Archive for November, 2013

Thanksgiving from Stonehaven

November 25th, 2013 (7 Comments)

After more than two centuries of Quaker family tradition on this land, this house has seen many Thanksgiving dinners!  We call our home Stonehaven Commons; in the past it was named Hillside and Gaybrook.  This morning I am wondering what these walls know, what the grandmother white oak has seen and what tribal peoples roamed these acres in the centuries before that. I am certain that the roots of earth-belonging are very deep in this place. My heart tells me so.

DSC05849Gratitude, thanksgiving, and blessing — how good it is to set aside this season for these precious gifts! This picture reveals moments of the fun of living and working together here on this property. Recently I have been relishing the phenomenal gift of intentional community, and am so grateful for our friends Jenni Kay, Ashley, Trish, Zach, Robin, and Jason who come for months or years, and then move on. Today we heard that Nelson will join us for much of the winter.  Each one shares their days together with Uli and me, enriching our lives. I pray that that our community, like the overflowing compost pile, will multiply beyond our capacity for knowing, from our soul’s harvest, from all the seasonal deaths into springing life again.

I, for one, know how easy it is to peer into the future through my dirt-smudged bifocals and then blunder about, being anxious about all I can’t see. As humans our reflexive fears so easily cloud the joyful bounty of harvest, of another season, of another year drawing to a close. On Saturday, I put away the last rake, propped up the wheelbarrows in their winter shelter, and shouted my relief to Uli, “I’m done, the gardening year is over – hallelujah!” I’m more than ready to let go of the toils of the autumn garden – never my favorite time of year – except the chores we do together!

A part of me is ready to bask in memories as I look out from the window at the barren perennial border with its dry stubs and wizened unripe figs, but another part of me is chomping at the bit for more action, finding it extraordinarily painful to rest, to let go, to wait. Personally, I find there is nothing like the annual gardening cycle to remind me of my human need to produce. I’m curious how one moment my ego cringes at the wasteland of winter but in the next, my soul laps up the luxury of just being. This physical land at Stonehaven holds my heart as a centering-piece, the ‘here and now’ anchor in time– just as it has done for so many over the centuries. I honor those ones whose spirits still speak in the walls and gurgle and rustle along the leaf-covered stream. I know that all that comes swirling in the winds of winter will draw me into the wild darkness of Earth’s Love, and I am truly and deeply thankful.

How curious too that the ‘shopping’ season has now begun in earnest. King of Prussia Road was already a madhouse this weekend! Is it possible this frenetic accumulation of stuff  to dress-up our lives plumps up the unnerved ego, like a fat turkey that somehow realizes it is about to be slaughtered for dinner? To be true, I also know that this excitement at giving and receiving of gifts is such a sacred ritual. I wonder, how can I enter this season and consciously give from my heart’s abundance to another, especially to those Others who are so different from me?  Our own unique form of wildness can so easily be muted and misunderstood.

Maybe that’s one reason why I write these blogs, reminding myself of the deep values of tradition, and in some way simply giving back to All that is. This morning I offer my little reflective gift of thanksgiving to that great unity of which we are each a part. I trust that my words in some way ring true to some part of you – whether you like me are a relieved and happy gardener, a bustling shopper, or a hungry soul aware of some inner distress.  Know that we are all connected as One in our Earth community.  Let’s give thanks together.

Here’s a gift from our friend Joe Riley at Panahala – for your Thanksgiving table – a grace of blessing:

Bountiful Harvest (1)


Thanks & blessings be
to the Sun & the Earth
for this bread & this wine,
this fruit, this meat, this salt,
this food;
thanks be & blessing to them
who prepare it, who serve it;
thanks & blessings to them
who share it
(& also the absent & the dead).
Thanks & Blessing to them who bring it
(may they not want),
to them who plant & tend it,
harvest & gather it
(may they not want);
thanks & blessing to them who work
& blessing to them who cannot;
may they not want – for their hunger
sours the wine & robs
the taste from the salt.
Thanks be for the sustenance & strength
for our dance & work of justice, of peace. 

