Thursday, December 31, 2015

Rest Sweet Rest

“From the order of nature we return to the order — and the disorder — of humanity.
From the larger circle we must go back to the smaller, the smaller within the larger and dependent on it.
One enters the larger circle by willingness to be a creature, the smaller by choosing to be a human.
And having returned from the woods, we remember with regret its restfulness. For all creatures there are in place, hence at rest.
In their most strenuous striving, sleeping and waking, dead and living, they are at rest.
In the circle of the human we are weary with striving, and are without rest.”

Wendell Berry, “What are People For?”

Since last week, there’s been a lot of napping around my house.  My husband, my daughter and I have been encouraging each other to cuddle up in the blankies on the couch and pass out whenever the spirit moves us.  As I was standing on the hill above the barn this evening, I looked back at the lights glowing in our house and in the barn and felt a contentment that I haven’t felt in a long time.

In my twenties and thirties, living in New York City, I prided myself on being on the cutting edge of what was happening.  The pace was intense, and I had the stamina to go around the clock without any hesitation.  I remember a really exciting New Year’s Eve in 1980, traveling from party to party, from SoHo to the top of Central Park. At midnight, I was dancing wildly to Talking Heads in an apartment on Fifth Avenue when someone opened all the windows and turned off the music. We all stopped and watched as the road through the Park was filled with an endless river of people running in the annual 5K race.  The sound of those thousands of feet pounding the pavement was exhilarating. Someone standing next to me commented, “Here we go, racing into the next decade.”   Now, over 35 years later, I’ve lost my edge and if you find it, you can keep it.

It’s a funny thing about stopping after you’ve been racing around, exhausting yourself.  The idea of resting feels frightening at first, like you’re going to learn something that you don’t want to know.  My husband was spinning in circles, constantly coming up with projects that would keep him from succumbing to the alluring stillness of the couch, with its pile of soft pillows and velvety throws. At last, he gave in, and just this morning, after almost a week of frequent and random napping, I noticed that his personality was beginning to return to that of the man I married. 

My daughter has also begun to show signs of recovery from weeks of lack of sleep and the pressure of churning out term papers and finals. I caught her actually throwing the ball for the dog and playing with Stella in the front yard for a brief flurry of activity before they both returned to her nest on the family room couch. Stella is so happy to snuggle next to her girl, with her head snoozing on my daughter’s feet.

So, I wish everyone a peaceful New Year's Eve and a restful weekend. Good old David Whyte has a message that makes the most sense to me:  "Rested, we are ready for the world, but not held hostage by it, rested we care again for the right things and the right people in the right way. In rest we reestablish the goals that make us more generous, more courageous, more of an invitation, someone we want to remember, and someone others would want to remember too."

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Solstice to Remember

Last night, my daughter and I were very lucky to be able to celebrate the Winter Solstice with our favorite Native American elder, Grandmother Nancy.  We lit some sage and watched the flames in silence until the embers glowed and the smoke rose. Then, we purified ourselves and began to drum together.  Grandmother pointed out that our drumbeats were felt by the earth, the spirits around us, the trees, the horses in the barn and all the other animals out there in the darkness, connecting our heartbeats to Mother Earth. 

Grandmother told us a wonderful story about why all the trees except the pines lose their leaves each year. The pines, ever green, watch over all of us, and if we listen to them whispering and singing in the wind, we can here their messages as they protect us.  She taught us the “Strong Woman” song, which we sang together, and we promised to share it with other women.  It’s not hard to learn-- there is a solo verse and then a refrain that is sung in unison.  She drummed along at first, but then used two sticks to keep the rhythm, leaving the last verse only to our voices in memory of women whom we loved that are no longer on this earth.  
We talked about how women were the original drummers, welcoming children into the world, sending men off to hunt or to battle, celebrating their return and giving safe passage to souls who are ready to move on.

