This Thanksgiving, I’m reflecting on what I’m most grateful for – what has supported me through this year. Here are my top 11 (because 11 is my favorite number, of course).
During the shutdown, when everything got cancelled and felt surreal and changed from day to day and sometimes even hour to hour, I was drawn to birdsong like never before. It was like a meditation bell that brought me out of my thoughts and into the present moment countless times a day. The songbirds cued me to notice my breathing and scan through my body to notice where I was holding tension so I could release it and invite greater ease.
It also seemed the birds were just living their lives, returning as they do every spring – regardless of how disrupted our human lives had become. Their melodic conversations uplifted me. It felt like a part of me could understand birdsong and found it comforting. The birds seemed to be messengers of lightness, joy, all-is-well.
As our planet took a gigantic and much needed breather and the human sounds quieted down, the birdsong became more noticeable…and captivating. It’s been my companion ever since. In this year of physical distancing, birdsong has kept me connected with the living, breathing world and ushered me back to presence.
This year, I’ve stayed close to home since the shutdown. I haven’t made any overnight trips, and the only day trips I made were to the New England Peace Pagoda a couple hours away in Massachusetts and to the Adirondacks for a Women of Light photo shoot on a perfect, autumn day. Aside from that, I’ve been exploring and appreciating what’s close to home. It’s been a beautiful experiment of “staying”.
There have been four parks/trails in particular that I’ve gravitated to this year. The first is Hudson Crossing Park, which is the closest. In the spring, I visited Hudson Crossing every morning and walked the labyrinth. “Labyrinth time” was what I looked forward to most of all every day. It was my only outing, my meditation time, and an opportunity to connect with both nature and my deeper self.
For a while, my husband and I hiked the Thunder Mountain trail in Greenwich regularly. I appreciated being in the woods and the view of the surrounding hills and mountains in the distance. We also ran into fewer people on this trail.
Then the Saratoga Spa State Park started calling to me. With far fewer tourists in town since both the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and the racetrack were closed to the public, it was more delightful than ever to explore the Spa State Park. I discovered and photographed lesser known mineral springs, meditated next to the Geyser Island Spouter, and walked the trails. In the fall, the Ellen Reid Sound Walk was a special treat that put me in an especially creative state.
The fall foliage was so stunning this year that I wasn’t content to just drive through it. I wanted to be immersed in it, up close and personal. That’s when the trails at Christ the King Center in Greenwich came on our radar. And they did not disappoint! It was rare to run into anyone at all, and I fell in love with a section of birch trees on the trail, the views, the peace and quiet, and the diversity of leaves blanketing the ground. (I collected some to make leaf lanterns.) Jack made a video about hiking at Christ the King you that can watch HERE.
The icing on the cake was the time I spent with my granddaughter and daughter (and her boyfriend) at the two parks. My granddaughter and I miss our weekly sleepovers so much, but she had lots of fun exploring the trails, pretending, caring for pinecones (baby trees), searching for and constructing fairy houses, and just being outdoors together creating beautiful memories.
I’m also immensely grateful for everyone who maintains these parks and trails that have offered refuge to so many this year.
The Hudson River
I feel so blessed to live on the river. The navigation season was much shorter than usual this year due to the locks being closed, which meant I could kayak without having to be so vigilant about boat traffic. Once things started to reopen in the summer and there was more traffic and human noise, it was incredibly satisfying to paddle up the river to where the human sounds (that seemed so loud) subsided so I could hear the symphony of nature undisturbed: songbirds, wind dancing with the leaves in the trees, woodpeckers pecking, bald eagles calling.
Sometimes I’d bring my singing drum or Koshi chimes and play with the sounds of nature and even dance. I felt much more free to dance and be embodied in spots on the riverside due to the lack of boat traffic. And there were more spots to choose from because the water level was low all year, creating several tiny “beaches”.
It’s also wonderful to wake up to the river every morning and to have it as my view all day long. To watch it flow and to be inspired by its movement and the reflective quality of its stillness. And to walk along the river at both Hudson Crossing Park and on the quiet roads across the river. The river nourishes my life on so many levels, and “staying” has been a great joy.
