Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Fall's Lessons: Allowing the Wonder

“The senses, being the explorers of the world, open the way to knowledge.” Maria Montessori

As I began to write about the lessons of this fall, my first thought was that Fall has been late in coming. It slipped right by me unrecognized as I was waiting of it to come dressed in a familiar uniform.

Fall usually comes early here in our mountains. So early that we have our October Fest in August. Fall is crisp September days when the streets become arbors of golden Poplars strewn with carpet of gold and red leafs and chilly nights shining clear in star-strewn skies. But not this year. The above picture from years past doesn't resemble our mountain this year. Oh, the Poplars did turn golden and their leaves did fall, but they were quickly whisked away by warm Santa Ana winds and browned where they lay by a hot October and November sun. They stand here now mostly naked with their lacy branches tall in the warmth of another seventy-degree day.

The fresh evergreen Christmas wreath my mother sends each year for our front door seems strangely out of place in our bright and balmy mid days.

Fall just hasn't matched up with our image image of what it should be. But who says how fall should be? Isn't it just such preconceptions that keep us from enjoying the wonder of the unexpected, the unusual, and the novel? What have I missed by overlooking this year's unique presence?

A similar question came to mind recently while waiting to register for an appointment. The receptionist asked the young woman in line ahead of me if she had a nice Thanksgiving. "I've had better," she replied. Having pondering our preconceptions about fall, I immediately thought what were her preconceptions, all of our preconceptions, about Thanksgiving is? And how do such preconceptions keep up from being fully thankful not only on that special holiday, but everyday?

Now I'm wondering about winter. Officially it's only 17 days away and we have many preconceptions about that season, especially the Christmas holiday with snow and mistletoe, city sidewalks dressed in holiday cheer, and chestnuts roasting o'er an open fire. But what will this winter and this Christmas actually be like? What wonder might it bring if we don't miss it while looking for the Christmas we imagine?

Preconceptions take the wonder of life. The act of wondering, anticipating, not knowing, is the doorway to wonder.

The Poplars certainly didn't miss the presence of our typical fall. They greeted their late and hurried undressing and embraced its newness as any other. Might we greet this winter in just such a way? Letting it unfold in its own novel and idiosyncratic way? Might it be all the more wonder-filled if we set our preconceptions aside and welcome this winter and this holiday season anew?

Might life itself be a more rewarding adventure if we greeted each day in that way

Blessings of Fall

Living in wonder is a natural expression of our attraction to those things in life that fulfill and nurture us. It is an on-going acknowledgement of our gratitude for all that sustains us.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Summer's Tough Lesson: We Are Resilient

"Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood." Ralph Waldo Emerson

The slender, tall Jeffrey by our deck is weeping. The summer has been a difficult one for our forest. We're suffering through another drought. The lake is low; once bubbling streams have slowed to trickles; and as the bark beetles attack the Jeffries and Ponderosas, to fight them off, they weep long strands of sap that glisten in the sun like a shiny trail of tears.

One way or another, it's been an unusually difficult summer in most regions. Not only has there been drought, but also floods, fires, hurricanes, and tornadoes. Nature's ways have been creating woes for flora, fauna and humans alike. And we've suffered a fair share of man made woes as well. Sky high gas prices, failing banks, foreclosures and bankruptcies hitting new highs, inflation, pink slips, and growing debts have left so many of us from young families to solitary seniors and mom and pop stores to big lenders and automakers hanging on by their fingertips.

But our forest is resilient. The massive Ponderosas stand stalwart on this land as they have for hundreds upon hundreds of years. The rocky creek beds still carve their path through the land as they have through time. Newborn Jeffries still abound, dwarfed beneath their parents, their tiny branched reaching for the sun, bending if need be to reach its rays.

On days when the news headlines strike fear in the heart, I take comfort in the lessons of these trees, this forest. They remind me that, like them, we are resilient too. We are descendants of survivors ... are we not? Or have we become spoiled and weakened by the oversolicitude and overindulgence during recent times of seeming national prosperity?

Resilience: the capacity to hold together, absorb disruptive shocks, and maintain one's ability to continue functioning in the face of change.

When a tree is felled, the history of its resilience is visible in the rings of its trunk . The thick rings reflect its growth in favorable climates with abundant rainfall and good growing conditions. The thin rings show its response to poor growing conditions, lack of rain, or the presence of natural disasters such as droughts, floods, volcanoes, even fires.

Our resilience, of course, is not so obvious to the eye. But it is visible in our eyes. Do we wilt? Are we agog, so blinded by favorable times that we ignore what we don't want to see? Or do we, like the trees, respond with determined effort, hunker down, contract our ways, curtail the bubbly so to speak, and savor the trickles that remain?

Too often the choices we make seem to rest on a trick our mind plays with us. A trick called prediction. If we predict a positive future, we tend to be optimistic in the present and behave as if we need not change or can direct change to our favor. If we predict a difficult future, we tend to be pessimistic about the present and try to prevent or avoid the need to change if at all possible.

This forest that is my home knows of neither optimism nor pessimism. It knows not if there will be rain this fall or a heavy snow pack next spring. We don't know either, but we like to think we can. We undertake all sorts of efforts to predict what is to come, even if we have to make it up with a dose of "positive thinking," instead of responding to what is here and now before us.

To be like the forest is to avoid this mind game of ours and throw our selves fully into life that is, contracting when we need to contract, expanding when we can do so without harm.

