between us both.

I came to a wooded bridge, made from a thick board and meant to protect hikers from a muddy spot along the path. It was so very quiet there deep in the woods and I was so lusciously alone. I noticed the sound that my shoes made as I crossed the bridge. It reminded me, somehow, of the click, click click that dress shoes might make across the floor of a big city library or bank. The contrast of that image with my current place in time created a feeling of expansion and wonder within me. Are we ever really fully in the places where we find ourselves? I am here—so present and taking in the beauty and reality of my life—and I linger, as well, in the many corners of the world that have delivered me here to this very locale.

As I continued walking, I began taking in the trees as individuals and had the thought to touch one as if it were a human being. I slowed my pace and walked up to one towering timber as if approaching a stranger. So very gently I reached out with my hand. I could sense the space—the energy—between my palm and the rough bark. And then I placed my hand on the trunk of the tree as if on the bare shoulder, the back, the chest of a person. I felt the tree receive me. An electricity of connection ran through me similar to the sensation of the unity I feel before writing. I withdrew my hand. The words, “thank you” rang through me like a bell chiming. I walked on, moving to another tree as if I were entering a baby’s room deep in slumber. On the next tree, I placed both of my hands, imagining I was cupping the face of a child with my palms. Again, connection. I was transported to the tops of the trees where the branches swayed, light peeking in. It crossed my mind that someone might come upon me there in the forest in this crazy embrace with trees but I shoved these thoughts away. I moved on from tree to tree like this, hugging some and leaning against others for a long while. I drank in the goodness. I had entered into a communion with the natural world that nourished me in every, single, way.

 

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“Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher.”—William Wordsworth

Yesterday was a scorcher by Maine standards. Temperatures in the upper 80’s sent those of us without central air-conditioning scurrying to the beach. My two boys and I were among the earliest to arrive. Traveling down a winding, narrow road to reach a far-away, sprawling spot on the ocean with tumbling waves and a desert like quality, felt like an adventure. Once we arrived we were like camels making our way from the parking lot to a distant tide pool a football field’s length from the entrance. Even from our tide pool we were still another long stretch away from the rolling waves. It was worth the journey. My boys—Jonah with his wide rimmed, navy blue sun hat, Adrian with his ripe orange baseball cap—took their buckets, shovels and wave board into the shallow pool and were busy at play within moments. Adrian piled sand ice cream into his bucket while Jonah pulled the buckets around on top of the board. I set out our blanket and then lying back on the small bag I had packed, took in the rocky cliffs in the distance thinking about the turn of events that brought me there alone with my two boys instead of where we had planned to be—back in the place where I grew up, surrounded by family, cuddling my little niece and nephew who I missed like a drought misses rain and hadn’t seen since winter winds were blowing snowdrifts at Christmastime.

I was sitting in the parking lot of a very large adventure travel store when I received the call. My husband had run into the store to pick up a last item for our travels. The following day he was heading West for eight days for work and I was heading to a family summer home to be with my sisters, their children and my parents. I was looking forward to the companionship. I was looking forward to the comfort of “home.” I was looking forward to the fun of all of our children being together. A few days before, my son Jonah had come down with a virus that gave him two painful sores in the back of his mouth and a low-grade fever. He was feeling well enough to travel though and my sisters had agreed that exposing their children was not ideal but that we should come anyway and just be mindful of washing hands, of separating sippy cups. I had not thought about my Mom, though. I had not thought of the terrible illness she had battled this past winter and how exposing her to something now—even something minor in the world of childhood illnesses—would not have been wise. With an immune system compromised, she could be a magnet for such a virus. She told me as much when she called. She didn’t want to say those words—she wanted to say anything but those words—but she had to and in the blink of an eye we were staying home for the next eight days without any activities planned and quarantined from our friends because of the illness. My husband would be 3,000 miles away. I sat stunned in the car wondering how I would break the news to Jonah who was deep in sleep in his carseat now.

I spent the afternoon and early evening mourning the loss of precious time with those I love so much—time that we have so little of. I felt angry, too. I wanted to blame someone but there was no one to blame. I cried and thought about how hard it would be to shift gears and refocus. I told my sisters and Mom that I was looking for the silver-lining but I couldn’t find it. By nightfall, though, I knew that I had a decision to make. I knew that I could easily spend the next week regretting every moment not spent with family, or I could lift up these precious days and discover their purpose. My greatest concern was with how I would remain present and responsive—not reactive—to the mercurial nature of my children for—what to me felt like—a long stretch of time. I bow down to the wives of deployed servicemen for whom this is their nearly constant state.

