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Archive for the ‘awe and wonder’ Category

Recently I was appreciating the photographs of a woman whom I admire tremendously – pictures of her garden, the ocean, a number of stunning landscapes, an osprey nest, and an eagle in flight. As a child she was the victim of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, tortured by the kind of cruelty and ugliness that can break hearts and shatter souls. And yet, as an adult she has spent a great deal of time both capturing and creating beauty. I was reminded as she shared her photography with me of psychologist, Rollo May, one of the founders of the humanistic psychology movement.

As a young man May fell victim to a debilitating depression. Many years later, when asked by writer and film maker, Phil Cousineau, what had saved him during that dark and painful time, Rollo replied, “beauty.”

In his book, “My Quest for Beauty” May wrote of wandering aimlessly in the hills of Greece where one day he stumbled into a field of wild poppies and had the following epiphany, “It seemed that I had not listened to my inner voice, which had tried to talk to me about beauty. I had been too hard-working, too ‘principled’ to spend time merely looking at flowers . . . it had taken a collapse of my whole former way of life for this voice to make itself heard. . . What is beauty? . . . Beauty is the experience that gives us a sense of joy and a sense of peace simultaneously. Other happenings give us joy and afterwards a peace, but in beauty these are the same experience. Beauty is serene and at the same time exhilarating; it increases one’s sense of being alive.”

I am thinking about my remarkable photographer friend and about Rollo May when I visit the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay. After a long and difficult week, I lie down beside the waterfall in the rhododendron garden among the ferns, hostas, bees, and beautiful blossoms. I welcome the beauty, allow myself to become intoxicated by it, lost in it. George Washington Carver wrote, “If you love it enough, anything will talk with you.” And so I send my love out into the garden. I listen. It begins to speak…

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Photo by Guy Mayer

In a thought provoking paper entitled, Reflections on Sacred Experience and Sacred Science, Peter Reason wrote, “…I heard for the first time the challenge that we in the West had lost the feeling for sacredness, the ability to notice the sacredness of our world, and that we need to discover this anew if we are to learn from the traditions of Native Americans. One is entering a different world, a world that is again alive and enchanted, a world in which all sentient beings bring their gifts of teachings, and are thus worthy of honour. Such an animate world is akin to that inhabited by the alchemists, and can only be comprehended fully through a participatory consciousness.”

In this same paper Reason quotes the following from Morris Berman’s book, “The Re-enchantmant of the World:”

“The view of nature which predominated in the West down to the eve of the Scientific Revolution was that of an enchanted world. Rocks, trees, rivers, and clouds were all seen as wondrous, alive, and human beings felt at home in this environment. The cosmos, in short, was a place of belonging. A member of this cosmos was not an alienated observer of it but a direct participant in its drama….The story of the modern epoch, at least on the level of mind, is one of progressive disenchantment. From the sixteenth century on, mind has been progressively expunged from the phenomenal world… At least in theory…the “mechanical philosophy”… (is) the dominant mode of thinking. That mode can best be described as disenchantment, nonparticipation, for it insists on a rigid distinction between observer and observed. Scientific consciousness is alienated consciousness: there is no ecstatic merger with nature, but rather total separation from it…”

Reason points out that our disenchantment and disconnection from the natural world and from our own experience has led us to a kind of soul sickness and calls for a “re-sacralization of the world.” One way to do this, he suggests, is to follow theologian Matthew Fox’s advice to “…fall in love at least three times a day.”

And so today I fell in love with a puppy I met on my walk, rubbing my cheek against her silky soft fur, and laughing fully from my belly as she wiggled wildly and covered my face with kisses.

Later I witness the anguish and sorrow of a couple desperately attempting to find their way across a chasm that seems to grow wider and more dangerous with each moment – with each jagged heartbeat – and with each accusation. Finally, as they sit rigid and exhausted, I ask them to take just a few moments to listen for what else might lie silently beneath their fears, anger, frustration and betrayals. Softly at first, barely perceptible even, their breathing steadies and something indescribable begins to happen as the energy in the room shifts and remarkably (you would have had to have been there) and seemingly as if by magic we are each touched and even (I think) for a moment transfixed by the undeniable presence of a battered and weary but still living love.

