It’s incredible out here on the dock this morning. There’s a refreshing river breeze. It’s even a little cool, which is welcome relief from the heat and humidity of the past few days. The waves are lapping against the shore, the sunlight is sparkling on the water, the warmth of the sun is caressing my skin, and the birds are singing. If the water weren’t so choppy, I’d go out in my kayak. But honestly, I’m glad to have an excuse to indulge in a different pleasure this morning: playing my singing drum on the dock.
I’ve had the drum for less than a week but have wanted one for quite a while. Actually, I wanted a hang drum, but they are very expensive and harder to come by. So I began exploring alternatives and then kind of forgot about it until a couple of weeks ago.
I love to play my singing drum. Especially on the dock on a bright and breezy, summer morning.
There’s road noise to contend with. Always is here on the busy side of the river. I hear the familiar vibration of the steel deck bridge and the cars and trucks only a few yards away from my spot on the dock. But I’m trying to keep my attention on what’s most important: what uplifts me and feels most right in this moment. Just letting all the traffic noise be and not pull me away from my own be-ing.
Making music while all this other stuff goes on is this morning’s meditation practice. Choosing to feel and express my interconnection with the sparkling sunlight on the river, the eagle flying over the island, the wind, the movement and rhythm of the water. Focusing on that. Making music with that.
I can’t control the road noise. But I can control where I put my attention and whether I am in harmony or disharmony with my surroundings. Does my music embody union with the sparkling sunlight on the water or resistance to the rumble of traffic rolling by? Am I expressing wholeness or separation?
The state of your mind and heart is an integral part of the music you offer the world, literally and figuratively.
My advice? Play what you love. Focus on what you love, what brings you joy, meaning, satisfaction, grace. Can you keep your focus on that when all the other stuff is going on around you? Can you tune the other stuff out so you can co-create with life? Or even better, can you incorporate it into the totality of what you are living and embracing this very moment and express unconditional presence?
I sense our music is of a higher quality – less fearful and more authentic – when we play (talk/listen/act/love) from a state of presence and interconnection.
It’s all part of a larger practice of being more improvisational and not relying on notes (of one kind or another) on a page. Expressing from the heart in the moment and trusting that whatever arises is what’s most needed and real and true. That’s the leading edge of my practice these days.
When I hit the record button on my phone, I noticed a subtle shift from expressing to performing. From letting the notes and rhythms flow uninhibited to wanting to sound good and be appealing. But that’s a practice, too. A continuum. My intention is to push the record button and remain in presence, whether I’m communicating through music or words. It’s the same basic practice whether it involves playing music, interacting one-on-one, leading a guided meditation, facilitating a meeting or workshop, addressing a group, or teaching a class of young children. In my case, all my early childhood teaching experience has become a foundation for the rest.
Cultivating deep authenticity and trust…in myself and the wisdom inside me. And also in the magic of connection that happens in the moment, that transcends any stories I create in my head about relationship.
I looked to others for guidance and validation my whole life. But that need comes from the false self, which is a layer I’m in the process of shedding. Because it’s time, and I have a feeling that hormones are finally on my side. Now what I want most of all – more than any kind of worldly success or status – is to trust and follow my own guidance. To be MORE present, improvisational, inner- and inter-connected, and LESS self-conscious, rehearsed, and influenced by others. To express my inner being rather than try to be who I think others want me to be. The latter has had a long enough run! It’s time for a new experiment. It’s kind of scary. But even more, it’s exciting.
So this morning, I brought my singing drum to the dock and allowed the sparkles of sunlight on the water to be the notes I played. They looked like this:
And if you’re curious, they sounded something like this:
Aside from logistics, I didn’t really have any expectations for it (which is often beneficial in such situations). And the logistics went something like this:
We needed to be settled in at the retreat center in time for the purification ceremony the evening before the quest. Once the sacred ceremony began, we’d remain in silence for the rest of the evening, the entire next day, and through breakfast the following morning until we completed our opening meditation.
In addition, we’d fast for at least 24 hours, from before the purification ceremony until the vision quest ended the next evening.