At the beach, we were a few days into our time alone together and we were finding our rhythm. With our self-imposed quarantine and everyone feeling better now we were completely free to roam and go and play as we wished. We eventually left our tide pool and made our way down to the crashing shoreline. Jonah timidly dipped his toes in and observed his board bouncing around in the waves. I sat with Adrian and followed my breath noticing the way my stomach, my chest rose and fell with the waves. We meandered down little paths of water that flowed along the sand into bigger and bigger tide pools. We found ourselves finally in one pool deep enough to soak our bodies in and for Jonah to float on his wave board. I should have been tired—Adrian had made a before dawn wake-up call that morning—but instead I felt invigorated. I was pulling Jonah on his wave board from one end of the pool to the other and suddenly I began running with him in tow, splashing a good amount of water up onto my legs and some even onto my face. Adrian was in a very shallow part of the pool, lying on his stomach, propped up on his forearms. His face was filled with a grin. Soon I discovered that if I ran with Jonah for a long stretch and then suddenly let go of the string that was pulling him he would go sailing ahead of me with delight, riding on his board up onto the sand like a surfer with so much momentum. I was doing this for him over and over and at one point I was running and I could feel the water splashing my face and I could hear the pure joy in Jonah’s laughter and I could see Adrian luxuriating in the water and I let Jonah go and then I just stopped and I looked up into the sky. I stopped and I looked into the sky.

It was so vast.

It was so vast.

I could feel my heart beating from running and I could feel my heart expand.

It was so vast and beautiful and miraculous  it took my breath away.

I felt alive.

I felt so very alive and I knew in that moment what it meant to live.

I knew the ecstasy that is complete oneness with life.

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.” —Henry David Thoreau

My car is toasty warm. I can feel the muscles in my back relaxing, made loose by the heat of my seat warmer. I come to the parking lot of a large Methodist church in rural Maine—snow dusting my windshield—and pull in. I choose a parking spot facing the road with my back to the church. I’m not a Methodist but there is something about this particular church with it’s large cross on the exterior coupled with the dual red flame insignia that feels comforting to me. I’ve parked here many times—never entering— finishing up phone calls with sleeping babies in carseats, passing time for one reason or another. I’ve seen their sign for pot-luck suppers and have imagined myself attending. It’s unlikely that I ever will. This is a place whose energy I’m meant to absorb through osmosis, I think. I don’t know how I know that what goes on in there is good, except that I can feel it. I find myself here after a challenging morning—a very ill family member on my mind. As I sit in this heavenly spot, observing a snowstorm come in less powerfully then predicted, I feel at peace. I take note of the absolute calm and groundedness that has come over me and feel grateful.

Never having really surfed, I think about riding waves often and how we may find ourselves upright and gliding at the most unexpected of times in life. I think about how this summer our sweet swimming lessons with Jonah took a turn unexpectedly and became more challenging. Previously excited about his lessons, Jonah, at a point began to resist. I didn’t blame him. His teacher had decided unexpectedly and without warning to suit him in a “bubble” floating device with less strength than he had previously worn. This change caused Jonah to inexplicably go sinking under the water, his teacher’s back turned toward him. It gave him a good scare—her delay in responding especially alarming. It gave me a good scare as well. And from then on, he struggled with the lessons. I tried to convince him that he was safe but he was understandably afraid. It made our journeys to the YMCA a little less enjoyable. I remember one afternoon finding myself using manipulative language to try to convince Jonah to join in his class. I caught myself and stopped. I was feeling underwater myself not knowing how to best handle this situation. The opposite of riding a wave. I just kept moving ahead. We played in the shallow end, Jonah enjoying himself there, with his little brother Adrian who lacked fear altogether and kept trying to swim away from me at less than two years old. My fingers were numb from the too cold water as I gathered my boys up and we headed for the shower. I carried Adrian right into the shower with me and (a first) he didn’t want to be put down. Jonah was occupying himself with the sprayer and Adrian had curled his body up on me like he was an infant again—almost as if he was going to go to sleep under the warm waterfall. I relaxed into his arrangement and then suddenly found myself riding a glorious wave. I pulled myself up and was gliding. Along with the water, a wonderful sense of calm came over me and I felt distinctly like a Koala bear holding her cub. I allowed for the moment to linger on and on. I felt cleansed of my words to Jonah. I felt like I was in a spa. I have long thought water to be healing, to be centering, and in that moment it was for me.

