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Answering my call to be a gardener on this planet continues to offer deep satisfaction and also evokes a profound, almost unsayable struggle. As each fall season drifts by in such a splendid parade of colors, I struggle to sustain and direct my passion as an Earth cultivator and as a soul gardener. It is curious how with age, my vision evolves as my heart expands to hold a much broader circle of life. “Surely it must be time to down-size,” my body and mind tells me!
This weekend I had the privilege of serving as co-facilitator for a Courage & Renewal, ‘Journey toward Wholeness’ cohort at Pendle Hill; a newly formed community of soulful people joining together for a series of four weekend retreats. We came together from many walks of life, cultures and traditions. It could be said that in a very few hours we founded together a new plot of garden, that along with some carefully constructed raised boundaries for safety and nurture, we experienced the shy presence of a delicate yet courageous human community emerge. We shimmered together with glimpses of a rare kind of authenticity that reminds me of plantings of heirloom seeds that come from ancient depths and perennial tradition.
How curious too that we gently noticed and honored the messiness of our unattended weeds as they sprouted from the cracks of our lives. As we anticipate a rich year ahead of sowing, planting, and harvesting the diverse and abundant seeds of our lives, just below the surface of this freshly created beauty, some niggling questions stir within me. This morning they ask to be pitch-forked from my recesses, turned-over in the open air, left to scatter, to possibly season and ripen in our courageous community.
What does my inner garden look like?
What kind of a gardener are you?
What shape of human community does your soul long to live, work, and love from?
Do you yearn for the ordered grace of a classic French fountain garden with wise sculptures hiding between neatly trimmed box-wood, or do you relish the freedom and antiquity of a stone-walls and flowing borders of English country garden charm? Am I the gardener who longs to sweep away everything, to return to elemental basics and re-create community as a serene Zen-garden—honoring sand, stone, and one contorted pine tree?
It is clear that at times, all my soul wants to do is to root around in the dirt of an organic, edible garden, laden with knobby gourds and fat beans. Maybe – if you are anything like me, all of these have certain appeal. How complicating! How do you nurture your inner diversity, your paradoxical longings? In my many roles as gardener, each form and structure of human and other-than-human community calls to be worked out boldly, yet in harmony from the essence of my being. With age, I am thankfully learning to relish the struggle with this complex differentiation. How about you?
From what aspect of your inner soul garden do you live and work from?
In this fall season of harvest, how do you sort, save, or throw away the color-filled seeds of your tradition, education, experience, culture, and class?
What weed seeds am I unconsciously throwing around or stirring up as I eagerly plow into the next project of my life?
And then, consider a series of troubling questions for us ‘modern’ people:
Who makes the decision what a ‘weed’ seed is?
What native plantings cry to be left alone- to thrive, to come to fruition in all their rich wildness?
What mysterious entangled vines are climbing into the periphery of our fertile attention?
What native sweet-grasses plead for cultivation?
Let’s join the conversation to think about these questions as we network in community. We long to continue our work with more sustainability, to be change-agents in the world, and we have so many diverse ways and means of tending and growing a soulful harvest.
I have had the privilege of being able to cross and re-cross many cultural borders in my life-time, and am ever more certain that I often miss this core sense of living from my indigenous wild and communal self – this intuitive passion, this suffering, this paradoxical pleasure of finding my way as human in such a messy life. How I long both to sustain and be sustained more consciously as a generative earth-being in global community – just one member of this circle of All of us – in a Wisdom that is so much more alive than we can ever imagine.
Outside our front-doors, away from our computers – alas, so often, far outside our circles of chairs – Earth community roars, rattles, and sings her deep wisdom to us. I wonder how each of us is being called to grow our wild garden: to tend our native flesh, our grieving land, and our One-ness in Spirit as we stop together, to look and listen to this siren call.
October 26, 2015
Retreat work digs to the heart of the matter of being human – who am I, what is my deepest longing, and how do I offer myself back to this world? Always as a retreat leader I learn most when stopping and listening – inside and out – to all that is around me. Very, very, often I am shocked back to the reality that I am not alone, that I am part of a living, breathing planetary community we call Earth.
One afternoon, as a participant in a 5-day intensive outdoors retreat, I joyfully marched down a woodland trail, then hiked off-trail into the backside of a wilderness property in NY State. I was more than excited to have several hours of solitude pondering my place in modern life; it was especially wonderful to ha already chosen the perfect spot beside a stream and a hollowed-out tree that I would revisit each day. When I had come across it the day before, it reminded me of my childhood drawing of a perfect fantasy-escape-hide-away so I knew it was ‘mine’. Imagine my shock that afternoon, to come upon another member of our group quietly meditating and settled into ‘my’ place! With 40 acres of pristine woodland and only a dozen people – what on earth was she doing here? Now I can recognize, after the fact, that many of earth’s profound synchronicities happen in most unusual ways.
She never saw me, but as I wheeled around and stumbled back into the undergrowth, these words were wrenched from my heart: “They took my place.” Never had I spoken this before, or even thought it, but they precisely summed up ancient personal pain, and released a river of petulance streaming from a buried memory bank. Lost from wandering and emotionally distraught, I finally put my head down on a felled-log. Then with awe, I recognized my personal grief was only the beginning—my broken-open heart became a portal through which a much larger experience was being offered.