I’d chosen and marked my vision quest spot months ago. It was nestled between four trees, at what I believe is the highest elevation point on the property, only a few yards from where we buried my son’s placenta 21 ½ years ago. This spot offered a view of the surrounding hills. I’d also considered a streamside location. However, I felt drawn to a more open, expansive setting with a view and some personal history.
I had to be all set up in my vision quest spot before sunrise (6 AM) and would remain there until sunset (a little before 8 PM). Fourteen whole hours.
My spot consisted of an 8-foot circle, and I was not permitted to bring anything with me except: protection from the elements, something to sit on, water, toilet paper, and a small shovel or trowel. No devices of any sort. Not even a watch to tell the time or a notebook to record insights. Actually, not having access to writing materials is what concerned me most. However, it would be a one-day experiment and an opportunity to try something new. I had to trust that if something really important surfaced, it would come back again.
I also was concerned about the weather forecast, which called for lots of rain and even a thunderstorm. But since I couldn’t do anything about the weather, I’d just have to be prepared and make the best of it.
Although I’d be alone in my circle, I wouldn’t really be alone. Fifteen of my classmates would be vision-questing simultaneously in their own circles scattered throughout the retreat center’s 236 acres. And many years of Hidden Treasure classes before ours had gone through it, too, and were praying for us. I had complete trust in Alice, my spiritual director of more than 30 years who leads the program. I just had to trust the process.
The weather ended up being exactly as forecasted. I barely had time to get set up before the rain began. It was still fairly dark when I secured an overhead tarp to four trees to keep me dry. I also put a tarp on the ground and brought my meditation cushion, yoga mat, and a sleeping bag for warmth.
And so began a long day of relating to my mind and the elements. There were periods of rain – downpours alternating with cloudy or even partly sunny sky at one point. But the rain is what I will remember most about the day.
I mostly practiced various forms of mindfulness meditation (sitting, standing, walking, and lying) and was surprised that very few thoughts and feelings took hold during the 14-hour vision quest.
The experience reminded me of childbirth – knowing it’s going to go on for a long time and having to stay in the moment so as not to become overwhelmed by it. There was plenty of opportunity to go into impatience, dissatisfaction, and frustration over conditions I could not control (i.e. weather and time). However, I kept catching myself and bringing myself back to present moment awareness:
my ant’s-eye view of the ground and the diversity of plant life emerging from it
the dewdrop at the top of every blade of grass – and its eventual disappearance
thousands of maple buds expanding into baby leaves
the sound of birds – quieter during storms, more active in between
the reflection of maple branches and buds in a small puddle on my tarp
my water jug magnifying whatever was behind it
the sound of my roof tarp blowing in the breeze
the mist dancing around the hills after a storm
sensations in my body
thunder and lightning.
It was interesting to see where my mind went to and what resources supported me when circumstances were beyond my control. The resources that carried me through the quest included: gratitude, mindfulness, knowing that this shall pass, and feeling interconnected with nature and my classmates.
Oh yeah, and the mantra: I am a badass. I mean, seriously: I was spending 14 hours in an 8-foot circle alone with my mind and whatever nature served up. Somehow those four words seemed to reframe the whole experience and empower me to keep on keeping on even when the rain was coming in slanted, and only a small spot of tarp remained dry.
Then I thought of the homeless folks I know and how they do this all the time, but not necessarily in a safe place or with the promise of a nourishing meal and a hot shower at sundown or an emotionally and spiritually supportive community to return to.
One moment in particular stood out above the rest. During the brief interlude of mid-day sunshine, I removed my jacket and noticed a tick crawling on the inside of it. That pulled me out of presence and into fear. A few moments later, I saw another tick, roughly the size of a pinhead with legs, crawl across the tarp I was sitting on. All of a sudden, I felt unsafe and questioned the prudence of making myself vulnerable to ticks for 14 hours in the pouring rain.
I wondered if continuing the vision quest experience could become another example of self-betrayal. What if I were to get Lyme disease from the vision quest, which I was doing because I was expected to do it? I latched on to that thought for a while, until I checked in with myself and realized that continuing the quest felt more right than spending the remainder of it in my car.
