I am emptying myself, a little at a time, settling in to the laze and the loaf, stretching my spine like an elastic band and letting it ease back into a loose curl.
Oh, I have Lots of Things to Do. But here I am, and that goldfinch out there is shining like a liquid drop of pure sunlight, and a cat needs a human hand in just that spot between his ears and I am happy to oblige.
I’ll practice breathing. How does it go? In. And out. In. And out. In. And out.
Grateful: For the summer stretch before school begins, in whatever form it will begin. For that golden finch, and the fierce pink of the wild peas on the hillside behind him. For making things. Right now my obsession is the sewing machine. For my bike, which I have sorely neglected for years, but which I ride 2-3 times/week now. For anticipation of time with beloveds, masked and distanced, of course.
May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!
“Choose to be in touch with what is wonderful, refreshing, and healing within yourself and around you.” ―Thich Nhat Hanh
“Spirituality is not to be learned by flight from the world, or by running away from things, or by turning solitary and going apart from the world. Rather, we must learn an inner solitude wherever or with whomsoever we may be. We must learn to penetrate things and find God there.” ―Meister Eckhart
“Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.” ―Thich Nhat Hanh
“No matter what the fight, don’t be ladylike! God almighty made women and the Rockefeller gang of thieves made the ladies.” ―Mary Harris Jones
Remember: Lift your shoulders. Straighten your spine. Breathe. Look yourself in the eye. Drink water. Stretch your body. Make things. Know yourself a beloved child of God/the Universe.
Gratitude List: 1. I heard towhee yesterday, several times throughout the afternoon. Then, when I went out to help Jon move some walls up to the treehouse he is building, I saw him, on one of the dead branches at the top of the chestnut tree, silhouetted against the sun, telling me over and over again to drink my tea. 2. This marvelous treehouse my man is making. It’s really looking amazing. 3. The Lovings. Change is made when people keep demanding it, when people see something that is wrong and decide to change it. May we all be Loving like the Lovings, brave to make change. Happy Loving Day! Love who you love! 4. Unconditional love that believes in the ability of each person to become their best self. 5. This boy, sitting here on the couch, a cat on each side of him.
May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly–in Beauty!
“There is action to be taken in the outer world,but it must be action that comes from a reconnection with the sacred—otherwise we will just be reconstellating the patterns that have created this imbalance.” —Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
“In the time since I was arrested in January 2018, no fewer than 88 bodies were recovered from the Arizona desert. The government’s plan in the midst of this humanitarian crisis? Policies to target undocumented people, refugees and their families. Prosecutions to criminalize humanitarian aid, kindness and solidarity.” —Scott Warren, who was tried for offering humanitarian assistance to people dying in the desert
“When we read, we start at the beginning and continue until we reach the end. When we write, we start in the middle and fight our way out.” ― Vickie Karp
And I Was Alive by Osip Mandelstam
And I was alive in the blizzard of the blossoming pear, Myself I stood in the storm of the bird-cherry tree. It was all leaflife and starshower, unerring, self-shattering power, And it was all aimed at me. What is this dire delight flowering fleeing always earth? What is being? What is truth? Blossoms rupture and rapture the air, All hover and hammer, Time intensified and time intolerable, sweetness raveling rot. It is now. It is not.
“I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.” ― Mary Wollstonecraft
“Which world are we trying to sustain: a resource to fulfill our desires of material prosperity, or an Earth of wonder, beauty, and sacred meaning?” —Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
Stop. Sit still. Breathe in and out, in and out. Now wiggle your shoulders and neck. Shift and straighten your spine. Drop your shoulders. Unclench your jaw. Breathe and breathe and breathe. What was that about? What were you holding so tightly in all those spaces and crevices and pockets? Rage? Anxiety? Disappointment? Fear? Name the Feeling People who inhabit your body. Ask them what they have to tell you about yourself in the world right now.
We need everybody’s voices right now. We need everybody working for change. Racism and white supremacy won’t be dismantled in a day. It’s been the defining principle for way too long, and people have been trying to break it for a long, long time. But there’s a movement afoot, and it need us all on deck, doing our parts. But you have to rest, too, sister. You have to tend your own tender spirit, brother. Now might be a good time to pick up a new spiritual practice that helps to anchor you in the midst of this transformative storm.
