Yesterday I took a walk in the woods. A question had been lingering in my mind all day regarding someone dear to my heart who is going through a challenging time: If I could converse with their higher self, what would it have to say about my role in their life and our relationship? What’s most important for me to know?
This is something I’ve contemplated in the past with regard to other close relationships. It’s like when you’re not getting anywhere talking with a frontline worker, so you go over their head and speak with the manager. When you’re able to tap into something greater than the personality, higher wisdom can come through.
I can’t say for sure where it comes from. Maybe we connect with our own higher nature or the other person’s, or perhaps at that level we’re not separate anyway. Nonphysical guides? Who’s to say? Seems to me it’s not necessary to have that part figured out to receive useful guidance.
I decided to take a trail I was less familiar with and after a while wondered if it would take me where I wanted to go. At one point, I considered turning around and taking the road back to where my car was parked. However, intuition kept me on the path.
Eventually, I encountered a tree that was absolutely bursting with birdsong—the liveliest bird-music I’d heard so far this year. It was so intoxicating that I stopped walking to marvel at and record the songbirds.
A couple minutes into recording, a car came within earshot. A young man in the car was belting out a song. He had a decent voice, but after a few lines, he began shrieking out the lyrics, and I stopped recording. Until the shrieking began, I didn’t pay much attention. I was more interested in the birdsong. However, the shrieking drew my attention and curiosity. I realized it was a song I knew well.
I continued walking—a little faster now, aware of and grateful for others on the path because this guy seemed a little unhinged!
When I got home that evening, I listened to the recording and pulled up the lyrics for the song (“You Say” by Lauren Daigle). The part of the song I recorded (before the voice became completely distorted) seemed like clear guidance concerning the question I carried in my heart:
“I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough
Every single lie that tells me I will never measure up
Am I more than just the sum of every high and every low
Remind me once again just who I am because I need to know
You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
And you say I am held when I am falling short”…
I’m actually blown away by this because I had prayed for guidance. And there it came, drifting through the air in a moment of stillness and deep listening in the woods. Although I hadn’t intended to end up where I was when this happened and felt a little lost, I was exactly where I needed to be to experience this.
How perfect that the birdsong was enchanting enough to stop me in my tracks and keep me in that spot long enough for me to be in the right place at the right time so the words could reach me!
My husband and I had planned to walk together, but I felt drawn to this particular trail rather than ones closer to home. He had a lot to do and decided not to go with me. Which felt right. Had we been walking together, I probably wouldn’t have stopped to listen to the birds. The pieces wouldn’t have come together.
I’m amused by the idea of the young man who had given in to a crazy outburst in the company of his two friends. He was completely unaware that he was serving as a messenger for a woman he didn’t even notice walking on a nearby trail. It makes me think of how we might be entirely unaware of the roles we inadvertently play in someone’s life—even strangers, as we pass through their field of awareness, however briefly. How many times have we been an unwitting messenger or catalyst?
By the way, the song is amazing. The first time I heard it, I found myself annoyed by yet another “codependent love song” during the second verse (not part of the above excerpt). But as I kept listening, I realized it carried a powerful message if I imagined it being sung to the higher self, not to another person. Later, I learned that was actually the songwriter’s intention. Lauren Daigle is a Christian artist, and she wasn’t singing about a codependent relationship.
If you’re interested, here’s the birdsong recording (with singing at the very end):
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?
I imagine you’ve heard the proverb, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” For the past week or so, my teacher has been Anita Moorjani’s book, Dying to Be Me (Hay House, 2012) – which I finally got around to reading! This is an inspirational memoir written by a woman who was dying of end-stage lymphoma, had a near-death experience (NDE), and returned to her body knowing for certain that her cancer would be healed completely. It is an amazing, profoundly inspiring account. As miraculous as the medical piece is, what impresses me most is the way her life changed as a result of what she experienced during her NDE.
