A Quiet Beauty

quiet beauty

It is the day after a violent sleet-snow blizzard, and it is utterly quiet.

I breathe in the stillness, and appreciate how nature has settled into a silent reverie.

In stark contrast to yesterday’s bedlam. the snow is a meditation of white, wonder, and awe.

It feels like everything is at ease.

Yesterday, I was standing in this very same spot, as the 50 mph winds howled with what felt like menace. The sleet was beating on my face relentlessly. The road disappeared and left behind a flurry of disorientation.

Today, I settle in, too, and as I do, I begin to take in the beauty of the landscape.

I often fail to appreciate the depth of beauty in winter, but today it is undeniable. The subtle shades of browns and greys lend a complexity to the land that takes my breath away.

The variety of shapes, colors, and textures, in the most ordinary of landscapes, is stunning.

It is like all of nature’s winter beauty has come out to show itself, after being in tumult, and hiding, yesterday.

Nature is such a lesson in impermanence.

It is also a reminder of cycles.

Like nature, we all live in natural cycles of waxing and waning. Our own creativity consists of bursts of activity, and then quiet, dormancy, incubation.

I am reminded of how I often expect myself to just keep going at a steady pace. This determination to keep plodding on is an unrealistic, and unfair, expectation. Nature teaches us this.

As I walk along in the calm tranquility, I wonder: what would be possible if I learned to sense the ebb and flow of my own natural rhythms, and, even more importantly, I respected them?

What would it be like for you, if you respected your natural rhythms?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spaciousness

spaciousness two

I’m out on our road, near sunset. It is cold, and the sun is bright in the western horizon. I’m walking down to our neighbor’s driveway, to deliver a note to their mailbox.

I’m on a rare walk by myself. I take my time to savor the winter landscape. The colors are stunning tonight: blues, violets, and oranges, all set off in high relief by the white of the new snow.

It’s cold, but the wind has died down, and I’m breathing in the sense of calm.

What I am noticing most is the space.

I cherish living in a place with such a feeling of space. This is the land of the prairies, where the horizon stretches on, seemingly endlessly.

I live out in the wild, wide open spaces, where the wind blasts down from the north in the winter, and the coyotes and foxes roam, and the red-tailed hawks soar.

The spaciousness enlivens me. It feeds my soul.

I grew up in the hills of California. While it was relatively unpopulated then, it had a completely different sense of space. I felt contained and held by the hills all around me. There was hardly a flat piece of ground anywhere around us. You walked out of your house and you either went up or down.

Now, I live on a slight hill, in a small woods, and I feel held and contained by the trees. The hundred-year-old oaks are like sentries, standing in a wisdom circle around us. I can feel their powerful, grounded energy. I love this feeling of being held and contained. It feels very grounded and nurturing to me.

However, I also need the wide open spaces. When I get out in these wide open spaces, I can breathe. I feel expansive. I can feel the sense of possibility that is present in these spaces. I’m very aware that I need clear space if new things are to come into my experience.

I feel like we all need both experiences: feeling grounded, held, contained, and being in the wide open spaces of vast potential and possibility.

It is like they do a dance together, and they both serve me in very important ways. I come home and feel grounded, and then I go out where I can breathe into pure wide open space, to know what’s possible.

How do you get a feeling of space in your life?

 

 

 

 

 

A Resonant Call

owl

I am out on a night walk. It isn’t late; darkness still comes early this time of year.

It is pitch black and very quiet. It is still, no wind, not even a breeze.

On these still winter nights, with the air so crisp and cold, sounds seem to carry more easily; the sound isn’t competing with the wind.

I can clearly hear the far-off noises. A dog barking, a couple of farms away. Our neighbor’s squeaky hinge. A truck, a mile and a half off, coming down the road.

Then Great Horned Owl is calling into the night, from our woods, now a half a mile away. hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo. hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo.

I feel a kinship with this owl. It, and its relatives, have lived on our property for at least 30 years.

The call of the Great Horned Owl is the very embodiment of January to me. When the Great Horned Owl starts to call every night, it is deep winter.

This call, to me, is synonymous with deep, penetrating darkness, and with cutting, piercing cold. It is the bitter, biting nights, when it hurts to breathe, that I begin to hear the Great Horned Owl.

Many people associate owls with wisdom, but for me, the call of the owl is the call of the mystery of life. It is sacred, and holy, to me. It resonates with something deep in me.

It on is the cold, clear nights, where the stars are an infinite tapestry, when I hear the owl. When I hear it, it is a call to me to stop and become utterly quiet, and to breathe into the night, and to feel my insignificance.

Knowing and feeling my own insignificance means that I can’t take myself too seriously.

To begin to know how tiny and how ephemeral we are, it is a gift.

It is a gift of the deep winter nights and the infinite black sky, and especially, of the owl.

What helps you know your ephemeral nature?

 

 

 

Geese in Flight

geese in flight

I looked up when I heard the honking.

A flock of Canadian Geese had just taken off and was flying right towards us as it was gaining lift. They were on their way South for the winter. They are a little late in leaving this year; it’s been a mild winter so far.