One day, I would love to have the opportunity to learn to surf. It is not a stretch—me at surf camp. I have put it on the list for when my children have grown and are ready to surf themselves. Until then, I will look for the many, many beautiful waves that come crashing through my life and be ready for when one of them sweeps me up and allows for me to ride along, joyfully and at peace.

How a Single Leaf Took Me to a New Level of Letting Go

No matter how hard I try, there is so much that I cannot control. Strike that. I cannot control anything no matter how hard I try. A few months ago I came home from a doctor’s appointment in the mid-afternoon and my almost three-year-old son Jonah was cuddled up on the couch with my father who was visiting from away. My father draped his arm around my son and declared that they were two “Fat Cats.” I observed more closely that they were eating buttered (white) toast and watching Some Like it Hot, on the television, Marilyn Monroe, all steamy and kissing on Tony Curtis. Or was it Jack Lemmon? Jonah could tell you and he did in fact tell someone a few days later that he very much enjoyed watching Marilyn Bunroe with his Grandad when he had visited. All of this was potentially concerning to me because we are an almost no TV household, generally geared toward whole grains and fairly observant of naptimes. After the months I’d experienced leading up to this incident though, the kind of letting go and relinquishing control that I needed to exercise in this moment was a piece of cake. I very quickly got to the idea that my son was connecting with my father, making sweet memories, no matter how greasy my couch was getting or what ideas about kissing might be forming in my young child’s impressionable brain.

Relinquishing control when your infant son is suddenly very ill and in need of emergency surgery is another story. Normally, a 101 degree temperature and short breast-feeding hiatus would not have sent my husband Josh and me to the emergency room at 1:00 am. I was blessed with a strong intuition though, and it was this inner-knowing, more than any outward symptoms, that kept us driving south to the nearest major medical center in Portland, Maine, even as our seven month old son Adrian cooed in the back seat playing happily with his stuffed “guitar dog.” A random jingle from the toy announced his presence in the darkness every few minutes. I knew in my heart that something wasn’t right and I trusted that feeling to guide us. It took many hours and a blood test (that my husband insisted upon) announcing a white blood cell count of 30,000 for the investigation of what was going on with our sweet baby to kick into high gear. Around this time a red circle began forming around my son’s belly button. It seemed highly suspect to me and I was certain it wasn’t there previously. More than one doctor attempted to explain it away as so much poking and prodding on sensitive skin. A highly attuned nurse and a bright intern took our growing concerns about this new symptom seriously and began noting the circle’s expansion by drawing a circle around the original redness. A CT-Scan soon revealed that our son had an infected abscess in his abdomen in danger of rupture and would require immediate surgery.

Within an hour of this discovery our son was out of our arms, under general anesthetic, and in the hands of a surgeon. He was in the hands of his own little – yet powerful – life force, a force, again, that I had faith in. Even up to this point I remained very calm. When my husband talked to his parents after the surgery, I heard them ask how I was handling all of this. He replied, “cool as can be.” My sister later said to me, “I’ve been crying so much, worried about Adrian. You must have been a mess!” But I wasn’t. And it wasn’t denial or shock or stoicism. I felt fully connected to the gravity of the situation. I just didn’t feel panicked or paralyzed or distraught. I was able to release on a level I was comfortable with. I felt trusting of my instincts, of the surgeon, of my son even. I drew on my many years of spiritual study and experience. I knew release. I knew surrender. I had exercised this spiritual muscle in so many ways over many years. This is an important point. It was this level of unexpected events that I was comfortable with and that I could make my way through with seeming ease.

In the weeks that followed we found out that Adrian would need a second surgery to remove the remnant from the Urachal cyst that had wreaked such havoc on his little body. In the meantime more fluid had collected in the cyst and it was a very uncomfortable time with little sleep and much anticipation for the second surgery. We plodded along and gave thanks for each moment with our cherubic baby. His smile continued to shine despite the long nights and tummy troubles. We made it through a second surgery, second hospital stay and second separation from our older son Jonah. I exhibited further comfort with the lack of control I had in all of this. People kept telling me how strong I was. What a great attitude I had. I prayed a lot. I stared at both of my children constantly, taking in their brilliance, the way they radiated with new life. I would pick Adrian up from his crib for the hundredth time in the middle of the black night and smell his neck, kiss his cheeks over and over, giving thanks for this spirit who was limiting my sleep so much. I very clearly recognized him as a being whom I would give my life for. I talked with Jonah, this other precious child in my life, attempting to glean from him how all of this made him feel and spent as much time as I could playing with him, dancing freely and giving voice to the endless line of stuffed animals who he wanted to talk.

