Living in the Garden of Time

bridge2When women seek that within themselves that is eternal, when they re-center themselves in their own souls, so often we go to a garden or forest or other natural place. It is there where many of us find our greatest truths. Yet, I find that so often I tend to ignore the wisdom I find in my favorite natural places, continuing to think without question in ways that I have been taught since childhood and that are constantly reinforced by the culture around us.

Lately I have been considering what nature tells us about time, and specifically about the ways we perceive our lives. I have always thought of time using a traditional mathematical model, as a progression from beginning to middle to end, and my own lifespan as a number of years that I constantly spend, like money, and have less of as I get older. I believe that this viewpoint contributes to our society’s perception that youth is to be hoarded and older age something to be hidden, as if by doing so we will be able to hold in our grasp more of our precious years of life.

But, what if I were to think of my life not as a time-bound progression from coming into being to no longer existing, but as a garden or other natural place? What if I do not think of myself as moving along a pre-formed, perhaps even pre-destined, path, from birth to death, but rather as the center of my own garden with time happening around me and as part of me? What if the past is not lost and the future is not simply a non-existent wish, but if past, present, and future were all part of my life right now, like a bunch of blossoms with some still in the bud, others in full bloom, and yet others fading?

In such a place, the flowers that had dropped their petals to the ground would not be lost, garden8but would rather be starting at a new beginning of their journey as they decompose into the soil that nourishes and becomes part of next year’s blooms. The past would be all around me in every leaf, blossom, and root that is made up of plants from past seasons. I have, at times, wondered what it would be like to live in one of the times and places in the past when women’s spiritual power was recognized and encouraged (for wonderful explorations of these see either of Max Dashu’s amazing DVDs, Women’s Power and Woman Shaman: The Ancients). Who would I be if I had lived my life in such a time? What if that time were not gone, was not dust under our feet, but alive within us, still infused in the soil of our souls? What if our time with all those family and friends who have given us love and inspiration, but who are no longer on earth, was not over, but was still present in some deep way? Instead of feeling as if we, as individuals and as a generation of women, were on our own as we try to make our world not just sustainable but a garden that nourishes all living beings on it, perhaps we would feel the strength, love, guidance, and wisdom of all those who lived in the past and ourselves as part of a circle that has been a presence in the world for a very, very long time.

magnoliaIn such a place, the flowers that were still in bud, or not even emerged, would not be yet to come and therefore not to be considered as important as ourselves, but rather a part of us and as alive now as we are. Just as I think about the past, I also contemplate the future and wonder how generations after us will live in this world we have created as well as what amazing progress they will make on the foundation of the good things we have done. Considering their well being is not just a kindness to those who will come after us, but an essential aspect of taking care of both ourselves, for we are part of them, and being good stewards of the garden while we are alive in it. And they, too, are part of the circle of all those from both the past and present and, in their own way, contribute to our wisdom and well being by the promise of all they will do and be in their own time.

Envisioning myself as being at the center of a garden of time has become essential to the way I view myself and the world. I find I enjoy my life more because I am no longer fretting about how large a store of years I have left, but rather I see my life as a whole. I no longer long for times and loved ones I have lost, for I recognize that once I have had an experience or come to love someone, they are as with me now as ever. Perhaps most importantly, I feel more like a part of a human community with a deep past and, hopefully, a long future. Not everything needs to happen in my lifetime to count as an accomplishment. If something I say or do now bears fruit in someone’s life decades from now when my petals have gone into the soil, that’s the way things are supposed to be.

As I am nourished by the past, may I be a bloom that adds beauty and joy to the future.

Celebrating the Everyday Joys of Beltane in the Suburbs

bridge2It seemed as if everyone in the small suburban town where I live was celebrating Beltane early this past weekend. Most of them had likely never heard of Beltane, but I saw people enthusiastically raking lawns, planting pansies in flowerpots, buying mulch and peat, bringing babies to restaurants to run on the floor with no one minding, buying giggly little girls new spring clothes at KMart, taking long walks in the afternoon warmth, and in so many other ways being part of the northern hemisphere’s season of life renewing itself and the Earth’s abundance.

