How beautiful can life be? We hardly dare imagine it.
― Charles Eisenstein
I’m taking an eCourse over the next six weeks called the Space Between Stories. It’s being put on by author Charles Eisenstein and will include guest speakers as well as the opportunity to connect and process the materials and ideas put forth with other course participants via online forums. I’m not sure exactly what it will be like, and I don’t really have any expectations going into the experience, but Charles’ writing and verbalization of ideas has resonated with me over the last few years so it feels like an important thing to participate in. The course calls the “space between stories” the time when the old story of who I am, what is real, and how to navigate life has broken down. It is the time when my familiar ways of making meaning are no longer relevant. I don’t know who I am. What had seemed so permanent, reliable, understandable and real is revealed as an illusion.
In The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible, Charles makes the case that we are currently stuck in between two stories: the old story of Separation and the new story of Interbeing.
You might already have an inkling of what the old story of Separation is all about. It’s about achieving success in life by doing well in school, getting a well-paying job, contributing to the growth of the economy; basically, it’s about following the rules of society and relies on human advancements to keep everything continually moving forward. It’s about getting more, doing better, and “making things happen.” In Chapter One, Eisenstein writes about his childhood,
Life made sense. If you worked hard you could get good grades, get into a good college, go to grad school or follow some other professional path, and you would be happy. With a few unfortunate exceptions, you would be successful if you obeyed the rules of our society: if you followed the latest medical advice, kept informed by reading the New York Times, got a good education, obeyed the law, made prudent investments, and stayed away from Bad Things like drugs. Sure there were problems, but the scientists and experts were working hard to fix them. Soon a new medical advance, a new law, a new educational technique, would propel the onward improvement of life. My childhood perceptions were part of a narrative I call the Story of the People, in which humanity was destined to create a perfect world through science, reason, and technology: to conquer nature, transcend our animal origins, and engineer a rational society.
How do you feel about visiting your local large, big box grocer? I don’t know about you, but I tend to dread most things about such an act: from driving to its location perched just off the highway to piloting the car (and a car’s a must…these establishments are typically not pedestrian friendly) through the football field sized parking lot to dodging traffic on foot to get to the front doors to navigating a cart through isle after isle of brightly colored packages, searching in vain for something that fits with my family’s organic, non- processed food preferences and then scanning what I do find through the automated check- out line while the people behind me wait impatiently because my apples are rolling around because I don’t like to put them in the plastic bags the store provides. In short, it’s stressful, over stimulating and isolating all rolled into one “convenient” experience. I typically leave big chain stores feeling depleted even though the goal upon entering was to procure some nourishing, life sustaining food. I leave feeling like a consumer; like just another one of the numbers on an economic check list.
Yesterday I had a few unexpected hours to myself in the afternoon, so I figured I’d use the time to get some things done that are easier to do without a toddler in tow. I needed some flour, some broccoli (our toddler’s veggie of choice these days) and some cream. I needed to clean the bathroom, do the laundry and bring in some firewood. I thought about heading to the local chain store on my way home from dropping Eva off at her grandparents’– it is right on the way and the act of going in and purchasing a couple items would have been a quick detour. It would have been over and done in 15 minutes, and I would have been on my way to the next thing on my list.
Spring came early this year in Minnesota. Last week the overnight lows bottomed out at -11 and the world was still bright white after a fresh snowfall at the end of February and the ground rock solid, but this week the highs are singing themselves into the 60s, the world is brown once more, and the earth gives again under our weight. There are a few memories of white left deep in the forest and behind the biggest boulders in the ravine, but most traces of winter have melted away. The seasonal ravine stream has run and dried up, within the same week. The lake is still a swath of ice, and will be for awhile yet, but the geese have returned and the trumpeter swans that wintered here at the place where the river doesn’t freeze are calling out a welcome. Just like the fall that suddenly turned to winter with a foot of snow and plummeting temperatures, the season has now suddenly turned to spring under a powerful March sun and snow that was quick to acquiesce to its urgency.
I’ve been reading a lot about vulnerability, and the challenges we humans have when it comes to embracing such a state, in the last few weeks. It seems like good timing, as the season changes. The natural world doesn’t struggle with putting itself out there and being vulnerable. It just does it because there is no other option. A flower comes up in the spring and offers itself to the elements, whatever they turn out to be. A tree buds when warm enough temperatures invite it to do so, even if there’s a hard freeze looming — It doesn’t hesitate, or worry about what might happen, or hide behind a fear of what might come next. Presenting new life unfolding is the only choice. Even if it means getting frozen as a result.
Brene Brown writes,
There’s nothing more daring than showing up, putting ourselves out there and letting ourselves be seen.
Like the flower that buds just in time for a late spring snowfall, or the apple tree that gives up its autumn fruit for the chance to bud with the first warmth after winter, we can let our beauty be seen when we step out into the sun. We might fall, we might get covered up by snow, we might freeze to the ground and have to ask for help. We will surely be uncomfortable, and we will probably be afraid of what might come next. But we will be courageous and we will be living in the only place that allows us to be fully alive.