Pray. Make energy webs that knit and protect, that send along the message of change and justice. Meditate. Make art. Write poems. Pet a cat. Watch the birds. Drink lots of water. Stretch your body. Take intentional breaks from the streets, from social media, from thinking about it. You know you’ll get back to the work when you’re strong enough. Tend Your Spirit. We need you healthy and whole, working in whatever way you work best to help turn this massive ship in the direction of a just and safe future for all. It’s okay to look away for a little while, and breathe.
Gratitude List: 1. The young people who are galvanizing the movement. 2. Tens of thousands of people are in the streets demanding change. Don’t let the dominator’s narrative hide that fact. Let’s keep our language clear: This is not “The Riots.” This is a social movement demanding police accountability and an end to white supremacy. There are thousands upon thousands of people taking that word to the physical streets and to social media. That’s a great and marvelous thing. 3. Friends checking in with each other. Keep doing that. Keep making sure your friends are okay. Keep the network lively. Take care of each other. 4. All the resources! Books to read, wise thinkers to follow on social media, lists of black-owned businesses to support, ways to attack our own internal biases. Keep passing those around! 5. The graphic pattern of black and white on the back of that downy woodpecker, and the way his head is shining red.
Love Mercy. Do Justice. Walk Humbly–in Beauty.
“Words are events, they do things, change things. They transform both speaker and hearer; they feed energy back and forth and amplify it. They feed understanding or emotion back and forth and amplify it.” ―Ursula K. Le Guin
“People who deny the existence of dragons are often eaten by dragons. From within.” ―Ursula K. Le Guin
“We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel. . .is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.” ―Ursula K. Le Guin
“Give yourself to love.” ―Kate Wolf
“So it turns out that the ‘blemish’ is actually essential to the beauty. The ‘deviation’ is at the core of the strength. The ‘wrong turn’ was crucial to you getting you back on the path with heart.” —Rob Brezsny
“For a breath or two, to have been inside this Ka‘ba of the heart, praying from the inside. Breathe in God, breathe out God. The one who adores is the One adored. The lover is the beloved, is love itself. Bathed in light Being with the one we love.” ―Omid Safi
“We become each other’s stories when we listen to each other closely.” —Mara Eve Robbins at TEDxFLOYD
“Come on Mr Frodo. I can’t carry it for you―but I can carry you!” ―Sam Gamgee (JRR Tolkien)
Glinda to Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz: “You’ve always had the power my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.”
“Each one of us has lived through some devastation, some loneliness, some weather superstorm or spiritual superstorm, when we look at each other we must say, I understand. I understand how you feel because I have been there myself. We must support each other and empathize with each other because each of us is more alike than we are unalike.” ―Maya Angelou
“The earth, the air, the fire, the water: Return, return, return, return. . .” –Libana song
Contemplative Research Journey for Earth Day: Contemplate the earth you walk, right in your yard, your neighborhood, your town. If you can, put your bare feet on earth today. Think about the people who were here before your, and before them. Do you know who were the indigenous peoples who lived on and hunted and farmed and fished on the land where you stand? What do you know of the soil and the rocks and minerals of your place? What feeds the life of the place where you are?
Contemplate the plants of your neighborhood. Can you name three trees? Five? Twenty? Who is in bud now? Who is in bloom? There is so much more than grass in the grass. Do you know the names of all the plantfolk who provide the green carpets you walk on?
Contemplate the wingfolk and the four-footed people who share this space with you. Can you tell one shining bird from the other? Can you differentiate their calls? Can you see evidence of the night wanderers? Who might be visiting your yards and gardens and alleyways while you sleep? And the tiny insect people that try so hard to live inside our houses. Have you watched them make webs, tend to their own business, seek the dark spaces?
What about the waters of your place? Where does it come from and where does it go? If you have wild water running near you, take some time today to trail your fingers through it.
Touch earth. Touch water. Touch bark. Listen for the messages in birdsong. Smell the rising spring. Breathe wind. Take ten deep outside breaths. Greet the Beings of your place with love and gratitude.
