The Need For Magic

The Need For Magic

In order to free our world from its present nightmare of materialism and exploitation, we need a new story—a story of oneness and interdependence, of cooperation rather than competition. But to make this transition we need a power, the magic that belongs to life itself. How can we find this magic to give birth to a new story of oneness, of the earth as a living, self-sustaining whole, full of beauty and wonder?  

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee goes on to say, “The next story is not going to be just a human story, and it’s not going to be on our terms.”  It’s going to be on the earth’s terms, and it’s going to validate that we humans are not separate from or above or more important than nature. The current story that we are embedded in heralds consumerism, wealth and getting ahead as the road to a successful and happy life.  This story has a powerful pull – it has demonstrated the power to change the physical world beyond recognition in too many cases, and it has demonstrated the power to entice the collective of humanity to turn a blind eye to the cry of the earth.   We have poured ourselves into this current story with abandon and it can be hard to feel the new one that wants to emerge. Continue reading “The Need For Magic”

Beauty Is Meaning

Beauty Is Meaning

Anne Lamott writes, in Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair:

One rarely knows where to begin the search for meaning, though by necessity, we can only start where we are… It somehow has to do with sticking together as we try to make sense of chaos, and that seems a way to begin.

We try to help where we can, and try to survive our own trials and stresses, illnesses and elections. We work really hard at not being driven crazy by noise and speed and extremely annoying people, whose names we are too polite to mention. We try not to be tripped up by major global sadness, difficulties in our families or the death of old pets…

We work hard, we enjoy life as we can, we endure. We try to help ourselves and one another. We try to be more present and less petty. Some days go better than others. We look for solace in nature and art and maybe, if we are lucky, the quiet satisfaction of our homes.

We work hard, we try to enjoy life, we endure.  Life so many times is harder than we want it to be.  “It’s just the human condition”, they say.  Maybe they are right.  Maybe we humans are inevitably drawn into chaos, turmoil and bleak moods just because it’s the human condition.  We seem to destroy our habitat and each other and ourselves more every day.  We let money dictate our choices, we give into selfish interests and we focus on what’s wrong and on what needs fixing.  We let systems keep us captive, we give in to convenience, and we let fatigue overshadow our values.  We don’t know the answers and we forget to look at the sky.  We can’t find meaning in our day to day actions and we are stuck in the past or worrying about the future.  The world churns on and we get lost in the global maladies of our time.

Lamott goes on to say,

It’s a terrible system. But the good news is that then there is new life. Wildflowers bloom again… They’re both such surprises. Wildflowers stop you in your hiking tracks. You want to savor the colors and scents, let them breathe you in, let yourself be amazed. And bulbs that grow in the cold rocky dirt remind us that no one is lost.

Continue reading “Beauty Is Meaning”

Weaving With Invisible Thread

Weaving With Invisible Thread

The first person I called after four weeks of training to be a corporate health coach was a gentleman named *Charlie.  The appointment was at 7pm on a Tuesday in April, and I had literally all day to prepare and worry about how it would go.  When the witching hour finally rolled around, I dialed the phone, had my paper at the ready to take notes and half hoped that he wouldn’t answer.  He did answer, and at the end of the conversation, he had a goal to play basketball once a week and eat one less serving of pasta when spaghetti was on the table for dinner.  (No easy feat when one is Italian and spaghetti rules the meal plan.)  And I knew that he had a six year old daughter going through treatment for leukemia and that he felt powerless in the face of something so important that was outside of his control.  In twenty minutes I learned what made this person who I’d probably never meet get up in the morning and what drove him to take care of himself.  I learned about some of his challenges, and I learned of his struggles to stay on track.  I asked him what his vision of a healthy life was, and he told me it was to be his best self so he could give his daughter the dad she deserved.  Most of his story I’ll never know, and he didn’t have to tell me the parts that he did.  But he chose to share, and I chose to listen, and now our stories will forever be intertwined. Continue reading “Weaving With Invisible Thread”

Success Comes Quietly

Success Comes Quietly

When was the last time you felt successful?  Perhaps it was graduation from college.  High school? When you landed your first “real” job?  Or got a promotion?  Or a raise?  Or perhaps that time you won the 100 meter hurdles at the state meet.  Maybe when you published your book? When you finished the series and every book was a best seller? Maybe when you got the lead role in a play.  Or in a movie.   Or when you got a great advance or contract.  Or perhaps when you heard your parent say, “I’m proud of you.”  Or when you received public acknowledgement that you are a person of value to the company.  Maybe it was when someone noticed you’d lost 30 pounds.  Or cleared up your skin, or got some new clothes. Maybe the last time you felt successful was when when you got a gold star on an assignment in fifth grade, or scored a basket in a junior high pick-up game.

