Archive for November, 2012

Seeds of Tradition

November 20th, 2012 (No Comments)

Winter’s presence looms. This year, fall is barely hanging onto November.

Nightly frost has crisped the garden and we are in a race to finish the clean-up by the end of this week.  The basement is piled with tubs of corms and buckets of tender pond plants. My underground forest of sub-tropical container plants drop their leaves to the concrete floor with a finality that says, “this growing season is over. No water, no light, no warmth — winter dormancy is here. Leave me alone. Let me rest in peace.”

But for us American humans it’s time for Thanksgiving and a month of holiday celebrations. Just when our body-clocks long to slow down and curl up with a good book, the frenzy of this season jolts us into action.

How do you maintain peace during the Holidays?
How does your soul respond to the thought of this season ahead?

I find that many of us tend to veer into two camps – those that love every minute of the hustle and bustle, and those that wish they could escape this cultural pressure-cooker. As a psychotherapist I have heard countless stories of how the bonds of family tradition fray and snap under the stress of this annual parade of perfection. May I offer a personal discovery? Here is a tonic for the soul that I found in the seeds of the garden. It might offer a re-charging of intention before we hurtle headlong into this season.

Despite fall’s extreme weather, there are millions of plump, healthy seeds scattered throughout the desiccated foliage. Weed seeds and pernicious spreaders hopefully get thrown in the garbage, and countless others land unrecognized on the mountain of compost. Many blow around and land hidden in the soil, ready to bloom as welcome volunteers. Others, I have been gathering, sorting and labeling them for next year: night blooming moon flowers, Kentucky beans, castor beans, and marigolds all will add color and spice to next years’ garden. Some of the fattest and healthiest pods amaze me with their capacity to hide unrecognized in this seasonal garden mayhem.

At this time of year, what heirloom seeds from your tradition does your soul long for? 

Maybe certain customs have run their course and need to be composted. Like the heavy labor of a fall gardener, to maintain an inner life demands a certain kind of mindful work especially during this season of tradition, or before long we’ll find ourselves carried off in the negative riptides of consumerism, thoughtless religion, and unconscious family patterns.

As I write, a few more questions come to my mind. Maybe I’ll take them out to the garden today and ask my Stonehaven community friends – we have an outdoor workday planned. What a gift to be growing together as unique individuals in this wonderful land we now call Stonehaven.

What aspects of family faith have offered you spiritual sustenance for the long haul of life?
What are the precious gifts you carry from your past; ones that call to be identified, stored and re-planted into this season of celebration?

The Garden Speaks to Post-Election Day Reality

November 7th, 2012 (2 Comments)

It’s over – finally. In classic human tradition, we have a winner and we have a loser. But is it not true that each of us, politicians and citizens alike, walk out of this one with more of a limp, less of a swagger. The most difficult work of rebuilding trust has barely begun. It starts with each of our hearts. As Parker Palmer has said so eloquently and passionately, the true work of democracy begins inside. It continues through deep, authentic conversations, grounded in humility in diverse community.  It is more than ever time to listen and change our lives and communities from the inside-out. The garden here at Stonehaven spoke to me this morning — I thought I’d pass her guidance along.

I have never seen this property in such a mess: a combination from the neglect of an overly busy schedule promoting my new novel, the results of Sandy, and early deep freezes. The beauty of summer lies shriveled on withering branches. Wilted flowers hang forlornly in the climbing vines. Buds that never opened exclaim their shocked distress. Piles of branches, twigs and leaves strewn by wind, lie in all four directions. Hours of work lie ahead of me. When will I ever finally find time to attend this disaster zone? In the meantime I can turn my head and ignore the catastrophe and keep on being busy in other “more-important” matters, hang my head in shame and embarrassment for being such a negligent care-taker, or I can keep my eyes open and learn from Earth who teaches us in all seasons.

In-between seasons are messy! Trying to tidy up this property in a frenzy of work will only destroy peace for me and this Earth community. Nature has a way of re-ordering herself through chaotic times of transition. For living beauty to re-emerge, we have to learn to first live with confusing disarray of death. This is the time to evaluate, and consider what is truly good and necessary work, and what can be put out to compost.  Maybe the process is the same whether it is about our gardens, or politics, or our inner selves.