Gratitude List: 1. The guarddogwoods are beginning to bloom. Even though I no longer hang poetic laundry on their branches, I always feel like poetry itself is blooming when they start to throw pink at the sun. 2. Wangari Maathai, Rachel Carson, Jane Goodall, Greta Thunberg, Berta Caceres–and all the fierce and joyful activists around the world whom they represent. 3. The many Beings of Skunk Hollow. The shine and the flutter. The wafting and the whoosh. The verdancy. The brilliance. 4. Golda’s Lake and Goldfinch Creek and Ezilie’s Spring and Cabin Creek and the Susquehanna River, and the Chesapeake Bay. 5. The promise of a new way. The hope of change.
May we walk, so joyfully, in Beauty!
Earth Day Words: “The world is, in truth, a holy place.” —Teilhard de Chardin
“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” —Henry David Thoreau
“You are your own cartographer now.” —Ralph Blum
“If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees.” ―Rainer Maria Rilke
“Every creature is a word of God.” ―Meister Eckhart
“The forest for me is a temple, a cathedral of tree canopies and dancing light.” ―Dr. Jane Goodall
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.” ―The Onceler (Dr. Seuss)
“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” ―Rachel Carson
William Stafford: “I place my feet with care in such a world.”
“A society is defined not only by what it creates, but by what it refuses to destroy.” ―John Sawhill
Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” ―Rachel Carson
“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full or wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later year…the alienation from the sources of our strength.” ―Rachel Carson
“Few words are so revealing of Western sexual prejudice as the word Goddess, in contrast to the word God. Modern connotations differ vastly from those of the ancients, to whom the Goddess was a full-fledged cosmic parent figure who created the universe and its laws, ruler of Nature, Fate, Time, Eternity, Truth, Wisdom, Justice, Love, Birth, Death, Etc.” ―Barbara G. Walker
“Our vitality is inextricably bound up with creativity. Like a tree whose expression is fruit, giving our gifts is what keeps life pushing through our veins. It’s what keeps us feeling alive. As anyone who has strayed too far from their creativity knows, without it every corner of one’s life can fall prey to a terrible greying spread. As Kahlil Gibran writes about trees in an orchard, “They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.” —by Toko-pa Turner
Note to Self: Go outside! Feet on earth, hands in water, hands on bark. Fresh air in the lungs. Take a quick moment to notice your body. Are your shoulders up there beside your ears? Breathe in. Breathe out, and let them settle back to where they belong.
Here’s a poem from The Song of the Toad and the Mockingbird: Bridge
Walk barefoot on Earth. Walk, knowing your very being is Her being. Her rocks are your bones, Her rivers your blood, Her Living Soil your muscles and skin. Be a living bridge between Earth and Sky– Earth marries sky within you. Your spine is a conduit. Walk, open and aware. Walk, electric with knowing.
Gratitude List: 1. The dogwood tree is beginning to bloom. The two dogwoods stand on either side of the driveway. I call them my guard-dogwoods. I haven’t hung poems on the one closest to the house for years, but I still think of it as the Poet-tree. It will always be the Poet-tree. 2. Yesterday I walked back to myself. The sadness is still there, but I think now it is riding with me instead of me riding it. 3. The Helpers. You are one. And You. And You. 4. Resilience. 5. And still, that violet. That blue.
May we walk in Beauty!
“We have all hurt someone tremendously, whether by intent or accident. We have all loved someone tremendously, whether by intent or accident. it is an intrinsic human trait, and a deep responsibility, I think, to be an organ and a blade. But, learning to forgive ourselves and others because we have not chosen wisely is what makes us most human. We make horrible mistakes. It’s how we learn. We breathe love. It’s how we learn. And it is inevitable.” —Nayyira Waheed
“To me, it’s all right if you look at a tree, as the Hindus do, and say the tree has a spirit. It’s a mystery, and mysteries don’t compromise themselves—we’re never gonna know. I think about the spiritual a great deal. I like to think of myself as a praise poet.” —Mary Oliver
“When you hold a child in your arms, or hug your mother, or your husband, or your friend, if you breathe in and out three times, your happiness will be multiplied at least tenfold.” —Thich Nhat Hanh
“I stuck my head out the window this morning, and spring kissed me BANG in the face.” —Langston Hughes
“In the morning, wonder and be generous like the sun. In the evening, meditate and be kind like the moon.” —Debasish Mridha
“There is a huge silence inside each of us that beckons us into itself, and the recovery of our own silence can begin to teach us the language of heaven.” —Meister Eckhart
“Every spring is the only spring—a perpetual astonishment.” —Ellis Peters
One of my Facebook friends, someone I don’t know IRL, but someone I have come to care about through our network of mutual friends, is in trouble. What do you do when you care about someone, but you aren’t part of their close network, and can’t call or text to check up? I breathe, which is like a prayer. So today I am breathing for my friend who is wandering close to the edge.