Something very primal awakens within me when the migrating geese fly by.

It is a profound reminder that we all live in mystery.

Much of bird migration is a mystery: how birds know when to migrate, how far they go, where they go, and how they choose their route.

But, what about the greater mystery that we all live in?

I tend to walk through the days of my life much more aware of the predictability of it, rather than the mystery of it.

Comforted by rhythms and routines, I rarely think about the greater mystery that life is, until I find myself in a moment of awe and wonder and mystery, like the one with the geese this morning.

When I have a moment of awe and wonder, I realize that I like living in mystery. I realize that I like not knowing, and I like discovering things as I go along. I like trusting the unfolding process of life.

What is the mystery that you are living in?

Nature’s Sculpture Garden

sculpture garden

On my late afternoon walk tonight, our pond caught my attention.

This pond is a swampy kind of pond, and in some years we don’t even have a pond in winter. In those years, the pond just spontaneously appears with the fullness of the spring rains. Then it is called a vernal pond, and it is home to a large variety of toads and frogs and birds and dragonflies.

In the winter, all of this life is absent or dormant, and my interest in the pond lies in the fascinating variety of shapes and textures in the ice. It is like nature’s sculpture garden.

There are turbulent bits that are all churned up, and there are calm bits, where the surface of the pond is so smooth that you might be able to ice skate on it, although I have never tried.

And then there are things that have fallen into it, and stuff sticking out of the middle of it, in unexpected and unplanned places.

There are pathways that are never there in other seasons. It would be possible to go deep into the woods by walking over the frozen surface of the pond in winter.

It occurs to me that in many ways, this pond is like our lives. There are calm bits, where life is going along smoothly, and sometimes we are lulled into the complacency of expecting life to be like this, always.

And then, some turbulence comes in, which seemingly causes disruption in the flow, or, at least, in the expected flow, of our lives.

We run into apparent obstacles and stuff in our lives that we don’t plan and don’t expect.

And then, sometimes, there are pathways through all of it that are just as unexpected, perhaps where we are graced with ways through challenges that we could have never have anticipated.

This pond is really a lot like our lives.

It is like our lives in one other way, too. All of the churned up bits are on the surface of this pond. There is also a deep part of the pond that isn’t visible, where everything is still and calm, and where there is a base of the pond that is grounded and solid.

Just like the pond, we have a deep part of us that is below whatever is happening on the surface of ourselves or our lives. This part is grounded and calm. And it is always accessible to us, whenever we need it. It is there for us, no matter might be happening on the surface.

How can you access your inner core, that place of calm and groundedness?

 

 

 

 

Day Ending

blue spruce birds

I often walk by a stand of Blue Spruce at the end of the day. It’s on the path where Harper and I take our evening walk.

At the end of the day, there are always Northern Cardinals and Chickadees settling in to roost for the night in the shelter of these trees.

I’m comforted by the presence of these birds as I walk by their roost. I have an all-is-well-with-the-world feeling as I watch them bed down for the night.

Nature has a rhythm to it, a comfortable cadence that sustains and nourishes life.

The settling in of the birds in these trees signals the end of the day. It reflects the quiet, grounding quality of dusk.

Nature is wrapping up the activity of the day and preparing itself for rest.

At dusk, activity concludes for these birds, and it is time to nurture and restore. They are following their innate knowing of what serves their well-being.

My daily rhythm is dictated by commitment and responsibility. I let myself be governed by clocks and schedules.

Tonight, I stop and watch the birds. I sense the  winding down of their energy as they shift into night. I feel the wisdom of these cycles of activity and rest, and I know that this is a message meant for me.

Just for tonight, I will shift my energy into the transition of dusk when I get home. I will settle in to rest and rejuvenation. I will respect the natural cycle of life. This is the gift that these birds have given me.

What is your body and your wisdom telling you?

 

 

 

 

Ditching High Expectations

jenkner barn dusk

The last two weeks have been crammed with significant dates: Winter Solstice, Christmas Eve, Christmas (and all the sacred celebrations of religions other than Christianity), New Year’s Eve and, tomorrow, New Year’s Day.

A few years ago, in response to my disgruntlement with the commercial aspects of Christmas, I wiped the slate clean on all of these holidays.

I chucked all cultural, religious, and familial expectations about what each of these dates means, or should mean, for me.

I pitched all traditional celebrations of them, including everything that I had ever done to celebrate them.

I started from scratch and charged myself with the responsibility of discerning for myself what each of these passages means for me, literally, symbolically, and spiritually.

I clarified how I personally wanted to celebrate them, in keeping with what they meant to me. I created rituals to mark the passage of each of them in a way that has deep personal meaning for me.

Several interesting things happened as I opted out of all the traditional expectations and celebrations.

One thing was that I didn’t miss the celebrations. I felt cleansed. Over years and years, layers and layers of Shoulds and Oughts had accumulated around these holidays. These were things that I just accepted, unquestioningly, and things that I did every year, just because I had always done them.

I was largely unconscious of the weight that I felt about these obligations and commitments, many of which I had never chosen consciously. They had just accumulated incrementally over the years.