To be like the forest is to endure. To ignore its lessons is perish.

Blessings of a tough summer,
Sarah Edwards

Monday, April 21, 2008

Spring's Lessons: We Know It's Time

“Rejoice always.” John Adams

The wildflowers are in full bloom now, resplendent in all their vibrant glory. The ducks are mating down by the pond, pairing up, strutting together side-by-side. Two Stellar’s Jays are building a new nest in the rafters outside our bedroom window, one scavenging for twigs and twine, the other constructing a little home from it all. The forsythia is decked out in bright yellow blossoms along the house and the peach tree nearby is donning pale pink buds.

And, of course, the bats are back. They always take up residence in the front porch rafters come in the Spring where they stay through the Fall.

Spring is here … they know it … even if we don’t. It’s cold. Really cold. It was 23 this morning. It doesn’t seem like Spring. But still they know it’s time to begin doing what needs doing this time of year.

So, how come we don’t know? We fret and worry and wonder and doubt. Is now the time to do this or that? Shall I plunge ahead? Shall I wait? Or shall I just forget it?

I think we do know, just as they do. We know when it’s time to act; when it’s time to wait. We just don’t pay attention to what we know. We have the blessing and the curse of being able to think about what we want and don’t want. The opportunity to question what we know. The chance to confuse ourselves with various scenarios. Instead of listening to our inner knowing.

Instead of doing what we know we need to do, what it’s time to do, we think about what we think we want to do. Since the two are not always the same, so we get confused, frustrated, irritated.

Over the past half-century, we in our society have come to believe we can be, do and have whatever we want whenever we want it. Even if we have many burdens we still have a sense that if we just play it all right we’ll be able to live whatever dream we have and many of us have done just that, sometimes at a great toll of overwork, stress, exhaustion, and sacrifice of daily pleasures.

At the same time we tell the pollsters that what we need is more time to rest, to be with family, to enjoy ourselves, and we hope that someday we will.

As I watch life all around me in this Spring-infested forest, I wonder why we’re waiting to do what we really need to do. Why we get so distracted by things we think we want that don’t give us what we need. I'm grateful Spring is here bursting forth all so boldly in defiance of the cold chill that tarries from Winter's fading bite to remind me how often what we need to begin, begins with what we need to end.

Maybe that’s what Spring-cleaning has so long been about. Clearing away all the stuff we don’t really want anymore, the stuff that isn't like what's going to be, to make room for what we really need when the time comes.

I woke up this morning feeling a need to clear out the bookshelves and the closets. Oh, but I didn’t want to do that. It didn’t sound like much fun. I’d rather create something new … like this newsletter. Suddenly that’s what I really wanted to do!

Now I know why. I needed to let Springtime remind me to listen to what I need … so, the boxes are out and I’m clearing out all this stuff!!! Making room for what it will be time for next. I'll know what that is soon. It's in the making. It's Springtime.

Spring blessings,

“Look on the bright side.” Bo Bice

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Winter's Lessons: Being at Home ... Always

Winter Vol. 6 No. 3

To drive in to the small town down the road we have to travel a steep and winding mountain road. This can make winter treacherous. After three weeks of snow, sleet, hail, rain and ice, the road has been, shall I, say less than inviting. But the sun has been out for several days now and the road is cleared and red with long, wet pine needles and sand-like material laid down to prevent ice build-up. Yesterday I drove into the nearby town for an appointment.

Having climbed the steep road out, I saw the undulating valley below as a panoramic sheet of white, punctuated with tall green pines and sliced by the winding ribbon of red I was driving along. The wonder of it stole my breath for a moment. What a blessing this hardship called winter, I thought.

Upon my return, climbing up the mountain and descending into our valley, I put the road, the mountain, the snow, and the danger aside in my mind, replaying instead the events of the meeting. But as I descended deeper and deeper into the bowels of the mountain's folds, my breath caught once again in my thoat. Crystaline walls of snow banks lined the road, rising high on both sides, so there was nothing in sight but snow everywhere wrapping me like swaddling cloth in a womb-like warmth.

I don't remember ever feeling so at peace, so safe and secure, so perfectly welcome. In this seemingly inhospitable towering winter landscape, I knew I am at home. I am returning to my hypernating place. My growing, nurturing place where I am safe, where I belong.
I wonder if we don't each have a place where we belong. A place that by its very being restores us, where we can curl up like the tiny ground squirrel tucked away for winter in the insulation under our sheltered water pipe.

Or like the ducks on the poor mutilated lake in the meadow below our house. Once a summer and shimmering blue of a Southern California sky, it is now a black pit of mud and slime. It's being dredged of the silt that has accumulated in it over the years. Surrounded now as it is in snow, it looks like an monsterous glash of filthy debris. But there, still and at rest in a tiny circle of icy water, sit our ducks.
Why don't they leave, I wonder as I see them day after winter day mired in that smelly muck? I called the Forest Service to ask about them. Oh, the ranger said, they are resident ducks. They won't leave. That is their home.

Like these ducks I think we know when we are at home. We know where we belong. And we crave it. We seek it, yearn for it endlessly ... until we find it. Then, when we do, we don't flee it's travails. In some odd way its very landscape holds us close and fulfills us, always, even in the most dire of circumstances, because, we are at home.

Winter Blessings,
Sarah Edwards

If you would like to read more about the power of place in our lives and our psyche, I recommend Terrapsychology: Reengaging The Soul Of Place by Craig Chalquist