Breathe in. Breathe out. As you breathe, let your mind wander through the circles of your beloveds. Who needs your energy right now? Breathe in, and hold that person in your mind’s eye. Hold that breath a moment, and hold that person close to your heart. Breathe out. Breathe out love and compassion and energy and hope. Breathe in your beloved. Hold them close to your heart. Breathe out and cast them a line. Breathe in and hold your beloved. Breathe out and offer them love. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Gratitude List: 1. A socially distant visit from a dear, dear friend and a gift of tulips! Thank you, Dear One! 2. Those slightly hot yellow pickled pepper rings. 3. Spring peepers. I still remember one summer around the campfire at Camp Hebron when Gloria tried to help me hear the peepers in the midst of the cicadas and the crickets. I thought there was some magic I was missing in the world–my ears don’t sort sound well, and I couldn’t catch it. But now, for whatever reason, the peepers are busy up our street, and I can hear them, and they make me happy. 4. Chagall’s blues. 5. Erebus. We both know it is illegal for him to be up here on the table, but he wants to be right next to me. How can I tell him no?
Take care of each other. Walk in Beauty!
If you haven’t watched Jon Krasinski’s SGN show, take a few minutes today to google it. I think you’ll be glad you did.
“Dear friends, look at the real heroes who come to light in these days: they are not famous, rich and successful people; rather, they are those who are giving themselves in order to serve others.” —Pope Francis
“Remember, the ugly, old woman/witch is the invention of dominant cultures. The beauty of crones is legendary: old women are satined-skinned, softly wrinkled, silver-haired, and awe-inspiring in their truth and dignity.” —Susun Weed
“God invites everyone to the House of Peace.” —The Holy Quran
“Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind.” —George Orwell
“What a pity that so hard on the heels of Christ came the Christians.” —Annie Dillard
“The arc of history is long, and what we’re here to do is make a mark. . . . You do the work because you’re slowly moving the needle. There are times in history when we feel like we’re going backward, but that’s part of the growth.” —Barack Obama
“Each moment from all sides rushes to us the call to love.” —Rumi
“You are a co-creator of love in this world.” —Richard Rohr
“Trust your instinct to the end, though you can render no reason.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
“When we let ourselves respond to poetry, to music, to pictures, we are clearing out a space where new stories can root; in effect we are clearing a space for new stories about ourselves.” —Jeanette Winterson
“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn Is just to love and be loved in return.” —Eden Ahbez
MESSAGES TO SELF: Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in sunshine. Breathe in the fluttering of bird wings in sunlight. Breathe out worry and anxiety and grief. Breathe in the solidity of trees. Breathe in the stalwart courage of oak and locust and sycamore. Breathe out worry and anxiety and grief. (They will still be there for you to examine and explore. For now, let them go.) Breathe in and raise your head. Drop your shoulders. Stand or sit up straighter. Breathe the worry and sadness out the soles of your feet, into Earth. She can hold them for you. Breathe in love and compassion. Breathe out gratitude. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Today at some point, put you bare feet on Earth. Put your fingertips in water. Place your hands oh so tenderly on the bark of a tree. And breathe.
Gratitude List: It feels like these lists are all beginning to repeat, as I sit at the same window every morning to write these lists, and my days look the same. 1. Bird life in the holler. One goldfinch is now fully suited up for summer. Phoebe is speaking its name into the cool morning. The sun turns that red cap on the downy woodpecker to fire. 2. The trees that surround me. 3. The waters that run through the hollow on their way to the River. 4. A lighter day today. The assignments are a little lighter today, and I am going to grade speeches. Enough. Enough. I have done enough. 5. Finding joys and wonders and delights to balance the sadness and anxiety.