Or maybe you are still waiting for that successful feeling because success has seemingly eluded you so far.  Maybe you think that success just isn’t in the cards.   That feeling of success can be awfully slippery.  It can show up at your door like the popular guy that everyone wants to date, make you feel like a princess for a week and then disappear in a cloud of exhaust when you don’t follow the script or when you stop paying attention to what matters to you. The quest toward “feeling successful” can leave you wondering where your life went when you were looking around the corner for something else. Continue reading “Success Comes Quietly”

Little Bits of Good

Little Bits of Good

January.  A time to take stock of what’s working and what’s not.   Resolving to do better this year.   Worrying that nothing will change. Again. Losing those 30 pounds… for real this time.   Giving up all foods that contain white sugar and flour.  Going gluten free.  Joining the gym.  Taking up yoga. Quitting smoking.  Quitting drinking.  Quitting gambling.  Quitting failing.  January in the western world is full of anticipation and anxiety as we look for a fresh start – as we look for something that will keep us moving into the life that we want.

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How might we take the start of another calendar year to surrender into a version of life that is simply… enough?  What it would be like to be satisfied – really satisfied – with exactly where we are, regardless of what our external life situation might look like? How can we use our everyday actions to illustrate a way of being in the world that promotes joy instead of suffering?  How can we make January about what is, instead of what isn’t?

I wonder how to accept the present – to really, truly accept it and be in it.  I wonder how to discern the direction my life needs to take to best serve my family and the larger collective.   I wonder how to be in the world as one of the privileged, and how to accept that for what it is.  I wonder how best to use the abundance that I have to help others see their own.  I wonder how to use ideas that don’t work as stepping stones toward those that do. Continue reading “Little Bits of Good”

A ‘Wild Dare’ for Thanksgiving

A ‘Wild Dare’ for Thanksgiving

 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. 

~Chris Heeter

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.

Rest In Gratitude

Rest In Gratitude

Red Brush Farms

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…

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Wood Stove

Wood Stove

We put in our wood stove about a year ago, now.   One late September morning, a lanky man and his assistant rambled up to the house bearing silver stove pipes and ladders and left two hours later as we gazed at our newly installed wood stove. We got it from a guy across the river that didn’t need to have it around and was willing to let it go for a reasonable price that included dropping it off in our garage. After living for all of my adult years without wood heat, having a stove in the middle of the living room feels a bit like returning to home soil after a long journey away. I grew up in a house that was heated exclusively by a wood stove, and I didn’t realize how much I’d missed the company of slowly burning logs until I invited them back into my daily life.

And with it has come the task of operating the wood stove – something that Dad always did when I was growing up, and his administrations of which I look back on now wishing I’d paid closer attention. There’s a bit of an art to efficiently using a wood stove, and I admire the commitment my parents had to the labor and routine that is required to make such a lifestyle work.

Such a lifestyle requires chopping and splitting wood, curing the wood properly, storing it in a dry place, making sure there’s enough kindling to get a fire going, hauling the wood from the storage place into the house every day, clearing the ashes… and this is all before you even build a fire. Building the fire requires opening the damper, getting a good small fire burning, and then feeding it larger logs until the temperature and coal bed is hot enough to close the damper again to ensure an efficient use of the fuel. You can adjust the air flow too, for good measure.

As winter progresses and the air takes on more of a chill, I am thankful for the means to heat part of our home with the wood that grows abundantly in the forested land around our house. Heating with wood is, for us, part of building a life that is centered on simplicity – one of the facets that I believe to be important in living in a sustainable and life-giving way. As we move toward heating more with wood and solar power, we use less fossil fuel and take our support from the corporations that feed on our dependence to those things. We aren’t independent of them yet. But every time we make a choice that takes energy from supporting corporations that are based on profit and greed for a few, we put more energy into building a system that is based on truth and abundance for all.

This is not to say that living in a simple way is easy. In some ways, it isn’t even simple. At first glance, it seems simpler to flip on the furnace when the temperature dips, rather than going outside to split wood. It is easier to sit down with a cup of coffee and the morning news, instead of using those first moments of the day to start a fire in the stove. The culture we live in today is built on the promotion of buying convenience. Choosing to do something by hand, or the ‘hard’ way doesn’t make sense through the lens of the American Dream.

So why do it?

Because when we choose to live simply – when we see that we have enough, and usually more than enough – we live more fully and are part of the system that allows others to do the same. When we choose inconvenience over doing things the easy or quick way, we offer our work to the benefit of those who don’t have the luxury of such a choice. When we choose to accept enough, we return home. We remember what it feels like to love without boundaries and to be content with enough.

This post also appeared on enough.

Sabbath

Sabbath

Yesterday afternoon I didn’t do anything.  And by “anything” I mean I didn’t do anything that I would typically count as “productive.”  I wasn’t at work, and my two year old was napping.  I didn’t cook dinner, I didn’t do the laundry, I didn’t work on any projects, I didn’t practice yoga, I didn’t plan the upcoming weekend.  I didn’t do any of the things that I usually do when I have an hour or two of time on my hands.  Instead I sat at the kitchen table with a glass of wine and looked out the window.   The lake was glassy and starting to reflect the late afternoon sunset as dusk claimed ownership of the day’s light.  The wind of earlier in the day was starting to settle, and the newly fallen leaves lay still, a carpet of yellow and orange and red on the ground.  At one point a seagull called out and circled the lake, a spot of bright white against the muted, hazy tones of the landscape.  Everything was quiet.