I was intrigued by the author’s descriptions of how her NDE transformed the way she perceived and lived her life because so much of what she had to say described with surprising accuracy the way I have come to perceive and relate to the world. However, there is one major difference. Right before deciding to return to her body, she was guided to go back and live her life fearlessly. And she did. Eliminating fear transformed her life completely, and I realize this is precisely what has been holding me back. (You, too, perhaps?) The rest of this post is a reflection I wrote when I was midway through the book and inspired deeply by the author’s revelation that love is the nature of the entire universe and our true essence, as well. Since so much synchronicity occurred as I read and reflected on this book, it feels right to share my reflections. (There is something very powerful and magical about this book!) So here goes…
I spent decades believing it was of the utmost importance to figure out what kind of work I should do – meaning what kind of paid job I should devote my life to. I felt this was predestined, and if I did not figure it out correctly, then my life would be wasted; I would have failed, and I would be held accountable in the end. (I had a tendency to put a lot of pressure on myself.) I believed there was one thing I was meant to do, it was my Life’s Purpose, and it was so important to discern it and to have the discipline to see it through. But I’m realizing now that what’s most important isn’t what I do but what I am.
I am love, and so are you.
If I am love, it doesn’t matter what I do. What I do becomes an expression of who I am. I suspect that many situations can be transformed from the inside out if we stop focusing on outcomes and accomplishments and allow the love that we are to flow through us. It is a choice to cut off the flow, whether or not we are aware that we are doing so. We can align ourselves with any situation by surrendering to the flow and allowing our essence – love – to be expressed in the world. Not our ego desires, but our true essence. When love comes through, miracles happen.
And yet, there are times when it seems love seeks new expression. There may be another way in which our essence can manifest more fully through our work and actions in the world. Too much thinking can get in the way of allowing this to happen. Imprisoned by fear, our minds generate countless reasons to stay where we are and not risk change. I think of the great blue herons I observe on the riverbank. They know when to move on to a new spot – when conditions are no longer favorable and other spots offer greater possibilities.
Imagine a heron too afraid to move to a new spot along the river when the food supply at its current location is insufficient, or a predator or other threat encroaches its space, or it is time to migrate to a warmer climate. How absurd! The heron knows instinctively what it needs to survive and takes swift action. Not bogged down by the human mind’s compulsion to process the situation in detail, it moves with the flow of life, lifting into the air and following its instincts to a new spot.
“When we try to move with this flow rather than adhere dogmatically to the doctrines of others or the beliefs we once had that no longer serve us, we more accurately reflect who and what we truly are.” -Anita Moorjani (Dying to Be Me, p. 154)
I think of my true essence (or “infinite self” as Moorjani sometimes calls it) as a heron that discerns when conditions have shifted enough to inhibit its fullest expression. I have spent a lot of time observing herons and can tell when they begin to feel uneasy and are about to rise into the air and squawk en route to a new spot. I recognize that unease and restlessness in me and realize that what is different between the heron and me is a mind fettered by fear.
“The mind is more about doing, and the soul is more about being… The intellect is just a tool for navigating through this life…while the soul only wants to express itself.” (Dying to Be Me, p. 146)
“I have discovered that to determine whether my actions stem from ‘doing’ or ‘being,’ I only need to look at the emotion behind my everyday decisions. Is it fear, or is it passion? If everything I do each day is driven by passion and a zest for living, then I’m ‘being,’ but if my actions are a result of fear, then I’m in ‘doing’ mode.” (Dying to Be Me, p. 147)
I have spent countless hours on the river searching for definitive answers about what to do in matters large and small. Once, the river told me to write, so I did. The little voice within tells me to keep writing, so I am. I think the path of the infinite self unfolds when we find our center and do what we feel drawn to do from that centered awareness – when we are still enough to hear it speak. I am beginning to recognize the voice of my infinite self that arises when I am not immersed in thought and urges me to take a certain action. It’s like a little nudge. Make this phone call. Read this book. Message this person. Pause for a bit. Plan an exhibit. It has a different quality to it than my thinking mind – like the difference between intuition and thought – and when I follow it, I feel more alive. It feels right. It’s different than checking off items on a to-do list.
It seems to me that the path unfolds when we stop allowing fear to hold us back and do what we feel drawn to do each step of the way because we realize how precious our time is and that we help the world to evolve by allowing our essence to be expressed as magnificently and completely as possible. (A major theme of Moorjani’s message is to remember our “magnificence.”) I truly believe that when we follow and express our true essence – love – the universe responds and supports us. But first, we must stop clinging to the alligator we have mistaken for a safe and stable rock and surrender to the flow of the love that we are.
In the early twentieth century, Swiss psychologist Carl Jung coined the term synchronicity to describe causally unrelated events that appear to be meaningfully connected in some way. In my own experience, I’ve found that if you keep your senses open to synchronicity, it happens all the time. A few months ago, I even began keeping a synchronicity journal to remind myself of how extraordinary it can be.