Take Care of Yourself. Take Care of Each Other.
“What we seek, at the deepest level, is inwardly to resemble, rather than physically to possess, the objects and places that touch us through their beauty.” —Alain de Botton
“We are capable of suffering with our world, and that is the true meaning of compassion. It enables us to recognize our profound interconnectedness with all beings. Don’t ever apologize for crying for the trees burning in the Amazon or over the waters polluted from mines in the Rockies. Don’t apologize for the sorrow, grief, and rage you feel. It is a measure of your humanity and your maturity. It is a measure of your open heart, and as your heart breaks open there will be room for the world to heal.” —Joanna Macy
“We should have respect for animals because it makes better human beings of us all.” —Jane Goodall
“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you love. It will not lead you astray.” —Rumi
“If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there’s shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.” —Harriet Tubman
“The little grassroots people can change this world.” —Wangari Maathai
“Some form of the prayer of quiet is necessary to touch me at the unconscious level, the level where deep and lasting transformation occurs. From my place of prayer, I am able to understand more clearly what is mine to do and have the courage to do it. Unitive consciousness—the awareness that we are all one in Love—lays a solid foundation for social critique and acts of justice.” —Richard Rohr
“You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to.” —Anonymous
Gratitude List: 1. Silence 2. This breath 3. And this one 4. This moment 5. You
Take care of each other. Breathe.
“When you teach your daughter, explicitly or by passive rejection, that she must ignore her outrage, that she must be kind and accepting to the point of not defending herself or other people, that she must not rock the boat for any reason, you are not strengthening her prosocial sense; you are damaging it—and the first person she will stop protecting is herself.” —Martha Stout
“I’ve seen women insist on cleaning everything in the house before they could sit down to write… and you know it’s a funny thing about housecleaning… it never comes to an end. Perfect way to stop a woman. A woman must be careful to not allow over-responsibility (or over-respectabilty) to steal her necessary creative rests, riffs, and raptures. She simply must put her foot down and say no to half of what she believes she “should” be doing. Art is not meant to be created in stolen moments only.” ―Clarissa Pinkola Estés
“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” ―Isaac Asimov
“In a world so torn apart by rivalry, anger, and hatred, we have the privileged vocation to be living signs of a love that can bridge all divisions and heal all wounds.” ―Henri J.M. Nouwen
My heart is moved by all I cannot save: so much has been destroyed I have to cast my lot with those who age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world. ―Adrienne Rich
“Sometimes when you think you are done, it is just the edge of beginning. Probably that’s why we decide we’re done. It’s getting too scary. We are touching down onto something real. It is beyond the point when you think you are done that often something strong comes out.” ―Natalie Goldberg
“The work of the eyes is done. Go now and do the heart-work on the images imprisoned within you.” ―Rainer Maria Rilke
“That story you writin’ just might save the world. That poem you throwin’ down, could end wars.” ―York Poet and Shining Woman Christine Lincoln
“Be here. Let your wild self fly free.” ―The Crows
Sweet Shining and Shadowy Beloveds: This morning, it’s hard to keep believing in justice, hard to keep the long view in mind, hard to hold a vision of a world in which people of courage make decisions for the good of all, with wisdom, humility, and honor.
Part of me longs to enumerate all the horrors and destructions of the past week, to see the hurts laid out like a cadaver, to identify each killing blow, each bruise, each scar.
But that would only serve to feed the rising panic that’s been gathering in my gut this week, and perhaps in yours, too. Those pieces will come later, in poems. But now it’s time to tend to ourselves, to shore up and take stock and plan our way forward.
Let’s fight this collective panic attack. If we’re left lost and quivering, we only feed their power. Oh yes, I’m lost this morning, and quivering, too, re-traumatized. Let’s acknowledge it, notice where it lodges in our bodies.
My muscles actually ache from all the tightness I’ve been holding in. My head is pounding and my brain is foggy.
Now, it’s time to push back the panic: Breathe in. Straighten your spine. Lower your shoulders. Breathe out. Roll your neck and shoulders. Stretch and wriggle your spine until you feel yourself to be a line drawn between heaven and earth, a conduit of energy that flows through you. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Notice every place your body is touching a surface. Notice the sensations in your body. My backside and thighs on the chair.One foot on the floor, one on a chair rail.This cozy jacket keeps me just warm enough.My tongue’s a little scalded from that first sip of coffee.