Killing ticks isn’t easy. However, I managed to liberate both of them from their present incarnations by bashing them repeatedly with my bottle of homemade tick spray. After all, I had plenty of time. And I was a badass. 😉 And ticks fell outside my circle of equanimity and compassion. (More about that later.)
After the tick incident, I spent most of the remainder of the vision quest huddled inside my mummy-style sleeping bag with only my eyes peeking out, feeling like I was in a cocoon.
Not eating or writing wasn’t a problem. It was a one-day experiment, and those were the rules. I was deeply grateful for my mindfulness meditation practice and for an unexpected interlude of sunshine.
It was hard to keep track of where the sun was in the sky because of the thick cloud cover in the afternoon, but I tried nonetheless. In the evening, it was hard to discern whether the sky was getting darker because another storm was approaching or because dusk and the end of the vision quest were drawing near. When I estimated that I had another hour and a half to go, I was delighted to see one of my classmates drive by. Even if they were early, the end was near!
And then it was over. My intuition gave me the green light, and I broke down my setup gleefully and headed back to the retreat lodge, where a comforting meal of carrot-ginger soup, tossed salad, and lemon bars awaited. And a hot shower. After all that (and a thorough tick check), I began to write about my experience.
Processing the Quest
The vision quest itself wasn’t nearly as juicy as processing it was. At first, I didn’t think I had much to write about. I even felt like I didn’t do well with vision-questing and assumed others went deeper and experienced higher states of consciousness. However, when I started writing, lots of stuff came up, including associations with my everyday life. And the comparison and failure scripts in my head were patterns to acknowledge.
Our class, guided by Alice and two other leaders, spent the next two days processing everyone’s vision quest, one at a time. All 16 of us! This was a lot like group dream interpretation. It was rather fascinating and powerful to witness each person processing and integrating their experience. The guides honed in on statements that seemed especially weighty or meaningful and inquired about how the statement applies to the individual’s life. Some deep, emotional processing took place.
I won’t go into great detail about the inner significance of my quest other than to say that the tick incident was probably the most noteworthy part of all and carried the greatest emotional weight. One key statement I made went something like this: “I looked at the tick on my tarp and thought, ‘You could ruin my life!’” I felt fearful of the tick, afraid that more of them would invade my sacred circle, and angry because ticks take me away from connecting more with [my true] nature.
There were some books in the center of our group circle to help us recognize and interpret the signs and omens of nature we came in contact with during our vision quest. I couldn’t find anything about ticks and considered what they represent to me.
Basically, they speak to me of boundary breaches that could result in a chronic condition that can seriously compromise quality-of-life. They get in the way of me doing what makes me feel most in my element, and I felt sad and irritated about that. Disempowered.
I recalled the moments during the quest when I questioned whether I was betraying myself by putting myself out there as tick bait because someone else expected me to do it. Putting other people’s expectations and approval above my own welfare.
There was the issue of ticks during the vision quest, but the larger question was about feelings of fear and self-betrayal, in general. How do they apply to my life? I’ve been close to Alice for more than 30 years, and she’s never led me astray or betrayed my trust, so it wasn’t about her. What did my response to the ticks remind me of? What was it showing me?
The basic theme was about not doing what feels most right, out of fear. Feeling it’s not safe to be my true self. There was lots of processing around that – childhood stuff, current stuff. I even dreamed the night before (after the vision quest) of speaking up and telling my dad how his critical comments in the dream made me feel. It was an “I have a right to be me!” dream that fit perfectly with my vision quest themes.
Don’t let anyone get under your skin and prevent you from living your life! Thus spoke the tick on my tarp.
My marching orders had to do with recovering my self-worth by standing up for myself in certain ways, to certain people. Not giving away my power. Alice suggested some practices that might help.
When I got back home, I googled “tick symbolism”, and what I found resonated strongly and enriched my understanding of what the ticks were showing me.