A few of my most memorable synchronicity experiences occurred when I was trying to land a teaching job. It was a really long haul to go back to school as a recently divorced mother of two children and obtain a master’s degree and all the credentials required for the various New York State teacher certifications that would make me more marketable in a highly competitive job market. Sometimes I became discouraged and overwhelmed by the marathon and the slim odds of receiving a job offer in a supersaturated field. However, one day it occurred to me in a moment of clarity that I held a key to a door that would only open for me – because I alone had the key. I just needed to find the door. It was an empowering insight that renewed my enthusiasm. When my son came home from school that afternoon, the first thing he said to me was, “Look what I found!” And then, with great excitement, he presented me with a very old key that he considered quite the treasure.
And so did I! My eyes must have bulged out of my head when I saw physical confirmation of my insight. The old-fashioned key remains on my meditation alter to this day.
That is synchronicity.
As I got closer to approaching that metaphorical door, I was contacted by two school districts for interviews. One was a second interview with the district I really wanted to work in – the district I attended from kindergarten through high school graduation and in which my children were enrolled at the time. I did my student teaching and all my substitute teaching there, and it felt like the logical place for me. The other was a much smaller, agricultural district a couple towns away, with which I had no prior experience or contacts. About a week before the interviews, I received in the mail a publication from my religious order, and on the back cover was a poem about how sometimes the things we want so badly might end up having a bitter taste, and perhaps we are better off without them for reasons we may never know. I had a feeling after reading it that it spoke to my situation, although I tried to convince myself otherwise. At the time, I worked part-time as a library shelver and sometimes played a little game while walking through the stacks: I’d open a random book to a random page and read it. The next time I was at work, amazingly, on the page I opened to, my eyes fell upon the name of the second, smaller school district, with a different spelling but the same pronunciation! Now, what are the odds of that happening when you open any random book in a large library to a random page?
To make a long story short, I was not offered the job in the district that was my top choice. And I felt devastated. However, the next day, I had an interview with the smaller district and was offered the job – and felt jubilant. I considered the synchronicities as indicators that this was simply how it was meant to be.
Fast-forwarding more than five years, I’ll share the two most recent experiences that occurred this past week.
This summer, I began a massive cleaning and restructuring of our house. It’s time to lighten our load and change things around – get the chi flowing and make room for new energy to flow in. I was going through some old magazines and decided to get rid of most of them. On the way to the recycle bin, a magazine fell open to a page with an ad for a book that caught my eye. It was a new release (at the time) called One Hundred Days of Solitude: Losing Myself and Finding Grace on a Zen Retreatby a Zen teacher named Jane Dobisz. Without reading anything more about it or ever coming across it previously – and despite not being a Zen practitioner – I knew intuitively that I needed to read that book and ordered it immediately. And it turns out it is exactly what I need right now and is shedding so much light on my current situation. It’s absolutely perfect. I have been longing to go on a lengthy retreat somewhere although it is not the right time to do so, and I am able to experience it vicariously through the author. In the off-the-cuff definition I offered above of synchronicity, perhaps this doesn’t seem to fit because it (seeing the ad for the book) was just one event. However, there were a few other details that would take too long to explain but made it seem clearly synchronistic. I recognized the book ad instantly as an answer I was seeking, without having to think about it at all. Intuition bypassed the conceptual mind, and I just knew.
I find that there is a certain feel to synchronicities. You can choose to ignore them or to follow them. In my experience, I have found that it is a marvelous adventure to follow them. They often lead to more synchronicity, a trail of new possibilities and enhanced energy and creativity. I regard synchronicity much the same as I regard dreams. I don’t know whether they are generated internally or externally, but it’s the noticing and intuitive knowing about them that is meaningful to me. If you decide to take a walk and look for things that are a certain color – let’s say, purple – then purple objects will begin to jump out and register more in your field of awareness. The same thing happens when you play I-Spy. Maybe synchronicity operates along those lines. Or perhaps in Jungian terms, it is the connecting principle of the collective unconscious, bridging our inner and outer experiences, uniting mind and matter.
Finally, I was on the river earlier this week. For the most part, it’s not the peaceful experience it has been in past years due to all of the traffic from work boats and dredging barges. The pontoon work boats tend to disregard posted speed limits and “no wake” signs and gun it up and down the river. I was paddling for about an hour, encountering considerable traffic, and as I got closer to home it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen any wildlife the whole time I was on the river. No beavers. No herons. No egrets. I assumed it was because of the constant activity between the two locks this year. In my mind, I asked, “Where are you, beavers and herons?” And just then, I received an answer: A great blue heron lifted into the air from a concealed location and squawked as if responding to my question. It was so uncanny that my jaw dropped.