A Sense of Community
I have longed for more community in my life – especially a spiritually supportive community. A couple years ago, I had an astrological reading that ended up being absolutely uncanny in its accuracy. The astrologer highlighted the significance of me working with groups of women, in spiritual and healing ways. At the time, I couldn’t imagine what this could mean. It sounded great, but no possibilities came to mind.
Now I’m chuckling as I remember how perplexed I was by this…because it’s become my reality.
This year, I went full steam ahead into the role of meditation teacher that’s called to me my whole life. And who showed up? Mostly women. Exclusively women for at least the first few months. Many of the participants in my meditation courses have been with me since the spring, and a sense of community has been growing. Someday when Covid has run its course, I look forward to being with them in person. But in the meantime, we are creating community and awakening together via Zoom. For that, I am grateful.
There’s also another community of women that showed up in my life this year, that feels like the answer to a longtime prayer. This is a network of mostly younger, local women who are brilliant, deeply spiritual, and multifaceted creatives. I am in awe of their energy, talents, wisdom, and light. Remember the Three Dog Night song, “Shambhala”? I can tell my sister(s) by the flowers in (their) eyes / On the road to Shambala. It’s like that.
Knowing women like this earlier in life would have altered the entire trajectory of my life. These women are deeply in touch with spirit and express it in unique and beautiful ways. They are inspiring me to be more fully embodied and to bring my wisdom and light into fuller expression.
I even cleared furniture out of the sunroom overlooking the river to create space for yoga and dancing, and that’s what I do most evenings, sometimes with these women as my guides and inspiration (remotely, for now). This kind of sisterhood is the piece that has been missing all my life. I’m so grateful for the ways they inspire me. They even provided the initial inspiration for my Women of Light photography sessions. (How many times have I used the word “inspire” to describe them?)
Working From Home
The astrologer also said that I would be transitioning to working more from home. Working with groups of women and working from home? Sounded amazing, but I couldn’t imagine this happening. Had no vision for it whatsoever. At the time, I was working two part-time jobs at two different libraries and trying to make time for my own work as best I could.
In March as we headed into the shutdown, I couldn’t fathom doing either of my library jobs from home. They weren’t those kinds of jobs: I taught preschool and helped library patrons with computer and technology issues. I was in the midst of teaching a mindfulness meditation course through the smaller library as part of my practicum requirements for teacher certification and, already fluent in Zoom through my teacher training program, switched the course from in-person to Zoom literally overnight, without missing a beat.
Realizing people were really stressed out by the pandemic cancellations, I asked the HR person at the larger library if she’d like me to teach a mindfulness meditation class for staff through Zoom…and received a resounding YES!Can you start yesterday? That course went well, and then I was asked to offer a course for patrons.
That’s how it all began. I’ve been teaching Zoom classes ever since, non-stop with the exception of a month-long break at the end of summer. I became so busy doing this and developing more content that I ended up resigning from both of my library jobs so I could put my energy into delivering programs instead.
It feels like I am living my purpose, and I love working from home. Thank you, Zoom.
Inspired by my teacher, Tara Brach, I incorporate poetry into my guided meditations and meditation classes. Through Tara, I’ve discovered three poets whose work really resonates: John O’Donohue, Danna Faulds, and Mark Nepo. Their poems have been breaths of fresh air throughout the chaos of 2020. Mary Oliver is always right there in the mix, too, but I’ve appreciated her work for quite some time, along with the spiritual poetry of Hafiz and Rumi and my earliest favorite poet, Kahlil Gibran.
Bringing a book of poetry and a hot water bottle to bed with me is a pleasure I look forward to just like I appreciated my morning labyrinth time in the spring.
There’s a line from a poem I once read (most likely a Zen death poem) that has stuck with me: Don’t lean on the shifting world.