~ Rafael Jesus Gonzalez ~

(In Praise of Fertile Land, edited by Claudia Mauro)

Being Me, Being You

November 4th, 2013 (No Comments)

I’ve heard it said many times, “I don’t want to become a professional retreat goer!” The next sentence usually goes something like this: “I want to serve, stay engaged, not gaze so long at my belly-button. I just don’t have the time, or the money, to spend on myself when there’s so much to do, so many people hurting in the world. It feels selfish. Maybe when I retire, I’ll give myself this luxury.”

As a ‘professional’ retreat leader, I could quickly give 1001 good reasons for people of every age to take time out of complicated lives, to slow down, and listen to our racing hearts speak. I could offer all sorts of ways to remain active and still passionately alive from the inside-out. But, this morning I am wondering if in fact many of us, as the human race, are like school children trying to win the three-legged race competition while running backwards around the globe. Truly a very complicated and agonizing scenario!

DSC05825It’s Monday, and I have just returned from facilitating the first of a four weekend, year-long, seasonal series of Courage & Renewal® retreats. Twenty courageous souls signed up to dig deep into the meaning of what it means to “Journey toward Wholeness.” These three days were richly enlivened by the vibrant colors of autumn at a welcoming Pennsylvanian retreat center steeped in contemplative tradition. Yesterday, in our last council circle, I heard people exclaim:

“My soul has become more open and porous.”

“I felt the potential of us as human beings, I experienced that potential.”

“I heard my own voice.”

“This felt like work, I had to get out of my own way…”

“It is about standing alone and working together…”

 Yes! I too became aware at a deeper level of how each of us is such a unique human person. What a joyful mystery to feel fully alive and function from a heart connected in this Circle of Life.  The conundrum as I see it this morning is how to be truly separate and fully connected. How can we be authentic living beings with our stripes and polka-dots, our knots and our whorls, our bleeding wounds and our calcified resins?

Where in the world can we be all that we are?

Where can we untie ourselves from the addictions that cripple our freedom, those unconscious actions that strap us to other beings, those attachments that drag us backwards through our days?

When are we given the freedom to stop racing, stop competing, and stop comparing — to just be present to All that is? To find movement in harmony with planets and pollen, wind and autumn leaves?

In our Western mindset we have spent much energy on individual self-help schemes, many of which offer much personal healing.  In other more tribal, communal experiences, we have found our spiritual connections, our sense of belonging.  But the practice of being fully present to each other and fully alive in our bodies is buried, I believe, in the heart of our connection to the greater natural world.  We are living nature — here today and unseen tomorrow.

I wonder why it is so hard for us to have eyes to know how beautiful we each are!  In retreat circles that offer intentional community we receive the invaluable opportunity to be seen without the job title, the pressing issue, or the chronic illness. You probably already have learned that just wandering in a blanket of shimmering golden leaves releases you from all your urgent self-doubt and questions. We found together and separately this weekend that as we gave ourselves permission to wander down the  uncomfortable lanes of pain and longing, we received loving compassion for our own selves and for each other, and were drawn forward into Wholeness – messy, dazzling, and changing. We have been lured into the mystery of a throbbing web of life that speaks both in human language and in the soulful wildness of all of Earth beings.

This weekend as I gingerly held the casing of a Chinese chestnutchestnut, I was reminded that it is in my prickly discomforts, my dis-ease, and in all my darkest unknowing, that life’s most precious gifts have been growing. It is injurious to precipitously bite or gnaw on these gnarly seeds. How often we try! We often add to our hurt to attempt to open them alone, but it with loving attention- alone and in communal human circles- and in the seasons of Earth time, that I learn to uncover, relish, and pass on these nuggets of hard-earned truth.

Our human souls are rooted in the Mystery of Earth; each of us alive as precious, complex, unique creations. As I sat in our retreat Circle yesterday, I marveled at how hard it still is for me to trust the larger flow of life, to constantly release myself from the need to perform as ‘responsible person.’ I do not need to be so ridiculously self- important and all-knowing. I only need to be me. All I am called to do is to live from the essence of my true name, to continue to let the dry husks of role and ego fall away and be Carol, Song of Joy.

That’s really me. Who are you? What is your hidden name that is planted in the seed of your soul?