What do you hear? The water in the cat’s drinking fountain, a small boy clicking his tongue, the creaking of an old house on a chilly morning.
What do you taste? (Grab a bite of something, or remember a favorite taste sensation.) The bite of pepper and the creamy counterpart in the pepperjack cheese.
What do you smell? Coffee, vanilla, springtime
Look around you. Find a color, a texture, a beautiful thing. The shining scarlet drop of red on the head of that downy woodpecker.The sweet, soft salmon leaves of the Japanese maple,still clinging to the branches and twigs.So many winter goldfinches on the thistle bag!
Now, here we are in the doorway of a new season. Today and tomorrow mark the beginning of Imbolc, the Season of Stirrings. New life is coming, cold snap or not. Sap will rise. Seeds will sprout. The Earth spins and whirls on in her dance through the cosmos.
One of the old names for today is Candlemas, when we acknowledge how the light has been within us all along, how much light we have to offer. Take stock of your candles. What is the small flame that you can offer the world in this moment? What is the fuel that you share?
Perhaps you are already doing it–tending daily to children or calling your senators, teaching teenagers to ask discerning questions or planting seeds for the crops that will feed your neighbors, healing bodies, gathering friends, listening. Today, this week, this month, do that work like a prayer, like a magic spell. Do it with intention, knowing that your work is changing the world, that what you do is fighting the forces of wanton destruction and power-mongering.
And maybe take up another thing this week. Make cranes for the Tsuru for Solidarity March, when Japanese Americans for social justice will be marching on Washington in early June to demand the closure of internment camps in the United States. Become an advocate for immigration reform. Send money or food to groups who are taking food to asylum-seekers forced to wait in inhumane conditions in Mexico. Express your support for Muslim people, and people from African and Asian countries which have been added to the US travel bans. Help people register to vote.
To combat the lies and obfuscations: Speak truth. Magically. Prayerfully. To combat the normalized cruelty: Speak compassion and tenderness. Prayerfully. Magically. To combat the power-mongering: Share your privilege. Offer the microphone, the stage, the moment. Do it prayerfully. Do it magically. To combat the greed-mongering: Be generous. Give. Share. Do it magically and prayerfully.
Another ancient name for this day, this season, is Brigid, after the ancient goddess of the Celtic peoples, who offered her muse to poets, to metalworkers, and to healers. She later became syncretized with the beloved St. Brighid, and so this aspect of human understanding of the Divine was not lost. Water and flame and word are her tools, her symbols. Today, make a poem, or make art, or make a nourishing broth to honor the gifts the Holy One has given you to make and change and heal. Do it prayerfully, as an act of defiant hope in the face of lies and cruelty and greed.
And also, this is the Groundhog’s moment. Tomorrow is the day when we check on the burrowers and the underworld dwellers. What light do they see? What shadows? In Advent, we walked into our own shadows. On Epiphany, we celebrated our light. And now, as we feel the heavy weight of the week’s shadows like a physical burden upon our shoulders, we must acknowledge and greet our own shadows. How do they give us power? How do they sap our power? Can we work with them instead of against them? Can we find their deepest meanings?
We can’t know what the coming days will bring. Too many signs point toward historical repetitions that turn me to salt, to stone. I freeze. I feel small and insignificant. But I must remember, constantly: Nothing we do now–to fight the tides of hatred and cruelty, to stand between the powerful and the vulnerable, to create holiness and beauty and health–will be wasted, no matter what happens. Now, perhaps more than ever, every act of hope and healing and love matters.
We are not alone. You are not alone. Reach out. Take hands. Build the webs. Ask for help, and be the helper.
Let’s situate ourselves so that we are always ready–strong enough, centered enough, grounded enough–to step up and do the work of love and compassion and justice, to stand up, to stand between, to risk, to raise our voices, to be the fierce and defiant hope for the future we want to create.