This year, the world has shifted so much that sometimes it’s felt like there’s nothing solid to stand on. And in moments when that felt overwhelming, I’d go outside. One spring evening, I sat outdoors beneath the clear, starry sky listening to the sound of spring peepers in the distance, across the river. I relished that the stars were still in the sky, and the peepers were still peeping, as they did every year at that time. They helped me to get grounded and find stability in a time of groundlessness and instability.
And then there were the daffodils blooming around the labyrinth as they did every spring. And then the fiddlehead families. The whole flower parade. And the backyard fireflies that put on a magical light show on summer nights. My beloved “water lily friends” in front of our house on the river. The brilliant display of fall foliage. All on schedule, as if nothing had changed.
As we head toward winter, there is not as much birdsong as there was earlier in the year. Anticipating this during the warmer months, I wondered how I’d adjust to winter’s quiet after resonating so deeply with the songbirds.
That’s where the beautiful instruments come in. The instruments that line my dance space: handpan, singing drums, and Koshi chimes. Sometimes I’ll dance with my Koshi chimes, wearing them like a ring and moving however my body wants to move. Or I’ll play the instruments intuitively, improvisationally, as a musical meditation. I also play keyboard from time to time, but it is in a different location because I have a different relationship with it than I do with these other instruments.
The sounds of these beautiful instruments are so soothing. I tend to turn to uplifting, major scales during the day and minor tunings in the evening, to wind down. And sometimes I’ll lie in the middle of my dance space and listen to a sound bath recorded by someone else. Sacred sounds enrich my life and physical body and fill the quiet spaces where birdsong has subsided.
Well-Stocked Grocery Stores
For a while during the shutdown in the spring, we had our groceries delivered. There was also one small, local business that came through with organic produce in a pinch. I’d place an order online and pick it up curbside ten minutes later, knowing that everything advertised was in stock. Once I bit the bullet and paid $8 for a head of cauliflower that was advertised as ridiculously large. But it was the puniest head of cauliflower I’d ever bought, and I couldn’t return it or get a price adjustment. And sometimes Instacart deliveries would include containers of salad greens that were already decomposing or other produce I wouldn’t have selected myself.
When I returned to the grocery store for the first time, there literally were tears in my eyes upon seeing a fully stocked produce department and being able to pick out fruits and vegetables on my own.
It’s a privilege I won’t take for granted again.
This might be the most difficult gratitude to put into words. So I’ll try to express what I’ve found living in my heart by describing a vision I had during meditation. It began with hearing my mother’s loving voice, which has been growing in my heart ever since she died 6 1/2 years ago. Then I realized that she was part of a greater entity of unconditional love. This entity appeared as a female form and contained everyone who’s loved me, teachers who have taught me to be more loving and wise, and even the higher selves of those with whom I’ve experienced disharmony. All their voices emanated from this entity of Love.
Then this entity went into my heart, like a genie going back into its bottle. I experienced it as an iridescent, heart-shaped crystal in my heart area. There was a white water lily at the top of my head, and a stream of light flowed from it down through my body. The heart crystal was in this stream of light, and when I listened to the sound of the tumbling stream, I realized it was the whispering of all those loving voices. The river of light was keeping the heart crystal clean and clear and accessible and was filling me with love.
From then on, I knew that all I needed to do was put a hand on my heart or call upon Love. Then that entity living in my heart would emerge from the crystal container and stand before me, and I’d feel all the love and hear what Love had to say to me. I could hear my mother’s voice, my father’s voice, my grandmother’s voice, the voice of the higher self of someone who had hurt me. During one meditation, the entity held my hands and then embraced me, and I felt completely surrounded by and filled with this pure energy of love and light. It felt like the embrace we all long for and was almost unbearably satisfying.
I know that whenever I need it, it’s all right there in my heart, accessible and more real than anything. And in this sense, we are not separate from our loved ones. The veils of death, mental illness, addiction, physical distance, etc. can be dissolved in a heartbeat so that there is no separation. For this, I am immensely grateful and resourced.