“This species of arachnid is letting you know that you have too many people in your life that are draining your energy. It’s time for you to step away and learn to set boundaries. These people just have too many expectations of you. It’s not up to you to fix their stuff… Engaging will only instigate ‘drama trauma’ and distract you from your own journey.”
Boundaries. So many opportunities for having healthy boundaries in my life, as scary and intimidating as it may feel. The lesson keeps returning until you finally learn it. If not now, when?
The Big Takeaway
I had my own vision quest that I’m still processing. But what provided the greatest lesson of all was hearing about everyone else’s experiences and listening to them being processed.
We were 16 people who had 16 entirely different vision quest experiences. Rain, hunger, and time were our common challenges. But everyone had a different relationship with them. Seeing my own experience within that context was illuminating.
Some of my classmates appeared to be under-prepared but had a pleasant experience. Others had really good gear, but that didn’t guarantee a pleasant vision quest. Some felt bad because they judged their experience in comparison to others. Others just had a lovely time, and some felt shame because others might envy their experience and wish they had an experience more like theirs. Some didn’t have a tarp and made do. Others took time the evening before to create a comfortable, welcoming space. Some did a lot of planning in advance. Others did virtually no planning.
Nobody else seemed as bothered by ticks as me, though a few discovered embedded ticks after returning home from the weekend. Some dealt with the tick problem by using heavy-duty repellant. Others didn’t really think about it at all until I brought it up. Even though Lyme disease is a serious health concern, and it is wise to protect yourself from ticks when you’re in the great outdoors, nobody else talked about ticks on their vision quest. This helped me to see that my reaction to ticks on the vision quest was my issue and pointed to something deeper in me that called for attention.
The vision quest also highlighted some of my strengths and resources and showed how different we are in terms of resourcing our lives and the gifts we contribute to the world.
I learned that nobody’s experience is any better or worse than anyone else’s. This applies not only to vision quests, but to life in general. They’re all different due to the unique combination of nature and nurture that are at play in our lives. We all have different challenges and resources, and passing judgment on anyone else ultimately says more about how we relate to ourselves than what is true about them. Other people are reflections of us that reveal our blind spots, shortcomings, fears, values, resources, aspirations, etc.
Sixteen different people, the same weather conditions, and 16 completely different experiences that provided me with a new perspective of my own journey and how I can be with others on theirs. Our differences can be our greatest teachers. Learning about our differences can help us to heal and grow, by making us aware of our issues and blind spots, in the first place. Understanding that everyone has challenges and struggles (though they might look a little different from ours) assures us that we are not alone. All beings want to feel happy and at ease, and all beings have challenges that get in the way of that.
So yeah, I have my work cut out for me. But I’m grateful to have greater clarity about how I get in my own way and what I can do about it. And I know I’m not alone. We’re all questing simultaneously in our little circles scattered throughout the planet every day of our lives.
Today was a great day for a field trip to our local park. It’s been rainy lately, but we lucked out.
We had a guided tour led by one of the park educators, followed by time for free play and exploration of a couple of learning stations set up in the pavilion. One of the learning stations was simply a plastic bin filled with soil and lots of worms. Want to know how to keep preschoolers focused and engaged for long stretches of time? Give them a bin of dirt and worms! It works wonders.
During the free play time, one of my preschoolers came up to me to give me a tiny treasure that at first glance appeared to be a gray stone. Then I realized it was a painted turtle hatchling about the size of a dandelion flower! It was early in the year for hatchlings, but there it was.
The little boy, with binoculars dangling from his neck, told me he found it in a spot where it was in danger of being trampled by our active group. Then he went back to exploring the park’s play garden. I was amazed he was able to notice the turtle in the first place because it was so small. All its appendages were tucked inside its shell, and it was an excellent camouflager.
At first glance, the turtle seemed rather lifeless. But as I held it in my hand and studied its eyes, I reconsidered that assessment. Poor little thing was probably terrified of the giant beholding it with awe.