After work I spoke with a friend whom I’ve known for over thirty years and as she shared with me a simple and yet oh so sweet story about her day, I allowed myself to savor her voice, her laughter, and her unique and wildly optimistic perspective, and I felt my love for her warm my heart and gentle my spirit.

And so, I have fallen in love at least three times today and I resolve to fall in love at least three times tomorrow as well. In doing so, I allow myself to be enchanted and to more fully embrace the sacred.

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I believe in morning rituals although I fail all too often these days to engage in them. Still, I can’t stress enough how important they are, how effective they can be in getting me ready to greet my day feeling steadied and grounded, readied (at least for the moment) to really see the beauty before me and committed to greet those I meet with an open heart.

I’ve found both poetry and music to be particularly helpful when initiating one of my first deliberate and conscious acts of the day. I thought I’d share one with you that was written by the late poet, John O’ Donahue entitled, “For the Artist at the Start of the Day.”

“May morning be astir with the harvest of night;
Your mind quickening to the eros of a new question,
Your eyes seduced by some unintended glimpse
That cut right through the surface to a source.

May this be a morning of innocent beginning,
When the gift within you slips clear
Of the sticky web of the personal
With its hurt and its hauntings,
And fixed fortress corners,

A Morning when you become a pure vessel
For what wants to ascend from silence,

May your imagination know
The grace of perfect danger,

To reach beyond imitation,
And the wheel of repetition,

Deep into the call of all
The unfinished and unsolved

Until the veil of the unknown yields
And something original begins
To stir toward your senses
And grow stronger in your heart

In order to come to birth
In a clean line of form,
That claims from time
A rhythm not yet heard,
That calls space to
A different shape.

May it be its own force field
And dwell uniquely
Between the heart and the light

To surprise the hungry eye
By how deftly it fits
About its secret loss.”

~ John O’Donohue ~

O’Donohue reminds me here that every life is a work of art and that att some level we are reborn again and again with each brand new ordinary/extraordinary day….

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What is the ‘good life’? The late comedian, George Burns, concluded that he had had a good life. Scott and Helen Nearing (homesteaders and social activists) maintained that they had lived the ‘good life’ too. George Burns life was vastly different from the Nearings and yet I suspect that those who knew them each well would have agreed that each of their lives had been well lived.

So many people long for a particular version of the good life that they’ve heard so much about, one that’s filled with images of luxury and wealth. Sadly, all too many of them struggle to achieve this vision in spite of the significant emotional, physical, spiritual, psychological, and ecological tolls that are exacted along the way.

Interestingly, while the notion of the good life seems to be deeply implanted in our psyche, its origin stems from the dreams of those who came before us, and meant something entirely different than what so many of us have come to yearn for. The world was introduced to the concept of the good life by William Penn and Henry David Thoreau and was a vastly different version than popular culture’s turned out to be. To them, the good life represented a life style based on simplicity, personal freedom, meaningful work and spiritual, psychological and intellectual growth and development.

As the economy continues its downward spiral and the impact of global warming intensifies, it seems more important to me than ever that we redefine for ourselves what living the good life can be.

Writer and philosopher, William Henry Channing wrote, “To live content with small means. To seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion. To be worthy not respectable, and wealthy not rich. To listen to stars and birds and babes and sages with an open heart. To study hard, think quietly, act frankly, talk gently, await occasions. Never hurry. In a word, to let the spiritual, the unbidden and the unconscious rise up through the common. This is my symphony.” Channing’s image of the good life is one that moves and inspires me. This is the ‘good life’ that can only be denied to me by barriers of my own creation, otherwise, it is always within my means and within my reach. Today, I plan to celebrate my good life….