There was a particular moment recently when a wave of relief washed through my whole body, and the seeds of hope sent new roots into the earth. I was hopeful earlier in the year that the shutdown would help to awaken the world to simplicity and caring. And then things erupted into flames. But I still sense that we are part of a great awakening in human history. It won’t happen overnight. It’ll be messy and intense at times. But it’s happening, and we are part of it. We just need to be patient and to keep showing up for what we care about most.
We are not used to managing the kind of long-term stress and emotional overwhelm this year has served up. As far as I can tell, everyone is feeling it. Now, more than ever (and especially heading into the back-to-school/election season), we need resources to help us manage our stress levels. So I’d like to share my favorite relaxation resources with you.
I’m no stranger to anxiety. Throughout my life, I’ve come to realize the importance of managing my stress level. It’s really not so much about what’s going on around you as it is your response to it. That being said, there are situations I’ve learned I need to avoid. For instance, fast-paced, busy, high-stress jobs are not for me. I’m not able to be my best self in that kind of environment or when I’m working too much.
Some stressors are within our power to control. We can walk away from them or change the way we look at them. However, others are stickier, and that’s what we need our self-care toolbox for. Here are some relaxation tools I swear by.
My two favorite meditation apps are Insight Timer and Calm. To describe each app would be a blog post of its own, so I won’t attempt to do that. (You can click on the links to learn more.) Instead, I’ll touch upon what I’ve found most helpful.
I mostly use Insight Timer, which is largely a free app. It offers more than 55,000 guided meditations in many different categories and also has a timer for unguided practice. If you want to relieve anxiety, reduce stress, sleep better, manage emotions, etc. you can find plenty of guided meditations for these concerns and more. There are also meditations for children in the For Parents section. I primarily use the timer – which can be customized with different bell and ambient sounds. However, if you don’t have an established meditation practice, I recommend trying some guided meditations for relaxation. For instance, yoga nidra meditations (which I’ll discuss in a separation section) are invaluable for encouraging deep relaxation and sleep.
Calm is mostly a paid app ($70/year), but some institutions offer free memberships to their employees/students. If you are entitled to a free membership, lucky you! It’s definitely worth checking out! There’s a plethora of Sleep Stories (including one by my celebrity crush, Matthew McConaughey) and a Kids Meditation section. But there’s also a scaled-down, free version that has some worthwhile features.
For example, I love the Breathe Bubble that guides you to breathe slowly and deeply for relaxation. Ever since I was a child, I’ve experienced anxiety in doctors’ offices, and the Breathe Bubble – which includes visual, sound, and word prompts – helps me to calm down in that situation and whenever I’m feeling upset or frazzled. To access it (within app only), click on “More”, and select “Breathing Exercise”. I also enjoy the Sleep Stories from time to time. Most are premium features, but there are also some free ones. My favorite is about lavender fields in Provence that I listen to while diffusing lavender at bedtime. The sleep stories are relaxing and are like having a bedtime story read to you. Sometimes I’m in the mood for that, and I rarely make it to the end of the story before falling asleep. Actually, I don’t know if I’ve ever made it to the end!
Both Insight Timer and Calm have premium content you have to pay to access, but Insight Timer has a lot more free content, and I recommend it highly.
Yoga nidra, or “yogic sleep”, is a form of guided meditation that promotes conscious, deep relaxation and restores your mind, body, and spirit. You do it while lying comfortably on your back. You never need to worry about doing it “wrong” because there’s no way to do it wrong, even if you fall asleep. It can be done from 10 minutes to an hour or longer, depending on the version you choose.
Yoga nidra helps me to fall back asleep if I wake up in the middle of the night or too early in the morning with a busy mind. It really knocks me out! Even if I make it to the end of the meditation before falling asleep, I’m in such a relaxed state by then that sleep will come soon. When I practice yoga nidra, it feels like I sleep much more deeply.