So spring may have come early to Minnesota, and we wonder what that will mean for the upcoming growing season and the world in general as the climate continues to shift. But we can use the vulnerabilities of nature to hold onto the remembrance of what it means to dare to live without apologies and full of self worth and gratitude for the chance to be seen.
This winter started early with a foot of unexpected snow mid November, and then 13 days later temperatures in the 40s and 50s invited the ground to turn dry and brown again. Then a few weeks into December, the temperature dropped below freezing, and it snowed just enough inches to cover the ground in bright white. We got a few weeks of ice skating on the rink that my husband likes to clear on the lake, skied some loops around the field in shallow tracks, and our two year old took her first runs down the sledding hill through the wisps of grass that poked through the snow cover. Then it got bitterly cold, and we woke up to wind chills of twenty below zero for a week straight. And now, at the end of January, the temperature is 36 degrees, the sun is out and the snow is succumbing to the heat once again. We made a snowman, and he’s shrinking as I type this. I’m not sure he’ll make it a full week. My skis are languishing by the back door, despondent in their respite from use. The snowshoes are sitting by the door, waiting to be needed. Continue reading “The New World of Winter”→
It is three weeks into the month of December and across much of the continental United States it feels like winter has arrived in full. The solstice – the official turn of the season – was yesterday: the end and the beginning. Those of a Christian faith continue to wait in hopeful expectation for the promise of light to arrive on Christmas as another season of advent progresses. The sun continues to rise and set in an ancient rhythm. Undertones of anger and injustice remain alive and well in too many places. Living creatures die at the hands of other living creatures, for reasons that are as wide ranging as the stars even as they mirror patterns that have repeated for generations. Traffic moves across the globe, we continue to consume, and our footprints seem to go deeper by the day. Yet I hold onto expectations and hope that something better will reveal itself in a way that can be recognized.
“Waiting” works if you live in a world where you know that a little more patience generally would do you good. “Hopeful expectation” has a pleasant enough sound if your life is going reasonably well at the moment.
What does “hopeful expectation” sound like, look like in places where justice has long been delayed, meaning, of course, that justice has been denied?
Hope is not wishful thinking; it is risk and action and the courage to undertake both.
But …… it is also vulnerability and a willingness to walk alongside those whose hopes have been crushed.
Here in the northland, after a lovely lingering fall, we have encountered the chill of winter, with days hovering in single digits, and winter clothing quickly pulled from summer storage. It’s also the week before Thanksgiving, which probably holds as many different expectations and feelings as there are people. What’s in common, though, is the suggestion of thankfulness. Of taking a moment, in the midst of all that fills our days, to share a meal and so share our thanks for all that graces our lives.
Ms. Heeter, in what she calls a wild dare, invites us to stretch beyond the usual things that get said around the Thanksgiving table:
See what you find, with an open heart and mind when you explore thankfulness. Notice the feel of sun on your face or the gift of words in a good book. See how deep you can go in your gratitude, not because you are “supposed to,” but because it’s intriguing, a daring and Wild thing to explore.
Of course we are thankful for good health, family, friends, and food, if we are fortunate enough to have those things. But what goes unnoticed, even for those who are veterans at practicing gratitude? Maybe it’s the feel of a warm oak-plank floor as the wood stove gets going late in the evening. Maybe it’s the contrast that a chaotic barn provides to an extra clean house when you go out to feed the chickens before the holiday guests arrive for the long weekend. Maybe it’s the gasp of frigid air into your lungs that pierces your attention and reminds you how extraordinary it is to experience life on a living earth that is full of change. Maybe it’s the vivid red of a cardinal against a backdrop of pure white, framed by the boughs of an old evergreen. Maybe it’s a heart that beats, a mind that seeks clarity and the presence of something bigger than yourself that carries you through the days and reminds you that you aren’t alone, no matter how many others say grace with you at your table.
may you see grace wherever your eyes land.
May you need not look far to feel the humbling knee-buckling delight in being alive.
May this season of gratitude invite you to honor the abundance that is possible when you dare to look for it.
A lot happens over the course of single season during the life of a garden. By November, the plants that produced all sorts of good things during the summer have become compost, the fields have been tilled under to mark the close of the growing season, and the leaves on the aspen trees have turned from green to gold. Enough food was grown to eat, to preserve and to sell. Abundance sprang from the soil and found its way out into the world. Pounds of produce were harvested and enjoyed.
There were some things that didn’t work, as there always are in farming and gardening. Maybe there wasn’t enough mulch in some places, and the rows ended up being waist high grass by September. Perhaps the raspberries wanted more water than they got, or the cucumber beetles decided to feast on the melons. It’s likely that uses for cucumbers and…
It’s not just schools that often lack gentleness. Workplaces can rub us raw too, as can public transit, shopping malls, restaurants, and daycare. The levels of noise, advertising, and stressed-out people dealing with other stressed-out people can leave us feeling bombarded and drained.