It wasn’t until after the dust had settled from this tumultuous time that I experienced the real pain of surrender. It turns out there was a point where I would no longer stay calm and trust. Thankfully, it happened in an almost comical way. It was a very beautiful fall day in Southern Maine. The water glistened with a warm Indian Summer sunlight. The leaves painted the landscape in gold and burgundy. There were no further surgeries scheduled and a dear friend had come to our home for a visit with her daughter. We decided to go for a walk to “Jonah’s tree” – a tree we had discovered a few years back on a neighbor’s property. It was a favorite destination and we had through the years marked Jonah’s growth with photos under this tree. Its’ draping branches created a cozy nook perfect for learning about roots and branches and such. At first Adrian was content with watching us from his stroller as we explored under the tree but soon he wanted to be included. Who could blame him? I picked him up and ducked under a large branch to bring him closer to Jonah and our friends. I was talking and enjoying the moment when all of a sudden Adrian reached up and pulled a leaf off of the tree and quickly put it in his mouth, biting off a piece with his two small teeth – all in one motion! I took the remaining leaf from his hand and rushed out from under the tree so that I might see better and hopefully remove the gnawed-off leaf from his little mouth. I was panicked at the idea of him either choking on the tiny leaf or being poisoned. Out from under the tree, in the light, I could see the bright green leaf under his darting tongue and then it was gone. I felt my body grow cold and my stomach turn upside down. I looked at my friend wide eyed and we began discussing whether or not I knew what kind of tree this was. I did not. I had often wondered and even asked a few people but had never found out. We quickly gathered the other children together and headed back to the house, my friend asking if I had a number for poison control. I don’t know whether or not I revealed this outwardly, but I fell apart inside for a moment. I could not bare the idea of my son going through anything else. What if he needed his stomach pumped? What if I had to call an ambulance? My husband was going to kill me! Just about then Adrian coughed a little. My heart stopped briefly. We picked up our pace.

Once back home, Adrian was happy as a clam but I was scouring the internet trying to discover the name of the tree. My wise friend had the wherewithal to bring a branch home with us. I sheepishly called my pediatrician, embarrassed at such lack of care for my infant who had recently undergone not one, but two, major surgeries! They referred me to poison control who assured me that Adrian was going to be fine. It turns out that there are very few poisonous plants indigenous to Maine and even if the tree were toxic, in such a small amount, it would be nearly harmless. The real risk had been choking and we had already passed that potentiality. My friend and I let out a deep sigh and managed to laugh a little at the irony that that my breaking point turned out to be a leaf. I imagined a lone leaf drifting through the air, making its’ way down and settling gracefully onto the ground.

I have reflected greatly on this experience and my eyes have truly been opened to the profound way in which we cannot control how life’s lessons will be presented to us or how our enlightenment will occur. This is not to stay that we are powerless by any means or that we do not have the opportunity to create our own realities. I believe wholeheartedly that we do. It’s just that I’ve come to know deeply that the world will speak to us according to its own wisdom. If we are lucky it will do so with humor or irony. May we ride the wave? Yes. Steer? We can try. I’ve learned that I could take my son to the best hospital and trust in the best surgeon and know that machines would be monitoring him and pray and give thanks and trust and trust and trust but I could not control his reaching spontaneously for a leaf and quickly putting it in his mouth. I will continue to try to protect my children in the very best way that I know how for as long as I can all the while knowing that they have a journey of their own to live out and I am just along for the ride.

** This is a walking meditation. Find a quiet place in nature where you can walk. Be conscious of your footsteps and observe your surrounding as if for the first time. With each step imagine your grip loosening on areas of your life that you may have been trying to control.

** Find a handful of pebbles and along your path allow these pebbles to represent ways in which you try to control what cannot be controlled. Release the fear of losing, release all of the talking and release the judgment of yourself and others.

** Commit to an afternoon of play with your little ones where you allow them to be exactly who they are. Allow them to get too dirty. Allow them to talk too loud. Witness where they take you if you let them.