“They took my place.” I was given the gift of bearing witness to both the grief and the sustainability of that eco-circle of land. The physical spot became ‘my new place.’ For that afternoon and the days to follow, the grief of the forest in ancient old growth stumps and limbs rotting around me, the mating calls of barred owls at sunset and the thunderous drumming of pileated wood-peckers resounded through me and opened up an intense sensory world, connecting me inside and out in ways that I had never known before. As awareness clarified, both outrage and insight amalgamated and for a time I was able to hold and be held by both sides of the tragic gap of my humanity. I recognized that I am not only joined to this body called Earth, but I am earth. “Why is it so hard to offer the tender, ‘wild love’ of being nature-beings to our own human bodies and to each other? These are my relations, my dearest neighbors, bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh. How outrageous that we as humans have marched in and possessed this sentient community and called it ‘mine.’”
In addition, later in the day, I was most grateful for the gift of a reflective and loving human community: to speak from the heart into the center of the circle, to be witnessed and honored by an awesome silence, and also to be surprised by the fire-storm of anxiety that my story provoked from several members who guiltily were sure that they were the offending person (that became part of their story to tell.) It is curious how reflexive guilt and shame or any other shadow emotion can be door-openers to depths of soul in community – if each person is given time and space to sort out their inner story which is always chock-full of painful and humorous illusion! Circles of trust offer so many tender and often hidden portals like this for each individual’s soul work—if we take the time to stop, look, and listen.
This Earth Day I am grateful to continue the journey alongside so many individuals within safe communities, who each provide ‘my place’ to continue exploring down well-trod and wild paths, both as leader and as follower. And, today I write with a longing to speak more clearly on behalf of ‘our place’ – especially our dear plant and animal friends who suffer and yet offer such wisdom in their companionship. As the sun and moon cycles move us together into an uncertain future, I pray for the gift of cleansing grief to enter our circles, for loving communities to come back to enlivened senses, and discover the holy and sacred Oneness of which we are all a part. There is enough room and a joyous welcome for each of us in this Circle of Life – let’s find and relish it together!
One of the most surprising gifts in earning the title of ‘senior citizen’ is to travel the regional rail for a $1 a ride. Another welcome gift in this aging packet is the capacity to enjoy vista; “a distant view through or along an avenue or opening or an extensive mental view as over a stretch of time or a series of events. Webster’s definition.”
Recently for me, vistas are showing up everywhere. Last week alone I silently reveled in: the largesse of sunrise over a sea-mist-shrouded river valley, the Los Angeles skyline nestled by bird chorus around the Hollywood Bowl and framed by lilac wisteria, and the vast brown solitude of 360 degrees on a high desert mountain outcrop near Joshua Tree, CA. And then the next day, the gaudy, glaring cacophony of lights and movement on the Las Vegas strip, stretched out silently below our hotel window. Quite a contrast!
All this long distance viewing caught my attention and I wondered why. Obviously there is something about us humans climbing high and looking out, it speaks to both our power and our insignificance. I have never ever felt as supremely insignificant as I did in those recent desert days. The awe and wonder of sharing the space with that ecosystem of the natural world still resonates within me – so does my brief overnight in Vegas. It takes a lot of courage to hold these differing realties inside.
This morning as I sat with Jan Richardson’s very fine Lenten series – Beloved, she asks the question, “If you imagine your inner life as a landscape, what do you notice? Of course I realized immediately that during this season of my life I see an inner vista. Yes! What a joy to have recently experienced from the inside our daughter’s 40th birthday. On this trip out West, not only could I celebrate with her but I am able to savor the exquisite landscape of being a parent and now grand-parent. I can hold more tenderly my own slimy pits and hair-raising jungle mudslides, often lost on the back-side of experiential wildernesses.
From this view I can rejoice in the abundance of the long-term harvest of consistent soul-gardening – younger friends please note – it is difficult if not impossible to see this when your head is down planting, digging and weeding. It has been said before, but there really is a season for everything. Growing older is the season to lift up our heads and rejoice in the bigger view of life, and pass on that knowledge to those down the line who are faithfully running circles around their own busy lives and families.
A vista offers us the capacity to engage the unique diversity of our experience. When we have spent years climbing obstinate mountains, it can truly be awesome in every sense of that word to stop, stand still and clutch on joyfully to the contrasting landscapes of our inner and the outer world – and then let it all go and begin again! This reminds me of a fragment May Sarton’s fabulous poem which captures the essence of the long-distance marathon of being human. An excerpt from Till We Have Faces:
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!
I always wondered about that weird Bible story about weary Moses holding out his arms over the battle below and stopping the sun. I get it more now, he needed his two compadres to hold up his arms, not because he was just some poor old leader who couldn’t do this work of change alone, but it takes intimate communal relationships to inspire change. Somehow we need not only our human friends and family to be like memory sticks etching ‘here and now’ truths on each other’s lives, but we also need the ‘natural’ view, the mountain-meets-human views. To realize the full vista of our lives we yearn and seek those liminal times. Those moments deliciously and frighteningly steeped and enlivened, visibly and invisibly, in the other-than-human world.
Moses’ friends needed him to ask for help. And like us who recognize that we are at war in so many forms on our globe, everyone is clear that change must come or we will be destroyed, one way or the other. I wonder now if the battle has moved inside. We urgently need help – not to save our planet, but to each find our soulful ecological place and work here. I wonder what is happening as more and more of our generation of idealists and dreamers are focusing our intentions on offering our best and truest selves to this good Work?
This weekend I’m relishing sitting in The Silence of Winter day retreats with about 20 others who have come here to Stonehaven – many for the first time. Young and old, we clearly have the desire to lovingly give of ourselves to this life with fresh faces. We are learning together to stop running so hard, to slow down and listen, and to gently hold up each other’s arms and wait in the silence in all of the vistas before and in us.
A question to leave you. Where does your soul find an opening, a space to sit and find the silence of solitude in order to engage the long-distance natural view, a deep and wide vista of your living community-of-Earth?