Eventually, I felt some movement tickle my palm, and the tiny turtle pushed out a leg. Seeing it was alive, I decided to move it to a safer location closer to the pocket wetland. A group of children followed me, and I released the turtle on the ground. We watched it make its way to the pond, climbing over every obstacle in its path with fixed determination.
I captured the image below a split second before it plunged in.
I’m fascinated by how baby turtles find their way to water. It seems they just KNOW. I think we all have an inner guidance system that calls us in the direction of our true nature. An internal GPS that’s hardwired into us. Do we feel it and follow it? That’s the question.
Or do our thoughts and conditioning get in the way and prevent us from moving toward what feels most deeply right and diving into new territory?
The guidance is there, whether we tap into it or not.
Then with a silent plop!, the baby turtle was in the water – I’m guessing for the first time. And it was a natural swimmer. This little turtle was made for the water and was in its element. Yay! Every move it made sent ripples into its watery environment.
The image below makes my heart happy. It speaks to me of a goal attained and the sweet satisfaction of following your inner knowing and being in your element.
My son, who’s finishing his junior year of college, has been downhearted this week. He’s been questioning some of the choices he’s made and the path he’s on. We had a conversation in which I explained how life works, based on my own experience. I told him that new possibilities unfold with every step you take – possibilities you can’t see when you start out or encounter challenges. Or end-of-the-semester stress. You hold a vision and work to make it a reality, and some days you might wonder or even doubt whether you can pull it off.
Then all of a sudden, it dawns on you that you hold a key that will open a door that won’t open for anyone else. Because they don’t have the key; you do. You just have to find the door. And then your son comes home from elementary school that day, and when you greet him at the door, he announces, “Look what I found today on the playground!” Then he produces a rusty, old-fashioned KEY from his pocket. True story.
Or maybe one of your preschool students walks up to you and hands you a baby turtle that offers a metaphor that awakens you from the trance of self-doubt and affirms your inner GPS is working just fine.
And you keep going in the direction of your soul. Maybe you’ll even encounter a friendly giant who will have your back.
Needless to say, the dandelion-sized turtle provided my daily dose of inspiration.
Then the observant little boy who found it took my hand and asked me to look for more animals with him. After a little more exploring, guess where we ended up?
It was one of those rare and ethereal, frosty mornings on the river. I jumped out of bed and into my car, and by the time I returned home, I barely had time to wash my face (let alone shower) before leaving for work.
I would have liked to spend more time outdoors with my camera that morning. However, when I’m on a schedule, I tend to use my time better. I don’t waste time and procrastinate as I might be inclined to do when the whole day is open and available. When there’s only a brief window of opportunity, things get done. I do what matters most. That’s why the hour I drove around photographing the frosty river landscape was the most important hour of my day.
The sunlight, frost, and steam fog combined to create dazzling images. But only from certain angles. I drove along the river in search of the angles that illuminated the frosty trees in the most fantastic way. The effect was surprisingly elusive. Sometimes I’d see it from a distance, but as I got closer to the trees that appeared so stunning, the angle shifted, and the frosty grandeur faded.
In both photography and life, sometimes we need to step back a bit to find the most inspired view or perspective.
A certain property on the river appeared to have the best view of all. I yearned to drive down the long driveway and was disappointed because it was private property. “They’ve got the whole view in their yard!” I griped to myself.
And then I giggled because it reminded me of an old church song. I started singing and making up verses, such as:
They’ve got the frosty winter trees / In their yard
They’ve got the fog from the river / In their yard
My heart was full of song and joy, and I wondered: Were the people inside the house appreciating the heck out of the view they had that morning? Were they even aware of it? Was their view as stunning as mine was from the road, as I stood and crouched in awe of their frost-covered wonderland? Perhaps not. Who knows: Perhaps the best view was right where I was.
I kept driving and singing and stopping every now and then when I found just the right angle. The angle of YES!
Some of the best views were from the bridge near my house. The “scary” green steel deck bridge that some locals refuse to drive on, that vibrates whenever a car crosses it. (We can feel the vibration inside our house. It’s something you get used to, but visitors always notice.)