At first I felt that familiar sense of guilt for not using my time to address the next item on the never ending task list – in the fall, it’s even longer than usual with the seasonal tasks of gathering firewood, putting up the last of the garden produce, getting the garden ready for winter, raking leaves, winterizing motors, and all the other things that need to happen for a rural household to welcome the winter elements in Minnesota.   And there are of course the tasks of daily life always waiting in the wings: Food to prepare, dishes to wash, floors to clean, errands to run.  It is all too easy to fall prey to the energy of guilt, self condemnation and plain old worry.

“What if I’m not ready for what comes next?”

“What if I fail to do what my loved ones expect/need me to do?”

“What if we never finish the list?”

Well.  These questions, much like the dreaded “list” could go on for pages.  For all the questions that I could come up with, the answer – if I’m really being truthful with myself – is, “So what?” As I was sitting there, looking over the lake and taking in the stillness of the moments as they passed, I was somehow able to see over the what ifs into the present.  I could see that my taking an hour to just sit still and be wasn’t going to lead to the demise of ……….. well, anything.  Perhaps it will take one more day to get all the apples turned into sauce.   Perhaps the leaves will pile up and mat down the grass for more days in a row than would be ideal.  Perhaps while I sip my wine,  a detail will slide by into oblivion, never to be attended to.   Perhaps the world will go on.

I wouldn’t want to have day after day of sitting at the kitchen table drinking wine.  Things will still need to get accomplished,  and I will still be happier when the dishes are clean, I’ve practiced yoga and the laundry is folded instead of in a heap on the bed.   But taking time to just sit and be with the quiet of an afternoon is necessary, too.  Most of us need to feel like things are getting done to be content – but we also need to observe time for rest so we can work another day.  After all, isn’t that what we are working for?  To be in the world in a way that invites contentment and peace for all living things?  Maybe we need to remember to observe what we are working toward in the first place.

How can you build a Sabbath into your week?

Sabbath observance invites us to stop. It invites us to rest. It asks us to notice that while we rest, the world continues without our help. It invites us to delight in the world’s beauty and abundance.  Wendell Berry

The Blue of Desire

The Blue of Desire

Rebecca Solnit writes in A Field Guide to Getting Lost:

We [tend to] treat desire as a problem to be solved, address what desire is for and focus on that something and how to acquire it rather than on the nature and the sensation of desire- though often it is the distance between us and the object of desire that fills the space in between with the blue of longing. I wonder sometimes whether with a slight adjustment of perspective it could be cherished as a sensation on its own terms – since isn’t it as inherent to the human condition as the color blue is to distance? What if we could look across the distance without wanting to close it up, if you could own your longing in the same way that you own the beauty of that blue that can never be possessed? For something of this longing will, like the blue of distance, only be relocated, not assuaged, by acquisition and arrival, just as the mountains cease to be blue when you arrive among them and the blue instead tints the next beyond.

When I read that, I am transported to a dusty red four-speed Toyota, and I’m driving west across South Dakota.  After miles of corn fields give way to miles of grassy pasture; after the Missouri river valley gives way to rolling tall grass prairie; after you cross through the barren beauty of Badland spires reaching toward the sky, after the signs for Wall Drug say, “wait, you missed it!”……after all of that you finally come to the place where the Black Hills loom in the distance, and you marvel at the sudden change in the horizon.  You are astonished at the majestic expanse that commands your sightlines and the welcoming darkness of what lays ahead.  And then at some point as you continue on your westward journey, it’s gone.  Once you reach the point where identifying individual hills and trees is possible, the black has vanished and only the landscape remains.  They are just hills, now – beautiful and sacred as they always were, but the mystery that came with the space that was once between you and the place you sought is as gone as the distance that was closed to nothing.   And when you look up and out past the place where the hills give way to grasslands again, you can see hints of the next place that you seek, and the color that tints that desire to arrive.

What do you think it would look like to just be with desire — to bear witness to it, inhabit it fully, approach it with what John Keats memorably termed “negative capability?” There is something profound in truly feeling what we feel without trying to change it.  And perhaps when we sit with a feeling, be it longing, or melancholy or sadness, and let it do its work in us, it will – and then it will move on.  Maybe we would feel less stuck all the time.  Maybe we could then remember the beauty in the blackness of distant hills and let it carry us into whatever horizon might invite us in next.

Would it make a difference in how we progress toward the goals we have for our lives?  Toward the vision that we seek to live up to?   What would it mean to “own our longing?” in the same way that we acknowledge beauty and goodness and truth?