I was scrubbed clean. The energies of delight, mystery, and awe flowed again. There was a fresh innocence that I felt again during this time of year.

Another thing that happened was that I no longer had any expectations for any particular outcome for any of these dates. While each of them held meaning for me, I didn’t count on them being exciting or life-changing in any way. This was very freeing.

The last thing that happened was probably the most significant, for me. I realized that while these dates do have personal significance and meaning for me, they are also “just” another date on the calendar. Every day is a miracle, if we choose to live that way.

Every day is a threshold and a passage, and every day is an opportunity to live with meaning and celebration. It doesn’t take a traditional date for this to be the case. It already is.

How can we live as if each day is a miracle?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silence and Soft Light

silence and soft light

The early morning sun was soft today, just barely showing through a thick cloud cover. The silhouettes of the trees caught my attention, with their complexity and beauty. Everything was still.

This morning, nature is my temple, and this tree is my altar.

I often create special altars in my home. I choose a small alcove and place a few items of special significance there, to create a space of sacred meaning for me.

These small altars are places that draw my attention in the middle of a busy day. They invite me in, to a breath, and to reverence. They offer me a sacred pause.

That is what this tree did for me today. The beauty and intricacy of the branches invited me in, to reverence, and to silence.

I stopped, took a long breath, and offered my thanks for this gift of sacred wonder.

What draws you in, to the sacred, to a breath, to wonder?

 

The Renewal of Fresh Snow

sunlight and snow

We awoke this morning to a winter wonderland.

This was surprising, because it was unexpected. Mother Nature always rules the weather forecast, in spite of what we think.

When we went to bed, it was 40 degrees F, and all of the prior snow had melted several days ago. There was bare ground and clear skies.

Fresh snow always transforms our world. White and pure, the snow covers all the muddy spots in the yard. It conceals all of the pathways and fills in the rutted spots. It makes everything look good, and new.

When I awaken to fresh, new snow, it is easy to feel that I am being awakened to something new and fresh, in me and in my life.

In a sense, we all awaken to something new and fresh, in ourselves, and in our lives, every morning.

Each new morning is a new awakening of potential, and possibility.

Each new day beckons us to a whole new set of possibilities that has never been present before, because we are not the same person that we were yesterday. And the circumstances of our lives are not exactly the same as they were before either.

I fail to recognize the new awakenings, unless something gets my attention and calls to me, inviting me into new possibility. I tend to see the same landscape of my life that I saw yesterday, unless I consciously acknowledge that it is different.

When I woke up this morning, I expected to see the same landscape that I saw when I went to bed last night. This is a beautiful gift of awareness that I have been given in the new snow.

How can we all see the new awakening that each morning is for us?

 

 

 

 

Unexpected Gifts

brians machinery

Our neighbor Brian was at the end of our driveway with his skid loader as we left for our morning walk today.

We’ve been neighbors for 30 years, and for the entire 30 years, he has gone out of his way to help me with things that need doing on our property.

One of our fences began to fall down with the recent snow storm, and Brian took it down and put up a new one. Just because he’s a nice guy. He was coming by today to clean up some stray pieces from the old fence.

He plowed a foot of snow off our long driveway on our first snow this year, with his big tractor, and he’ll do it again, all season, just because he is a generous guy.

He grades our driveway when it starts to develop the inevitable ruts and soft spots. Because he likes to help out.

My husband Harold points out that Brian loves projects and welcomes opportunities to use his tractor, excavator, and skid loader. That is true, but he also is very generous with his time, and I’m sure he doesn’t have a lot of time. He owns a half dozen farms, and he has a prosperous business in town.

I am extremely grateful for Brian. Not only does he help us out in some very specific ways, I also know that I can pick his brains when I run up against some of those knottier Property Problems. He always has good ideas, and he knows a wealth of handy, reliable people.

It is wonderful to have Brian living next door.

My own growing edge with Brian’s generosity has always been to graciously receive Brian’s help, knowing that there is really no way that I will ever be able to “pay him back.” He won’t accept money, and he doesn’t need it. I’ve never been able to think of anything that I can give him that he really needs or wants. So I make treats for him throughout the winter, as a token of my appreciation.

What is it like for you to “just” receive and be grateful?

I have grown up in a culture that values equal exchange, so strongly, that I find it incredibly hard to receive without reciprocity.

I was taught, when I grew up, to always thank people for what they did, and that when someone did something for you, you incurred a kind of a debt with them. I realize now that this is not how I want to be, with giving and receiving.

While I learned to thank people, it was more of a thing you were supposed to do, because it was polite and expected, rather than a genuine gratitude that came from deep in your heart.

And, that belief of incurring a debt is not healthy or helpful either, because, instead of immersing myself in the feeling of whole-hearted gratitude, and conveying that to the giver, with heartfelt blessings, I then have my focus on what-can-I-do-to-pay-them-back.

This all gets in the way of genuine appreciation and whole-hearted receiving.

So, not only does Brian give us his time and talent, but he also gives me the opportunity to receive what Brian gives us, from deep in my heart, and to bless him for it. I get to just purely receive, with deep gratitude.

What do you know about receiving and blessing, for you?

 

 

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