Before approaching the bridge on foot, I had to be set with the right lens because I wasn’t about to take the time to switch lenses on that narrow bridge with nearly constant, two-way traffic. The right aperture was another variable to consider: How much to draw attention to certain areas or details? And which ones? How much to blur out? What would be best in this case?
The lens of awareness extends far beyond the camera. My intention, both behind the camera lens and in general, is to find the right angle from which to view something so it becomes a precious opportunity to awaken: to experience, become, and express Love. It’s all about being in alignment.
That’s ultimately what I seek when I take off in my car on beautiful, frosty mornings: images that remind me of how life appears when I hold it at the right angle so the light shines through, and it becomes heaven on earth. Loving awareness makes everything valuable and worthwhile. It helps you to transform your relationship to everything that gets in the way of loving so you can set yourself free. Even your own beliefs about how things should be.
At one point during my drive, I turned on the radio just in time to hear these lyrics from an Eagles song:
So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains And we never even know we have the key.
They were the most perfect words I could hear in that moment. Then I turned off the radio because…confirmation received.
In this broader sense, finding the right angle is about letting everything serve our awakening so we become a fuller expression of love. There are so many examples: Dissolving grudges and resentment into equanimity and even appreciation. Loving myself even when I’ve let myself down. Loving others even when they let me down or hurt me. Loving those who don’t value or agree with me. Loving myself enough not to allow someone’s negative energy into my life but to love them from a safe distance for the role they play(ed) in my awakening and because they, too, experience suffering and are worthy of compassion. Trusting that the situation is exactly what I need to awaken. Being grateful for having the opportunity to awaken.
I’m talking about the little epiphanies that set things right in your heart. Grace.
It’s all about awakening and evolving and love. Cultivating the most loving response possible towards myself, the other, the situation, everything. Holding my relationship to certain emotions, experiences, relationships, etc. differently until it’s bathed in love. This includes reframing thoughts and establishing “right relationship” to them. For example, instead of tuning in to the disempowering channel of regret (“If only I hadn’t…”), reach for gratitude:
I’m grateful for whatever it took to wake me up.
I’m grateful that this situation helped me to discover my worth.
I’m grateful that this experience helped me to cultivate compassion and understanding.
Negative thoughts, irritations, and problems can be transformed into opportunities, possibilities, and blessings. Even something undesired can be reframed to: This, too, serves my awakening. And then all of a sudden, the sunbeams kiss the frosted trees in just the right way, and the steam fog rises around it all, and you’re filled with awe, hope, love, appreciation. You’ve found the exquisite angle.
The angle that sets you free and sends you forth with a song of gratitude in your heart that allows you to make peace with whatever arises, even when you wish things were different. Gratitude for the opportunity to work with your heart and mind in ways you’ve not explored yet and discover what’s possible and what matters more than any particular outcome.
All of this is why that frosty morning drive was the most important hour of my day. It wasn’t just about the pictures. Never is.
“What does it mean, say the words, that the earth is so beautiful? And what shall I do about it? What is the gift that I should bring to the world? What is the life that I should live?”
-Mary Oliver, Long Life: Essays and Other Writings (2005)
This week, my favorite living writer died. So did a high school classmate.
Mary Oliver was 83. Matt Riker was 51. His life was snuffed out by the same illness that took my mom from us nearly five years ago. In November, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Later that month, he visited Dana-Farber and learned his illness was incurable.
According to an article in a local newspaper, several years ago, Matt was very unhappy with the way he was living his life. He decided to turn things around and devoted his life to helping others. The more he helped, the better he felt. On a similar note, two years ago when he was borderline diabetic, he took up running, lost a lot of weight, and got into really good shape.
The point being: When he realized he wasn’t living the life he wanted to live, he found the determination and courage to make changes and turn things around. He even went back to school and received his bachelor’s degree last year. By the time he was diagnosed with advanced stage cancer, he felt at peace with his life and continued to focus on helping others because that’s who he had become.
Matt’s story is a real wake-up call. His transformation is inspiring. When you don’t like the story you’re living, you can do something different and change it.