There are several stages of yoga nidra meditation, including:
Moving awareness from the physical body inward
Sankalpa: A carefully chosen, positive intention or affirmation stated in the present tense
Rotating consciousness through the entire body (body scan)
Awareness of the breath, to promote relaxation and concentration
Revisiting your sankalpa/intention during deep relaxation
Bringing your mind back gradually from psychic sleep to waking state (unless you wish to fall asleep)
A few years ago, I downloaded Julie Rader’s 45-minute version of yoga nidra from iTunes and got a lot of mileage from it. It’s a good one! However, once when I was traveling and didn’t have it easily accessible, I searched for “yoga nidra” on Insight Timer and discovered a 29-minute Yoga Nidra for Sleep & Rest from The Stillpoint that became my go-to yoga nidra meditation. Since then, I’ve also favorited Yoga Nidra – Maximum Body Scan by Steve Wolf and Yoga Nidra for Better Sleep by Robyn Gray. Yoga nidra works like a charm, and there are many to choose from!
Yoga nidra doesn’t have to be done at bedtime. It can be done any time of day to promote deep relaxation. Here is a brief article to learn more.
I love love love my weighted blanket! What’s a weighted blanket, you ask? It’s a blanket that’s filled with pockets of non-toxic poly or glass pellets to weigh it down and feels like a big, full-body hug. You know how infants are soothed by being swaddled? It’s like that. In many people, deep pressure touch causes the brain to release neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which have a calming effect. Weighted blankets can be useful for those who experience anxiety, stress, and insomnia, as well as sensory integration disorder, Asperger’s, ADHD, and Rett Syndrome.
Anyone who has tried my blanket has been instantly soothed. (My daughter said it felt like the blanket was hugging her.) The sensation is like covering yourself with a blanket of calm. It also reminds me of the sensation of being covered by sand on the beach – like pushing your feet into the sand and feeling them hugged.
I ordered my weighted blanket from Magic Weighted Blanket. Weighted blankets aren’t inexpensive but are therapeutically invaluable, in my opinion. Websites that sell weighted blankets can help you to figure out how much weight is best for you.
Similar to the idea of a weighted blanket is a yoga eye pillow. This is a pillow that’s just large enough to fit over your eyes and usually is filled with flax seeds and perhaps a calming herb like lavender. The eye pillow puts light pressure on your eyeballs and lowers heart rate via the oculocardiac reflex and also stimulates the vegas nerve. These responses can result in deep relaxation and a sense of grounding.
The combination of yoga nidra (or relaxing music), lavender essential oil, my weighted blanket, and my eye pillow is the ultimate relaxation! It’s really nice to have an eye pillow with a cover or zipper that allows you to remove the filling for laundering.
I enjoy using essential oils for relaxation. My favorite ways to use them include: diffusing, putting a few drops in a bath along with 2 cups of Epsom salt, putting a drop on my yoga mat, and even just sniffing the opened bottle.
Lavender is my go-to essential oil for sleep and relaxation. I love sandalwood, too, either by itself or blended with orange essential oil. They are my favorites! But what works for one person might not work for another, and there are sooooo many possibilities!
Tara Healing Incense, a traditional Tibetan medicine for relieving stress, tension, and depression, is my favorite incense. I’ve used it for many years. Handmade by Tibetan refugees living in Dharamsala, India, it’s an earthy, smokey, NOT perfumy fragrance composed of 30 pure and natural herbs. It’s available in most stores that sell incense and meditation supplies.
White Noise App
I’m someone who needs white noise in the background to fall asleep, especially with all the traffic that goes by our house. In the summer, a fan serves nicely. However, the White Noise app from TM Soft has oh, so many wonderful choices. The sounds are so soothing and create a peaceful atmosphere during the day, not just at night.
My favorite sleep sounds are Brown Noise (much gentler than white noise), Stream Water Flowing, and Gentle Breezy Pebble Beach Waves. Other relaxing choices include: theta waves, zen spa music, waterfalls, ocean, peaceful lake, camping in the rain, campfire, and probably hundreds more. I also like to use this app to facilitate a peaceful environment and to drown out sounds from activities going on in another room so I can focus.