Creating more spaces of refuge, like public parks, is one option. But another option is to integrate gentleness into all our spaces and daily interactions. It could be something as small as turning down the music in cafés. Or as radical as a mother making the commitment to care for herself with as much tenderness as she does her family.
[and at the end of the day]…
It is me saying to myself: “I’m so in awe of you, I must treat you as if I truly understood what noble means.” It is me saying to others: “I get it. We’re wounded and taking a thousand risks simply by showing up. And I see that. I honor you.” ~Andréana E. Lefton
Ms. Lefton writes about gentleness and how essential it is to a healthy human life. She acknowledges that sometimes creating the physical or circumstantial changes that will allow for a calm and gentle flow to our days just isn’t possible in the short term. But she reminds us that we can invite that gentle energy in by taking opportunities to look for ways to create space – space that gives gentleness room to seep into the fabric of our days and inform our choices. And she reminds us that we can honor ourselves and our experiences by being vulnerable and accepting support – and that we can honor everyone we encounter by showing up, listening/seeing with compassion and offering encouragement over criticism.
Gentleness forms the under-song of survival — the hidden face of evolution, wars, famine — and the partner of resilience. It is the loving touch that reminds us we are not alone, and there is hope. There is healing. Gentleness exists between people. And it dwells within each of us.
How do you cultivate gentleness within yourself? When encountering others?
“Be joyful because it is humanly possible.” Wendell Berry has written a lot of words that eloquently illustrate basic truths, but I think these seven words are some of his most important for humans to hear and embody. Everyone has the opportunity for joy, even if it’s fleeting or hard to recognize or stuck under melancholy. The joy that is stuck or buried is even perhaps the joy that persists when things are challenging – it’s the joy that refuses to let go even when our human experience is wrought with hardship and despair and searching. It’s the joy that is still there even when we can’t see it, or when we let our focus go to the thing with the loudest voice – sometimes joy tends to be soft spoken. This is the joy that makes us human, the joy that is the love at our center, the joy that reminds us that though our emotions are real, we don’t have to let them control our life experience. We don’t have to let our life situation and how we feel about it dictate how we perceive what happens, or what doesn’t. We can be joyful simply because it’s possible.
Years ago I worked in a fitness facility that was set up to support the efforts of people affected by physical disability. There were special adaptive machine settings to accommodate wheelchairs, straps to secure a weak grip onto a bar and a warm water pool for bodies that craved the way swimming allows for limitless movement. The facility attracted all sorts of people – a lot of older adults recovering from stroke, children who were learning to live in a body that just wouldn’t cooperate in doing activities of daily living, and individuals who needed a place to exercise that saw them as whole instead of broken.
There is one woman who I will always remember. She was in her mid 40s and came rolling into the fitness center every Thursday at about 2pm. An accident 10 years prior left her with no use of her lower body, and limited use of her torso and arms. We spent the hour she was there each week moving from one piece of equipment to the next, and I helped her get situated by swinging the seat out so she could roll into place and strapping her hands to the bar or pulley so she could manipulate it. Every workout was the same – I don’t remember ever increasing the weight or seeing any progress in her strength or ability. She just showed up every week, did her circuit and moved on to the rest of her day.
What makes me remember her is that she didn’t convey frustration or anger. She never showed disappointment in the lack of noticeable physical progress. She didn’t complain about the ice in the winter and how her wheel chair slipped on it, or about how long it took to get in and out of her van, or about having to move from the home she loved because she couldn’t get to the bathroom on the second floor anymore. She spoke of her life before the accident not with longing and regret, but with gratitude for the experiences that she had when she could walk. And she spoke of her current life in the same way. Not with longing for her past, or with anger that she no longer had a body that would do what it once did, but instead with gratitude that she had a body that could carry her through life, and the new experiences and opportunities that occur because of the change in that body.
She took the joy that could have stayed buried under grief and hardship and used it to move through a really difficult transition. She took what could have easily become an avenue into bitterness and turned instead onto a path paved with beauty and appreciation for what the world can be . She didn’t let the accident and its outcome shout louder that the joy that was a part of her core essence. She didn’t let her life situation and how she felt about it dictate how she responded to what happened, or to what didn’t. She chose to be joyful because it was possible.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
The world offers itself to your imagination. Your place in it is not set in stone – nor is it something to dread or resign yourself to. There are challenges, yes. Despair is real and familiar to all. But the winter still comes each year, as does the spring, summer and fall. Every dew wet apple blossom, every garden plot filled with creeping flowers and weeds, each crimson leaf, each sparkle in a newly white morning – each nuance of creation offers up a sense of place and rhythm. Know that you have a place in that rhythm. Your own – and you are enough.