The weekend before he passed away, there was a celebration in his honor. What a gift to have a celebration of life before someone passes away! It was an opportunity for everyone to say goodbye (even without saying it) and thank-you for happy memories and a life well lived.
I hadn’t seen Matt since high school. After he learned the nature of his illness, I reached out to him, and we shared a memory of being in a choral group together back in high school. I had to drive my son to Albany when the celebration was taking place and made it just in time. Matt looked in my eyes, said my name, gave me a hug, and a few moments later, two companions were on either side of him helping him make his way out of the building so he could rest.
After he left the celebration, a classmate who had gone running with Matt in the fall expressed disbelief. Such rapid physical decline is hard to wrap your head around. When I saw him at the celebration, he appeared as my mother did a week or two before she passed away. I did not expect him to make it to the end of the month. He only made it a week.
When an acquaintance your age or younger passes away, it wakes you up. It might inspire you to appreciate your life and your loved ones more. You might step back, take stock, and consider what’s most important and whether you are living your life in harmony with that.
I realized this week that I’ve gotten a little off-course and lost sight of what’s most important. I’ve been too busy and haven’t been spending as much time in nature as I need to. Haven’t had much time for those who mean the most to me. My heart yearns for more nature connection, more writing, more photography, and more quality time with loved ones. These activities feed my soul. They are my true Work.
What is the gift that I should bring to the world? What is the life that I should live? The answers to these inquiries are within each of us, in our heart center. Our heart is a compass that keeps us on course if we allow it to guide us. Its wisdom helps us to gauge how closely our life is aligned with our true Dharma. Then we can make some course adjustments if need be.
I believe that however long or short our lifetime is, it’s exactly as it should be. Even when death seems to come too soon or too suddenly, there are no accidents. If it’s your time, the universe will make sure you are in the right place. In other words, beyond the personal, senseless tragedy of loss, there is another level on which all is well. These dense bodies we live in only allow us to see a portion of the picture.
The thing is, we don’t know when our time will come. There are things I still want to accomplish, and I’ll bet the same is true for you. Things I don’t want to leave undone. When a friend of mine published her first book, she exclaimed, “I can die now!” That’s what I’m talking about: Don’t die with your song/book/etc. still within you.
Matt’s death awakened everyone his life touched. It inspired me to think about how I spend my time and why, and to take inventory of the Big Picture, just like he did several years ago.
Mary Oliver passed away four days after Matt, on Thursday.
Thursday morning, I HAD to sit on the riverbank (despite the cold weather) as the sun rose and listen to the music of the delicate plates of ice sailing down the river and colliding with piles of other shards. It’s one of my very favorite songs.
It’s no wonder I couldn’t resist the call to be in nature, astonished and filled with appreciation for the visual poetry surrounding me, though I wasn’t aware yet of the significance of the day. All I knew at the time was that it felt like the first real breath I had taken all week, and I could barely feel the cold because I was doing something that set my soul on fire.
When I heard the news that evening, it all made sense: Her soul was passing through. I wonder what she would have scribbled in her notebook about that morning’s frozen splendor on the Hudson.
Spending time on the river’s edge that morning and learning about the two deaths only a few days apart served the same purpose: They awakened me from the trance of routine and reminded me of what’s most important and what I need to make time for. What I did make time for until a few months ago when I took on another part-time job. (And next month, I will add yet another thing to my plate when I start a two-year mindfulness meditation teacher certification program, which I have yearned to do for years.)
I realized I need to spend more time steeped in gratitude on the water’s edge or elsewhere in nature with my camera in hand and my senses wide open. More time listening to what drifts through the air and bubbles up from within, and taking dictation. More time developing the services I’m trained for and feel passionate about. The Universe has delivered some very clear and consistent messages about moving forward with that NOW, not later. If not now, when?
I had to admit to myself that I’m doing too much. My schedule is too full. Even though I enjoy and appreciate everything I’m doing, something’s gotta give within the continuum that spans from enjoyment to the deeper pull that sets my soul on fire.