In contrast to a weighted blanket, a float tank provides a sensation of weightlessness and supreme relaxation that you really can’t experience any other way. You’re like a cork floating and don’t have to do anything at all to stay afloat and therefore can completely relax your entire body. Sometimes referred to as a sensory deprivation tank, it’s a chamber that usually measures around 8′ x 4′ and is filled with about 10″ of water that is so heavily concentrated with Epsom salts that you float effortlessly. I’ve written previously about float tanks, so I won’t reinvent the wheel here! You can click the links to read my articles on Flotation Restoration, Part One and Part Two.
There are many different forms of yoga. Restorative yoga is a particularly meditative form that adopts a very slow pace and deep breathing that triggers the parasympathetic nervous system. Restorative poses are held for a long time to allow your body and mind to relax deeply. You might even hold a pose for 10 minutes, breathing slowly and deeply. It’s very different from the more active, athletic forms of yoga!
I appreciate the restorative yoga video collection on Gaia when I have a subscription. There are also plenty of videos on YouTube to choose from. Restorative yoga sequences often require a number of props (blankets, bolsters, blocks) that allow you to really release into a pose. However, there are also some poses that only require blankets, such as Legs Up the Wall, for which instructions are given in the article link. Of course, yoga studios also offer restorative classes.
It might go without saying, but if you do restorative yoga on your own, a peaceful atmosphere free from interruptions and distractions is essential. You need to be able to relax completely. Make sure you gather whatever props you’ll need ahead of time so they’ll be within reach.
I am enamored with filmmaker, Louie Schwartzberg’s work. He is a pioneer in the field of visual healing. He films nature in extraordinary ways, speeding up processes that are too slow to observe (such as time-lapse flowers) and slowing down what’s too fast for us to see (such as the movement of hummingbirds and dragonflies). His films “bring a sense of natural wonder, healing serenity, restoration and well-being” to your environment. Louie’s “moving art” facilitates relaxation and awe and transports you to the beautiful places he’s filmed. There are three seasons of Moving Art on Netflix that feature diverse landscapes and life forms all around the world. Once, I watched Louie’s videos of time-lapse flowers on my phone (Magic Flowers app) during an uncomfortable medical procedure, and the doctor agreed that it really worked for me.
I also enjoy videos of ocean waves. There are also lots of free videos on YouTube, including some that are long enough to play all night long. Ocean waves videos create such a relaxing environment. Sometimes I’ll burn an ocean-scented candle to make it even more of a sensory-immersive experience. I’ve even reclined on the floor in front of the screen with my feet in a basin of smooth rocks and water or sand and a fan blowing for an even more complete experience! But even just sitting and doing nothing other than watching a nature video of ocean waves, fish swimming around underwater, etc. without any props can slow your breathing and heart rate. I call it taking an imagination vacation, and whenever I remember to do it, I’m glad that I did and promise myself I’ll do it more often.
When I taught kindergarten, I’d put these kinds of videos on the SMART Board for quiet interludes during the day, to promote calm. So this is something teachers may find useful in the classroom. There’s nothing like nature to bring you back into harmony and balance!
One summer, I attended a Mindfulness in Education conference at Omega Institute. Meditation teacher, Jack Kornfield, led us through a guided meditation in which we received a special gift from a spiritual being. In the meditation, H.H. the Dalai Lama give me a heart-shaped rose quartz heart, and right after the session was done, I went to the retreat center shop and bought one. It has been quite literally a relaxation touchstone for me ever since.
When I hold the crystal heart in my hand, it takes on my body heat and becomes quite warm. For some reason, I find that very soothing! It’s so pleasurable to touch the warm crystal to my face. I’ll sometimes even sleep with it in my hand or under my pillow. It gives off calming, nurturing energy.
If I notice tension in my body, I often will place that or another crystal on the area that feels imbalanced. For me, that’s usually in the notch at the bottom of my rib cage. I also use crystals in my Reiki practice, placing them on certain areas of the body as I feel guided.
Use your intuition to select a crystal that feels right for you. If you have more than one, use your intuition to select which one to use at any given time. There are lots of websites that sell crystals, but I recommend going to a brick-and-mortar shop if you can get to one, so you can feel which crystals you’re most drawn to.