As I thought about the festive atmosphere surrounding these ordinary acts, I realized how deeply Beltane is rooted in the everyday life of our planet and all those beings who live on Her.  The renewal of life is what normally happens every day, but especially at this time of year, as long as nothing catastrophic interferes. Beings instinctively reproduce and bring forth new generations, people naturally want to nurture their own and other life forms, all of life is woven together in a delicate balance dedicated to the renewal of life.

Of course, humans, in particular, are constantly interfering with this constant life renewal with wars and other violence of all kinds and human-made poverty, homelessness, hunger, and injury, death, and disease.  These past two weeks I have been reminded of how wounding these acts can be to an entire population.  The town where I live is not far from Boston and almost everyone I know was personally affected by the Marathon bombing in some way, whether they had a connection to someone who was killed or injured or were shocked to see familiar places where they live, work, or shop transformed into battle zones. What I saw this past weekend was people drawing on their natural  bountiful and beautiful Beltane spirit, while not forgetting those still in need of help.

So, I am now seeing Beltane as not only a celebration of the season of nature’s fertile abundance, but also an affirmation of the joys and power of the acts of daily life and our relationships with our families and friends of all species that bring forth new life, whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually. So often it’s easy to think that we need to set aside a special time and place with symbolic activities to really become part of a celebration when, in fact, we are constantly surrounded by the spirit of what we are trying to bring into our lives.  This week, for my observance of this holiday, I think I will try to find ways to promote Beltane’s healing spirit as it is manifested in everyday activities of a 21st century American suburb – gardening, encouraging kids, giving those traumatized a place to find support. What about you?

Make Me a Pond Lily

 

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As spring finally comes to the Northern Hemisphere, here is a poem about pond lilies to gently bring you into line with the warm weather Earth.

 

 

Make Me a Pond Lily

Ever the eye in the center of the universe
The lily in the pond opens, one of millions of
Ordinary blooms in thousands of wild places.
I hold it in my muddy hands and let seep into me
Its moon hues, its human-soft petals, its sun-light expanded
Boundaries, floating in the calm, life-giving waters.

To begin, choose anything – a speck of dirt, a galaxy, a lily.
Witness it with love and no expectations.
Within a second, it will grow beyond everything you think you know,
And speak, and heal, and make peace.
Real life is like that, like a universe full of all
We need if we will just let it find asylum in our hands.

While all Creation expands, we retreat beneath our surface,
Close our petals, hide from what we truly seek.
May the lily’s center be our stillpoint.
May we stop there, turn around, and join all that is in an infinite
Openness, like our hands when we meet a beloved.
May all the universe be our beloved.

 

 

 

Celebrating the Icy Mystery of Imbolc

I’m so grateful to Mary Sharratt for having me as a guest on her blog today! You are invited to read my musings about Imbolc in New England weather in Celebrating the Icy Mystery of Imbolc.

The Cosmos as the Most Magnificent Masterpiece of All

While I was recently walking along a beach in northern Michigan, I came across an Earth composition – a stone on sand, a leaf shaped like a feather, shells curling around and spilling over all. The photo shows it exactly as I found it.  In it I saw four elements – stone as fire, sand as earth, the feather-shaped leaf as air, and the shells as water – and a fifth element in the sense of grace that came to me as I gazed upon it.

To me, that fifth element – that living force of harmony, passion, and spirit – that made the composition beautiful rather than simply a collection of natural objects is as much an expression of the Creatrix of the Universe as any human-made painting, statue, music, or poetry.

As I looked upon the whole, the soul of the composition seemed to breathe and speak – “See the thousands upon thousands of  shells on the beach – rejoice in the power of life,” “Feel the strength of the Earth in the stones and how they hold all that drift upon them,” “Know that the air that wafted the leaf down into perfect position is the same that gives you life,” “Revere the bonds of the nearby tides to the moon as a gateway to the cosmos.” I knew that I could spend the rest of my life learning to understand all that composition had to tell me.