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I’m a major fan of Yes! Magazine , of Margaret Mead, and of the power of music to both inspire and instruct. Whle purusing Yes!’s archives, I came across a wonderful music video by Kathryn Mostow inspired by Mead’s famous quote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” I invite you to watch the video, and allow yourself to fully absorb the beauty and the hope…

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It has been an incredibly beautiful week here as we begin to make preparations to move the retreat and training division of SagePlace to the lake house in central Maine. During this process we discovered a 5 page goodbye letter written to the house and hidden away in a secret hiding place for twenty-seven years. The lettter was written by a man and his children who had lived here then and while sad to leave, were also grateful for the healing which took place and wrote with tremendous honesty and beauty about their experiences. The letter concluded with a riddle written by a young child (who would now be a middle aged adult) to whomever might discover the letter in the future. If we solved the riddle correctly, it appeared to imply that there was a treasure that lived in the heart of Wayne – the house itself. We tucked the letter safely back in its hiding place and have decided that over the years we will add our own letters to these very dear people who remain unknown (but very much appreciated) to us in the hopes that far off into the future they will all be uncovered again and will touch the hearts of future residents of the house as our hearts were touched.

Following is an untitled poem that speaks to me of all of the holy places available to each and every one of us…

I do not have to go
To Sacred Places
In far-off lands.
The ground I stand on
Is holy.
Here, in this little garden
I tend
My pilgrimage ends.
The wild honeybees
The hummingbird moths
The flickering fireflies at dusk
Are a microcosm
Of the Universe.
Each seed that grows
Each spade of soil
Is full of miracles.
And I toil and sweat
And watch and wonder
And am full of love.
Living in place
In this place.
For truth and beauty
Dwell here.

By poet and activist, Mary de La Valette

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The older I get, the more I become aware that there truly are no ordinary days.

Within my own body there reside one hundred trillion cells that are busily performing a synchronized dance involving a million moves per second, while I go about my life oblivious to it all. My brain alone, a tiny thing really in the great scheme of things, is home to 100 billion furiously busy neurons. At the end of any single day of the week my heart will have beaten approximately 100,000 times, and I will have taken approximately 17,280 breaths without having any conscious awareness of these essential processes.

Today, between 150 and 200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal will become extinct, and every five seconds one absolutely unique and miraculous child will surrender his or her unfinished life due to malnutrition. And within the next 24 hours of my life, approximately 156,000 people will die, and 384,000 will be born.

There is no day that is truly unremarkable or even uneventful. This troubled and still beautiful world is overflowing with firsts and lasts, epiphanies and forgotten memories, mist filled mornings and stunning sunsets, hard won victories and irrevocable losses.

In “The Mermaid Chair” by Sue Monk Kidd, Jessie, the main character in the novel, observes while reflecting on her life, “I could even feel how perishable all my moments really were, how all my life they had come to me begging to be lived, to be cherished even.” Situated here and now in the midst of this July afternoon I am struck by the moments that have passed me by today unnoticed, uncelebrated, undiscovered.

There is so much to inspire awe that surrounds me. I press a few buttons and I am almost instantly graced by beautiful and meditative music. I recall the incredible courage and strength of a very special client that I worked with this morning. I bite into a sweet and fragrant orange grown and harvested far from where I am now. I watch a tiny bird at the feeder outside of my window, a fragile creature that will fly thousands of miles away in autumn, only to repeat the journey a few short months later. I savor the sight of the coneflowers gently waving in the breeze, their roots buried under the winter snow not so long ago only to rise again and follow the sunlight.

James O’ Donahue wrote, “Each day is a secret story woven around the radiant heart of wonder.” I am blessed by this day, one like so many others, one that will never exist again, one that is saturated with music and miracles.

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Poet David Whyte wrote, “remember how as a child your arms could rise and your palms turn out to bless the world?”

Two year old Skylar is helping me remember as he delights in the dancing shadows that are created by the tree branches and afternoon sunlight on his bedroom wall. He helps me remember as we gather smooth rocks, each one a treasure, and then solemnly let them go. As we watch them tumble over the dam, the force of the water mists our faces when we lean close enough over the edge. I am reminded as we huddle in a blanket on the porch swing, shivering at the sound of thunder, and gasping as the lightening flashes against the darkening sky. I am reminded as we roll down the hill and rest at the bottom, gazing up together at the clouds, his little hand in mine. He has helped me gather up so much that I had allowed to scatter and because of this tiny little boy, my arms rise up and palms turn outward now to bless the world over and over again.

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