Maybe Earth is pleading with us to slow down and first look at the mess we are in – to sort out the hidden treasures in the storms of this present darkness. Maybe we are all being called to enter a shadow season, a time to admit the enormous conceit of any “one-way” system, a time to hunker down in thoughtful reflection with less frenetic need to have all the answers and get the job done now. Maybe we need to start with more intimate conversation about how to nourish goodness and gentleness and compassion in our lives as individuals and as a nation. Maybe then we can all wait with more patience with the mess we are in. Maybe together, with all of life, we will re-envision simple steps toward re-building and healing. 

One simple gift of today are the fat flower seeds that now hang exposed among dried leaves. I gathered many in before the wind and snow flies tonight. In each precious kernel rests next year’s abundance.  It would have been easy to ignore their offered silent presence. I wonder what else rests in hope below the mess of this ravaged garden of our national lives. What many seeds of courage and beauty can we store away for our grandchildren and for this bountiful Earth we live on?


What did you do when the Power went out?

November 1st, 2012 (No Comments)

Well to be frank, Uli and I lit the candles and happily went to bed – but for many of us in the North-East US, the word storm has been life-changing. My heart goes out to those who continue to suffer in such dire circumstances. Our family only had 24 hours without power and even though we had no major storm damage, in reflection, those hours still hold keys to much learning.

We were completely unplugged: all our appliances, electronics, and communication systems. This in itself made me remember how privileged I am: all that freedom to store up and prepare out-of-season food, explore the virtual world, find countless forms of solitary work or entertainment, and talk with anyone on the globe whenever I desire from the privacy of my home or office. What luxurious freedom, un-paralleled in human history; the freedom to choose to live as separate individuals, protected by the four walls and roofs over our head.

How mundane, even profane – when the wild world is so loudly calling our attention! In a few hours the weather brought down our defenses, battering the shell of our fast-paced modern lives. How many hours did you spend looking out the window, watching the wind and rain and realizing how “powerless” you really are? Did you like me, get outside and contemplate Earth community from the comfort of protective rain-gear, huddled under the porch? Did you hear the clarion whistle of the wind, the roar of moving water and uneasily feel the raw vacuum of empty space when the barometer dropped off the chart in the eye of the storm. This invitation to sortie into the wild, wet zone, opened me to new dimensions of fierceness, of resilience, of intensity – all qualities that my animal soul longs to recover by immersion, rather than by the schizoid touch of virtual reality.

This week, nature’s wildness brought us face to face with our addictions and dependencies of the most primal sort. We laughed as we were forced to grind our coffee-beans in a small mortar and pestle after first attempting to use the electronic gizmo. How many other times did I flip a light switch, or move in some direction only to be stymied by the lack of power. Initially it felt relieving to have another Sabbath day to relax and do nothing, yet even unburdened by email and computer, my body is so curiously addicted to work. So with the advantage of natural gas, it was fun to create comfort food out of the left-overs of fridge and freezer, and from mounds of greens still fresh from the garden.

One of the highlights of Sandy was having neighbors over for candle-lit dinner, eating by the fire, and spending unhurried time together. How happy I felt to be there, entirely present in such an uncomplicated way within a circle of community. When the power came on shortly after, I felt a lurking dread that it was time to get back to work, to do my part and help change the world into a better place.

On the other hand, maybe the storm washed away some of the pretense of needing to be “powerful”, maybe it put me in my place, along with the flexible tree trunks that lost their colorful leaves, but still hung onto the soil between their roots. Maybe being stripped by externally imposed limits is not always a bad thing for our run-away-freedom.  Maybe joining forces with the explosive power of nature can help us say no to all that which truly kills the soul of our human lives in community on Mother Earth. Maybe this storm might teach me to live from the raw power of the inner vacuum of creativity, that place I am most fearful and anxious of – that vortex of un-knowing.

On Monday night I witnessed a transformer blow up on our street in a colorful bomb of energy, it exploded into utter darkness.  I wonder if somehow holding our place there – in the silent darkness – we might transform this wild rawness into our modern civilization.  Maybe this scary place holds some secrets. It seems that countless stories repeat the remarkable capacity for us as humans to bounce back from disaster, to give the clothes off our back to a stranger, to die so that someone else might live.

Maybe this dark energy of courage we are tapping now holds promise for days of renewal ahead.  Let it be.

Some questions to ponder:

What did the storm teach you?

What new channels of thought and action have been furrowed out in those black-out moments?

Are you sure you really want to get all the lights back on and rush out the door at full-speed-ahead?