Energy Muse has some useful information about selecting and working with crystals, to get you started. Check out their blog for some handy guides, articles, and videos if you’d like to learn more.
Those are ten of my top twelve choices in my relaxation toolbox. My two other favorites are Mindfulness Meditation and Reiki. As a mindfulness meditation practitioner for more than 25 years and mindfulness meditation teacher, I appreciate how mindfulness meditation builds the muscle of returning out of thought and emotional reactivity and into presence. When you are present in the here and now, you can access more of your natural wisdom and compassion and choose how to respond to whatever arises in the moment instead of just being pulled along by the current of habit.
It used to be that I had various tools in my self-care toolbox but wouldn’t remember to use them. As you become more mindful both “on and off the cushion”, you can remember to use your resources (such as the ones mentioned above). Beginning the day with meditation sets a positive, empowered tone for the day, and ending the day with meditation helps you to release the day and sleep better. The more you practice, the more you can remember to return to presence throughout the day as you go about living your life.
If you would like personal instruction/coaching in mindfulness or a Reiki healing session (distance sessions only during COVID), please contact me. I do both! You also can visit my Calendar to sign up for my upcoming mindfulness meditation classes.
I hope this article will be useful to you and others as we continue managing the unique challenges of 2020. ❤️
In the end, I understand
It was the ocean itself
That kept calling me back
And nothing less.
The ocean that held
Everything I brought to it
And made it seem
Until I stood at the edge
Of land and sea,
Vast and rhythmic
Breathing the breath
Of all life.
I bow down and release
All the worries and heartache
Into the ebb tide
That carries them
To the unseen place
Where they become formless,
And pick up a smooth stone
That catches my eye:
A token of the journey.
Back home, I hold
The stone to my heart
And feel the waves wash
Over it so tenderly
And find the ocean
Right there, always
Accessible no matter
How many miles
Or months or years
I am from the coast.
In time, I don’t even need
To touch the stone
For the ocean is in
My heart and perhaps
Is even what my heart
And in the end, I understand
That in response to all
The words and prayers
I wrote in the sand
And through all the waves
Of coming and going
And the great longing
To return, the ocean
Has taught me
To smooth the rough edges
And resource my life:
With kind awareness
To this breath, this moment,
To the life that is here,
Again and again
And to want this
Above all else.
I’ve been asking myself some important questions lately and wondering how others would answer them. For example:
What matters most to you?
And how do you connect with it?
What consistently matters most to me is: Presence, Connection, Compassion, and Gratitude.
I connect with these qualities on a daily basis by doing walking meditation in the labyrinth, which is my sanctuary. It’s the only reason why I leave the house and has become my favorite daily ritual. It’s a meditation practice from which insights arise, and it’s really supporting me during this time of staying home during the pandemic.
After more than a month of staying home, I’ve made a series of five “labyrinth time” videos, complete with lots of uplifting birdsong. Is it a meditation? Meditation instruction? A poem? All of the above? I don’t know what to call it. All I know is that it’s real and tender and honest. (So much so that sometimes I feel shy about sharing.) These are videos for quiet moments.
Here’s what’s going on: As I walk the labyrinth, I stop periodically to dictate insights into a Google doc on my phone. Then I put my phone back in my pocket, return to presence, and start walking again. At the end of my walking meditation, before leaving the labyrinth, I record myself reading the insights and reflections out loud, accompanied by all the natural sounds. I also take pictures either before or after walking the labyrinth. This video series is my own personal chronicle of where I draw strength from during this time of deep uncertainty.
What you’re hearing is an unfiltered narration of what arises in my mind when I’m immersed in moving meditation in nature and feeling present and connected. The themes center around being intimate with what is and shifting out of expectation, desire, and thought patterns and back into presence. Repeatedly. With compassion.
And you can see the changes the natural world goes through as the weeks pass. Even as our normal routines remain collectively altered, nature keeps doing what it always does at this time of year: renewing, growing, blooming. The natural world is a steadfast background and an anchor of presence we can return to again and again.