Those whose deaths jolt us out of the trance of daily life remind us to make time during our “one wild and precious life” for what is most essential. To not look beyond our own heart to discern what that is.
Last weekend was different from most, even as Hidden Treasure weekends go. For starters, we did trust falls.
So there I was, standing up on the edge of a massage table with my arms crossed in front of my chest. I repeated a surrender prayer one line at a time, then leaned back and released the full weight of my body to gravity. I experienced nervous anticipation, the moment of letting go, and the unsettling sensation of moving backward through the air supported by absolutely nothing, followed by the thump of landing straight on a cushion lowered gently to the ground by several of my classmates.
As my heart pounded so hard in my chest that I thought everyone in the room could hear it, I felt the grounding touch of three sets of loving hands doing energy work on my body to integrate the experience. The rest of my body was calm, and I realized my heart was excited, happy, leaping in my chest because I’d just burst through another fear barrier – the first of the weekend.
The next morning while meditating in my room, some words drifted into my mind:
Rest assured, mama: Your children are not your children.
It felt like something was trying to come through, and these words were the first cars of the train. So I opened to the flow and an hour later had a new poem written in my notebook.
That was the easy part.
When I read the completed poem, my heart pounded in my chest, which is my signal to speak up and share something. To feel the fear, and do it, anyway. My Higher Self was encouraging me to share my writing with the group, rather than email it to them after our retreat weekend was over. I’ve learned (the hard way) not to dismiss that voice when it “speaks”.
It’s one thing to share my innermost self in writing. It’s another to speak it in front of an audience. I’ve been a teacher for several years and don’t have any problem speaking in front of a group, in general. But sharing my writing is different.
The last (and only?) time I recall reading one of my poems in front of an audience was during my dear friend, David’s, funeral in 2013. It was a poem I’d composed 24 years earlier and felt comfortable with. In contrast, the poem I felt compelled to share with the group over the weekend was brand new. I felt nervous.
But I read it anyway, heart thumping and voice trembling. Many people in the room were moved by it, thanked me for sharing, asked for a copy, and insisted they didn’t hear any shaking in my voice.
After our weekend together, I added a new goal to my list for 2019: Participate in poetry readings. The thought of reading my writing in front of strangers feels intimidating – scarier than publishing it on my website and sending it to my mailing list. There are benefits and challenges to both kinds of sharing, but face-to-face sharing is something I need to do to expand beyond the “I can’t…” stories I have about myself.
Expanding beyond self-imposed limitations is such an amazing feeling! That’s why we put ourselves through experiences that push the edges and take us out of our comfort zone in the Hidden Treasure program. It’s all for the purpose of going beyond the limiting stories of the false self to experience our boundless true nature.
So, the poem…
I think of it as a letter to my younger self when one of my children was going through a particularly challenging time. Back then, I was busy arguing with reality and really struggling to accept a situation I could not change. It just as easily could be written for my daughter who often feels bad about being a single mom, or any other parent whose vision of how parenting would be conflicts with reality. Although the poem is offered for mothers and fathers, grandparents, and anyone else who is closely involved in a child’s life, I left the first line as it came through because it feels more authentic that way.
Rest Assured, Mama
Rest assured, mama:
Your children are not your children.
You don’t understand their reasons
For being here.
Perhaps this time and place,
And your imperfections
Are exactly what they need
To grow their soul.
Don’t drain your energy
Searching for a magic wand
To make everything
And everyone “better”.
See their Divinity,
Love them unconditionally,
Trust their path,
Accept their personality,
Give them sensible boundaries,
And honor their free will.
Do your best to support their journey,
But don’t be so sure
You know what it is
Or which roads are best for them
To take or to avoid.
Even as you shape and mold them
For this crazy world,
Allow them to transform you
Through the vehicle of this world
To question your assumptions
And see your blindspots.
May your dance together
Through time and space
Turn you around and spin
The nonsense of conditioning
Off the surface
And out of your cells
So you may discover
Your Deeper Self
And put it in charge of your life
So you can trust more
And realize they
Are here for your growth
As much as you are for theirs
And that you are enough
Just as you are
And so are they.