Over the next week I came across two websites that also illustrate the immense beauty of our natural universe, just as the Earth composition had. One, celebrating objects larger than ourselves is NASA’s Earth as Art collection, which you can see at http://eros.usgs.gov/imagegallery/. Here you will find photos of the Earth that are both aesthetically awe-inspiring and scientifically important.  And, of course, for many years, we have all been amazed at the photos of the cosmos that have come from Hubble.  To enjoy some of these amazing images of our universe, go to  http://hubblesite.org/gallery/ 

The natural entities smaller than we are, or parts of who we are, are equally as stunning. The University of Michigan has a site with photos they call “bioartography,” which are of microscope slides created for scientific reasons that are also beautiful. You can see them at  www.bioartography.com.

When I see these images or an object of great natural beauty, I am amazed at the generosity and goodness of the universe. Nature does not have to be so beautiful, to give us awe and wonder, in order to exist, yet she does. I have never seen a natural entity that is not beautiful in its own way – how essential is this to understanding the importance of tolerance and diversity in our own human society? Even the smallest, most ephemeral bit of nature is beautiful – what better affirmation of the sacredness and importance of every moment of our own daily lives?  The infinite varieties of beauty in the natural world require openness to new experiences and ways of thinking – how else can we learn to live our lives to the fullest and make our inner journeys rich?

Sometime today, take a walk along the beach or in a woods or peer up at the sky and be overcome by the beauty of the universe.  Revere this beauty as a reflection of goddess herself in the mirror of nature. It is waiting for you there every moment.

Walking in the Wild Woods to Find Truth

This summer, my garden has flourished like never before. Perhaps yours has, too. I’ve heard many people say the same. Maybe it was only the warm winter and wet spring, but it seems to me as if nature were beckoning me to an enchanted, ornate, and revelrous state of being. Raspberry bushes dance over one another like children playing leapfrog. Flowers and herbs I never planted have taken up residence in my beds, a gift of color and charm, delicate and all the more wondrous because they were unbidden. The air is filled with dragonflies who stay still in midair right in front of my face, giant bees who lead me to the most buxom blossoms, and frenetic chipmunks who race past my feet on their way to their cozy homes in my stone wall.

This follows a winter of reverberating change. Close friends have died, one unexpectedly, another after a long struggle, and both teaching me lessons about the transience of life and the importance of relationship. The new pill organizing box in my dresser drawer ensures that I can no longer deny my stage of life has long since left “maiden” and is just barely hanging onto “mother.” My child is making his own way in the world and I couldn’t obsessively check his grades online anymore even if I wanted to. I find myself slowly making my way towards a new state of being that I cannot yet define.

I find myself wanting certainty, not just as sanctuary from the anxieties of transition, but so that I know that what I do and believe in makes sense now that I’ve finally determined that I’m not immortal. I want to make more landings on my journeys and see where I’ve been and where I’m going without a lot of excess spiritual décor and decorum in my way.

In a world I find myself trying to make stark, hermitlike, and seedly intense, my garden has called in the fairy brigade to soften the glare, make barren gray shine fuschia and lime, and make me laugh. But, now that I have eyes that look more clearly, I also see in my garden the spiritual truths I have been seeking so long and that I truly need at this moment of my life.

In my garden I find that kindness reigns. The raspberry canes shade the birds as they feast on the berries. The parsley sacrifices its leaves to the rabbits’ hunger. The trees’ branches always seem to fall away from our home and the homes of the creatures who dwell on our land. Just as I and all people grow when we share kindness, so does life in my garden depend on it.