Today, we turn in to the third passage of this labyrinth. One thing I have noticed as I take this journey every year is that I get breathless. I find myself needing to take big sighs that don’t seem to quite satisfactorily fill my lungs. I’ll be walking in the halls at school and realize that I have been breathing shallowly, skimming the surface of breath.
So I sit or stand still, lift my chin, set my shoulders back, and take a long slow inward breath that goes down to my toes. When I breathe out again, I release some of that breath downward, through the base of my spine, into the Earth. You and I both know that the lungs are the organ of breathing in the body. I know that when we talk about breathing into our guts, we’re activating the diaphragm to get more involved in the activity of breathing. Still, for me, deep healing breath seems to follow more completely when I expand the activity of breathing throughout my body and into the Earth below me rather than simply centering it in my lungs. In the end I come away more grounded.
Try this, today in a moment between moments. Notice your breathing. Are you breathing deeply or shallowly? Settle yourself into a quiet space, either sitting or standing, and straighten your spine just a little. I think we’re trained to do the sudden, ramrod upward stance to quickly correct “bad posture.” This is about subtle movements that allow for a clear passage of air into our lungs. My shoulders go up and back a little, and I feel my spine as the road that connects Earth and Sky within me.
Breathe in. If you count when you breathe, you might try that. For me, I want to avoid regimentation in my breathing, and counting feels like that to me, but to some people, it’s a comfort. As you breathe in, notice your gut expanding, and feel your body open. Breathing out, send at least some of that breath down to your feet and to the base of your spine. This breath is roots that anchor you and hold you, connecting you to Earth.
Sometimes I get my arms involved, moving up and down with the breath, or I’ll shift my torso back and forth like a snake, to bring the breath into the nooks and crannies between my ribs. Roll your shoulders gently, or your neck, if that helps. Or make an audible sound on the outbreath. For me, the key is to do whatever helps me feel the breath filling all of me.
Right now, walking in this velvety morning darkness, I feel the quiet darkness of winter in the breath, and I take in the shadows that surround me. I am not afraid of this darkness. It’s the darkness of a deeply restful night, the darkness of a beloveds arms enclosing me, a regenerating darkness. The darkness in the chambers where the seed rests before it feels the stirrings that cause it to transform.
I cannot deny that I’m still anxious and claustrophobic about the long nights; that’s a feeling I need to keep naming and exploring, but at the same time I can still welcome the quiet restful dark. Walt Whitman said: “Do I contradict myself? Well, then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.”
One more thing about breathing: I have noticed that when I am talking with a student who is anxious or upset, if I subtly and consciously shift my breathing to a deeper level, they unconsciously join me in the deeper breath. I can see a shift, almost imperceptible, in their eyes, a relaxing. Try it when you’re in the presence of someone who is breathing shallowly because of anxiety or anger or weariness. We draw each other deeper as we tend to our own breath.
And so we walk onward, breathing together in the darkness. Breathing in the the darkness. I hear your steady breath, and the breathing of those who accompany us on this journey, and I know that when my breath falters, yours will be there to remind me to deepen.
Envisioning: (On Sunday, Michelle asked us to hold the swords-into-ploughshares vision in our heads, to look for stories of people choosing that vision. For the next little while, I am going to look for such stories as my daily morning meditation.)
The story I think about today is Starhawk’s novel, The Fifth Sacred Thing. In the story, the army of the Stewards is moving up the coast toward a free city/region. The people of the city have founded their civic life on principles based on nonviolence. As they decide how to respond to the coming army, they consider the point that armed resistance has been the chosen path of humanity for millennia, and it hasn’t worked. If they refuse to fight the invaders, they will lose their free way of life. If they find ways to arm themselves and fight, many of their number will die. If they choose a path of nonviolent resistance, many of them are also likely to die, but they might have a chance of preserving their way of life, and they won’t be compromising the principles upon which they’ve based their whole community. They tell the invading soldiers, “There is a place set for you at our table, if you will choose to join us.”
I would spoil the ending for you to tell you more, whether they miraculously “won” the day with their brilliant tactics of nonviolent resistance, or whether they were overtaken by the violent forces in the end. But that’s actually part of the point, isn’t it? We don’t know whether the vision will “work” in any physical/human sense, but we do it anyway because we hold a vision for the possibility for a different way for humans to be human with each other.