After fetching my camera, I went in search of the heron, who I found standing still as a statue on a log in a shallow area. I paddled ever so gingerly toward the heron in an attempt to get as close as possible because I was in need of “heron medicine.” I was able to get quite near and observed the heron so closely that it felt as if we were one being. I entered “heron consciousness,” a state of intense presence and patience. It is a state of mind free from distractions; even the intense heat and bright sun didn’t make an impression on me (which is highly unusual). But at the same time, I was highly alert, with a laser-sharp focus. Aware but not distracted. When you are in “heron mind,” you know instinctively what to do and when it is time to move on.
I was so in tune with the heron that I could tell by a subtle movement that it was about to take off. I have been wanting to photograph a heron lifting off for years but never have been quick enough; it always happens so suddenly. But this time, I was ready!
So I ended up with a satisfying photo, but that’s not all. Having entered “heron mind,” something clicked inside me, and I knew that the deep presence is the element I need to bring into my teaching for the next year. As the curriculum becomes narrower, more demanding, and more tightly scripted, deep, authentic presence might be the key ingredient to help me navigate through the year with as much grace and integrity as possible. I ordered prints of both of the heron pictures to place on the cover of my planning notebook so I can stay in touch with heron energy throughout the year. Last year it was water lilies and the slogan, “Bloom where you are planted.” This year it is heron energy and “Be here now.”
When I read a chapter in One Hundred Days of Solitude about Zen koans, I thought of the question that has been on my mind all summer and the dualistic way I’ve been approaching it: Should I do this or something different? Suddenly, it became a koan to me – a question with no logical answer, designed to liberate you from thinking – and I saw in my mind the answer in the form of the action and energy of being present. Seems the answer is not a yes or no – an either-or – but rather, enlightened action that bypasses yes or no altogether. Deep presence that cuts through the opposing possibilities to something…deeper.
I truly believe that if you are alert, truly present, and able to embrace the “now” rather than resist it or be distracted by too much thinking, you will find your way and end up where you need to be. The journey is the destination, and every moment makes a difference. Either you will find meaning and joy in your current situation, or your zest will lead you in another direction and open new doors.
Guidance and possibilities are everywhere, always, and it’s interesting to take note of what resonates!
This past week was a school vacation week, and it’s been a powerful time to dwell in the Big Questions as various circumstances converged. Yesterday I wrote down a “letter in verse” that was drifting through the air when I was tuned to that channel. Although it probably could stand on its own, I thought I’d provide a little context. This week I have reflected on my role in the lives of the children in my care and engaged in some deep and honest conversations with my teenagers. The teen years aren’t easy ones – so many questions about “Who am I?” and “Where do I fit in?” and how to manage the challenging circumstances and conflicts that arise, with self-esteem intact. As I wrote in a previous post, I was blessed with a mentor who guided me throughout my teen years and beyond and became a dear friend. He passed on a week and a half ago, and I was honored to participate in an incredible celebration of his life last weekend. Rereading the letters he wrote me throughout my late teens and twenties made me realize how much patience is required of parents and mentors before they finally have the satisfaction of seeing kids “turn out” (in his words). You have to be really patient with the process! At the same time, my dad came home from a two-week hospital stay for open heart bypass surgery following an episode of cardiac arrest. There’s something interesting about open heart surgery. There’s a sense of appreciation for still being alive and a desire to “return” (in my dad’s words) the outpouring of love, concern, and support from so many people. The heart truly does open up, and you feel closer and more connected to the people in your life. And when this happens to someone else, you are better able to provide support, having experienced it yourself as either a patient or family member. Finally, in the midst of a very challenging school year, I set the intention this week to reconnect with the passion and guiding values that led me to a career in education in the first place. If the following words resonate with you, I invite you to share them as long as you cite me as the author, along with this blog address. Namaste!
* * * * * * *
An Open Letter to the Children in My Life
The divinity in me
Sees the divinity in you
And from this perspective
Knows we are One,
Honors our differences
As expressions of the One;
We are brothers and sisters.
Our unique talents and gifts
Are to be celebrated
And cultivated to the fullest
So that we may inspire and uplift
Others through our example And experience the extraordinary Flow of being in our element.