There were no stars and clouds covered the moon last night.  The air was much warmer than it usually is on the longest day of the year.  We could definitely feel the hope that was floating in the air.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


I am stuck. Literally, I am in my house all day every day this week while construction workers rip the siding off and the roof off and replace them.  It’s so loud and floor-shakingly noisy that I can’t seem to find a safe place to hide.

 And it’s frighteningly expensive, especially when the contractor apologetically knocks on the door all too often to ask me to come out and look at another problem where the wood has rotted.  Of course, my husband is out of town, toiling away and earning more so that we can afford these unforeseen problems that are eating away at our old, beloved safe haven.  We determined that I must be here and not go wandering off on errands or impetuous trips to the grocery store.  So, I am stuck.

As my faithful puppy, Stella, frets at my side, erupting in wild, frenzied barking several times each hour, I alternate between trying to soothe her anxiety and sternly reprimanding her.  I take her outside to meet the workers, most of whom are dog people, but some of them are obviously afraid or annoyed by this wiggling, tail-thumping black beast.  I assure her that they are not going to hurt us, and she can trust them.  But it’s a funny thing about trust. 
It’s got to be mutual. I learned that many years ago from Silk.  I was feeling very frustrated that my horse wouldn’t trust me, and then one day, I realized that I didn’t trust her either.  So, I decided that I would go forward on faith and totally trust her. And almost immediately, our whole relationship changed.  We got along great, and we have ever since then.

I think a lot of us are feeling stuck right now.  We don’t know how to respond to so many crazy things going wrong with the world. There’s nonstop suffering all over, mass killings in places that we used to believe were safe, racism is running rampant, and the Middle East is exploding with problems that seem impossible to solve.  And let’s not forget severe economic injustice, climate change and the current circus of grotesque political candidates who blither endlessly and then deny the hatred that they are fomenting.  The extremely biased 24/7 news cycle and the non-stop opinions on social media only make the hole we are sinking in feel deeper.

 I know that I’m not the only one who is feeling this way. I read an essay this morning by Sharon Salzberg, the well-known Buddhist meditation teacher, who hit the nail on the head. “Can we find a resolution to a problem when our vision is so fixed and confused? Can we recognize ourselves in one another when we are so on fire? When we dwell in a baseline feeling of separation, alienation, and isolation, it’s hard to think in a different way… Once we establish a desire to control, we create fear. And when we inevitably fail to control our lives and keep things from changing, we become angry. What we can control, however, is our resistance to this whole process. Rather than resist and resist the anger, we can open ourselves up to the idea of practicing generosity with ourselves. We can simply allow ourselves to feel.” She’s right. And by honoring how we feel, we can move forward to a more open-minded position where we can consider who and what we can trust.

Distrust grows when you feel that something important that you have shared with someone is not safe with them. Trust involves “choosing to make something important to you vulnerable to the actions of someone else”. (thank you, Charles Feltman for that wise definition).  Whether it’s the workman who is afraid of my dog and Stella’s mirrored response to his fear or two people of rigidly opposing political views, there needs to be that leap of faith on both sides to trust that everything will be okay. 

Sometimes, the fastest, easiest way to be brave is to keep it simple. “By creating an environment of permission for ourselves, we release the expectation that painful states of mind like anger or depression or desire will consume us. They can arise, and we can let them go — like the tides of the ocean or the waxing and waning of the moon."Sharon Salzberg tells us, "It’s a practice of not holding on, of choosing not to identify. When we realize that we create the conditions of clarity with the passing of these feelings, our energy to try to make a difference becomes cleaner and stronger.”

Then suddenly, we are no longer stuck. Right now, very easily, I can remind myself that in the near future, the construction crew will be gone, and I will be free to come and go at my own discretion, and I can move past feeling so myopic and self-centered. We always have a choice of squeezing our hand shut tight in a fist or opening our fingers and exposing our palms. Which feels better? We can, I believe, as time goes on, help each other find a way to trust that joining together will bring us closer to where we want to be than pushing away or digging deeper ever will.