As I weed, I realize that we are all part of one another and essential to each other’s well being. I only need look in my own garden at trilliums, those delightful woodland plants with three leaves and an array of blooms to find this to be true. Apparently, without ants, trilliums could not spread. Their seeds contain an outer coating that is not only perfect food for ant larvae, but must be removed for the seed to grow. Ants take the seeds to their nests, feed the outer coating to their kids, then toss the seeds onto the ant garbage pile, sometimes far from where they originally were dropped by the plant. From those seeds a new trillium colony grows. When I think that  I would never be surprised by a trillium patch in the woods again if an ecological disaster were to happen to ants, I realize that all life truly is a web of being.

In my garden, life is an endless cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Wrapping around my granite posts is a grapevine originally planted over 100 years ago. About 20 years ago, it disappeared, dead after all those decades, we assumed. Then, one day two years ago, it reappeared. No matter how harsh, mild, or wet the winter, spring always comes, followed by summer, fall, and winter again. How liberating it is to enjoy the present moment knowing that it is part of a eternal process of which I was a part. While I may not survive in my current form through death and rebirth, part of me will live on in the next generation and the ones after that. And, how much more meaningful is it to see oneself as part of an endless chain of being, rather than one human being living one life and then disappearing forever?

All life is sacred in my small eighth-of-an-acre suburban wilderness. In it are maple trees with trunks a yard in diameter and tiny sweet woodruff, each with its own use and place. Plants I once thought of as weeds I now know are healers and have an honored corner. Without the insects, the plants would not bloom. Without the birds, the seeds of my Jerusalem artichokes would never have arrived from some far-off meadow. How often are women told all over the world that their souls are less than men’s, and after how many repetitions do they come to accept that? How many ways are my friends and family pre-judged by others based on who they love or how they look or what they do for a living? Not in my garden. Like the maple trees and sweet woodruff, in nature everyone is divine.

The most important truth I see in my garden is that the universe is love embodied. Despite the trials, hardships and violence that are inherent in some aspects of nature, I find it impossible to believe that all beings are not loved when each spring my sweet william blooms all over the garden, no matter how undeserving I may be of its fragrance and subtle violet and pink hues, each fall leaves in brilliant colors light up the sky and the soil as if the sun herself had come down to play, and in winter, tiny crystals transform the garden into a diamond realm. Nature is generous and abundant with her fertility and beauty, and blesses us as often as She can no matter who we are or what we have done.

What does it mean to root my spiritual beliefs in nature, like so many hundreds of plants in my garden sending their roots down into the soil?

When I base my spiritual beliefs on nature I know they are sure. The law of the universe is the law of the universe. I know what I believe to be true because I see it everyday in my daily life.

When I find my truth in nature, I have a link to generations before and after who also believed what they experienced in nature. I will never know how Kali’s cycle of birth, death, and rebirth was envisioned by those who carved her statues in Indian temples, but I know that when I look up at the moon and see the endless round of new moon, full moon, dark moon, so did those carvers so many millennia ago. No matter how long I live, these beliefs tie me to all those who come before and after. These truths will always reappear because they will always be true.

I know that these truths are eternal. Long after the Earth no longer spins on her axis, the truths will still ring throughout the universe. In them, I find immortality.

The truths I find in nature are the ones I need to make the center of my spiritual universe and express at this time of my life. I can no longer be told what to believe or that I should believe anything I can’t confirm with my own eyes every day. No matter how complex, chaotic, and full of non-utilitarian beauty it may be, my small, suburban garden holds the essence of the universe’s most basic truths. How wonderful that I need only take a walk there to begin.

The Wisdom of the Silent Sunset

In order to make articles and columns available to readers here, I am reprinting them as posts. This was first published in Mused: The Bella Online Literary Review in Spring, 2009.

A few days ago, I looked out of my study window and witnessed a stunning sunset. The plum and rose radiance, the stark streaks of black clouds across the sky, the gentleness of the horizon slipping into the treetops were all aspects of its beauty, but it was the sunset´s silence that made it wise. Even though I could hear cars on the streets and the television downstairs, the sunset evoked within me a symphony of stillness that brought me out of my everyday concerns and into a place where the essences of life speak and a deeper voice that goes beyond everyday communication.

As the sunset’s beauty overtook me, I wanted to live in the wisdom of that silence forever, to understand it, and become part of it until I could carry it with me every day. I yearned for that silence.

We humans used to understand the wisdom of silence. It was holy to take a vow of silence, sometimes for decades at a time. When we walked in the woods, we could hear a single leaf rustling because no airplanes, highways, or cell phones masked the small noises that make us aware of the quiet around us. The music we listened to had pauses and hushed moments that were as eloquent as the notes and chords.

Now I do not know if I have any moments of absolute silence. Even if no one is talking, I can still hear the buzz of the refrigerator and the frazzled energy of the radio next door. Only with very special friends can I sit without speaking for even a few minutes without feeling awkward. When I walk in the door, I automatically turn on the TV or CD player just for a little background noise.

We women, especially, have had silence taken from us by having a false and vicious version of it forced on us. From the time, I was small, teachers and the media taught me, along with disapproving stares of strangers that proper young women spoke quietly and let others speak first. If I had something to say in a discussion, I waited to see if someone else would say it and, only when no one did would I venture to say my thought or opinion. I never mastered the art of interrupting and shouting over others. Mostly, I learned to shush myself, to tell myself that I had nothing of importance to say and that no one would listen to me anyway.

Therefore, silence became the barrier to overcome. It turned into the absence of the ability to stand up for myself. Silence was an enemy and a sign of my weakness. But yet, all this time, true silence has been waiting, for the proper time to return to my life, to be my ally as I regain my true, inner wisdom that promises hope and progress for not only ourselves, but all those whose lives we touch as well.

The silence of the sunset reached down and touched me, reminding me of the moments when I had instinctively called upon it. I had come to an age when family members and friends began to experience serious illness and death. At first, I would desperately seek the right thing to say to comfort my loved ones and convey my sorrow. I felt myself to be a failure when the perfect words never came and so I did not say anything.

It was then that I realized that sometimes only silence could bridge time and space, life and death, and in a way that enables me to reach those on a journey to a place where words have no meaning. By being silent, but being present in the few moments I had, I was able to say, “I love you” in a way that is more powerful than words, even than death.

In true silence, the sunset said, you can hear all those voices that are not carried on the air, but in our own hearts and minds. We remember people long forgotten, but whose lives hold messages to be heeded now. Our own intuition gives us insights that we knew all along, but which had been drowned out in the clamor of our busy lives. An idea will appear before us like a seed puff on the wind, and we can follow it to places never imagined, until we end up exactly where we are supposed to be, and have the answer to what is troubling us.

When we bring the fruits of silence to our lives, we then have the wisdom of women who know that they believe in what they are saying and doing. We will not be forced into responding to demands or taunts and, when not answered, these dissipate into the air like smoke. When we are silent, we give silence as a gift to others, too, who then are able to be silent, too, and listen to their own inner voices until they, too, know what to do.

The silence of the sunset does not last all night, but sinks down below the horizon and then the noises of the night begin: the rustling of nocturnal creatures in the grass, the buzz of insects, even the inaudible humming of the planets and stars spinning in the sky that we cannot hear but which somehow we can still sense. Therefore sunset says, when you have been to the place of silence, you will re-emerge and your voice will be heard and heeded, even if only by you. You will know what it is to be in the center of your own world, still and strong, observing all that goes on around you and choosing what you will say and when you will say it.

This is how you will carry the wisdom of silence with you, sunset says. Whenever you need to, you will re-enter that center and remember what it is to stand there, listening to your own self and directing what happens around you with your words and the actions that go with them.

As I watched, the sunset faded into blackness and the stars came out, along with a crescent moon, all shining upon me. I knew that the sunset was traveling elsewhere, bestowing its gifts on someone to the west of me. Since we live on a globe, we are all west of one another, so maybe that person was you. Did you hear it?

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