Since the beginning of January, I have been on a quest to settle into a deep sense of well-being. I came across Jeffery Martin’s work on fundamental well-being and each month for the whole year, I want to use this space to reflect on the experiment with you!
Last month, I noticed that when I tell myself: “I have enough” – that statement automatically generated feelings of gratitude. I wanted to take that practice into my month and see what fruit it yielded. Each time I recalled it this month, it gave me that same sense of gratitude. It’s been powerful medicine and it is a practice worth strengthening. I wonder if any of you notice the power in that statement!
What calls me this month is to pay attention to my feelings. I know enough about conflict and difficult conversations (with myself and with others) to know that emotions are central to pay attention to. What is newly emerging for me is the complexity of what emotions may be pointing to and asking us to pay attention to.
Our feelings motivate us to action. When I feel something, it is often connected to either:
* a thought memory from the past
* a present-moment need
* a desire for something in the future – a holy longing.
Feelings are so important to pay attention to, and yet feelings are not generally privileged. In conflict, we anesthetize our more vulnerable feelings by allowing feelings of anger and rage to be dominant. These too are important feelings and can point to injustices.
Yet, they can also cause us to blame others and separate ourselves from others – to other the other. This is the constant paradox with feelings – they offer a gift of finding our way home to our deeper selves, yet they can be deceiving. Just because I have a strong emotional reaction to you, that does not necessarily yield me my truth at my first “feel.”
Emotions are, perhaps, a bit like dreams: they need interpretation.
For this month, I want to pay more attention to my feelings and see if they lead to:
* a memory
* a present moment need or
* a future desire.
Let me know what you think!
“Inviting our thoughts and feelings into awareness allows us to learn from them rather than be driven by them.” – Daniel Siegel, MD.
I am writing this on August 1 – the day Celtic people recognize as a time to celebrate the first signs of the harvest, with our appreciation. We are exactly half way between summer and fall, a perfect time to pause and notice the abundance that calls forth our gratitude.
Flowers are really abundant at this time of year and so deserving of our gratitude for their self-less displays of beauty! Have you noticed them more lately? Their colour, their majesty, their sexual longings and activities, are all right there on display for us. Veritable garden porn.
Lilies seem to display their sexuality particularly boldly . Their petals lie lazily open everywhere for us to see and peer into, if we dare.
What I’ve been finding with flowers is that the more I dare to gaze into one, without agenda – just presence, the more it seems to reveal itself to me.
I was lucky enough to take a walk with visual artist friend, Gail Sibley yesterday and when I am with her, I also see everything on our walks more deeply.
Yesterday, we stumbled upon the beauty reflected in picture on this blog post (it’s Gail’s picture).
The walk, the lilies, and other recent encounters with flowers, inspired me to inquire more into the nature of lilies.
So, in honour of the start of this new Celtic season of celebrating early harvests, I want to present to you with gratitude for its beauty:
I hope you enjoy this little description and that it helps open up your walks as well, to hear more of the language of flowers.
Key facts about lilies to get you started:
1. Lilies are monoecious – meaning they have both male and female parts in the same flower. Where are those male and female parts? Well, in this picture, you are looking right at them!
2. What’s in the middle? As you stare into the middle of the flower, you will see 6 stalks with something on top of them that look rectangular, surrounding one proud stalk in the middle with a sticky, trinity-shaped bit on top.
The six tall stalks standing in the circle, surrounding the one in the middle, are called stamen.Stamens are male reproductive organs, believe it or not. Each stamen consists of a long stalk coming from the flower’s base and topped by that rectangle, called an anther, and that produces pollen. You get the idea of what pollen is then, yes?
That stalk in the middle, the sole one being surrounded by those six fellas, is the flower’s female reproductive organ – and is called the pistil. The pistil emerges from the center of the flower and is topped by a sticky bit on top called a stigma. When we started staring around at the various stigma, we saw some actually dripping wet off the stigma. Yes.
At the base of the stalks is a small, green, sausage-shaped bulb called an ovary. You can’t see it in this picture, but have a hint of it as you stare deeper into the flower and see the hint of green. The sticky pistil tip (the stigma) is what receives the pollen grains during pollination (remember your birds and bees? Well where do you think that saying came from?).
3. Lilies are self sterile – they will not produce seeds from their own pollen (in case you were curious or worried somehow like I was). Cross pollination is the only way seeds can be produced.
4. The pollen is carried from flower to flower by, well, the birds and the bees of course! They are allured in by both the flower’s profusion of colour of the petals and the lily’s heady smell. As they poke around in there, the pollen sticks to them and off they fly to enjoy another flower, bringing along the pollen that they leave behind on their new flower.
5. Once the bird or bee impregnates the pollen by dropping that pollen on on a flower’s sticky stigma (the top of the stalk in the middle), the pollen attaches to the sticky stigma and works its way down the stalk and into that bulb ovary (should I have said wiggles down?).
6. There the pollen land, in the small dark pod and start their transform into seeds. Those seeds grow into the seed pods we eventually see at another turn of the season, when they scatter themselves in the final passionate show of abundance (before dropping into dank earth for yet another change cycle!).
And, if any of you might be making any associations just about now with flowers and the wonderful painter Georgia O’Keefe, that is a logical leap., as her flower paintings were often called sexual and a feminist statement. But interestingly, O’Keefe insisted over her whole career that she wasn’t intending on making a feminist statement or that she set out to make sexual paintings. O”Keefe would say she was wanting to reveal the nature of the flower itself. In her words about her flower paintings:
“I’ll paint it big, and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it. I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.”
To the lily and to your favourite flowers! Let’s celebrate the little things with great reverence! To the harvest!
The last few months, as we all know, have been so full of change. We have all seen things collapse and disappear, with new configurations arising and defining. Whether it’s how we do business, how we congregate or how we live. Each and every one of us has been impacted together these last months.
And, there has been much change in my own personal life. June 24 my family lost our beloved black lab. Aimee was 11, and her body started to collapse although her will to live was still strong. It was a hard decision and a harder change for all of us, including Aimee.
Then, my daughter, who has been living with me since March 18, left back to Amsterdam a few days ago, where she’s been living doing her Masters. Another big change.
Last weekend, we fit in a camping trip together as one of our last adventures before she leaves. It was a mother-daughter “double-date” – my daughter and I, together with another mother and daughter. We’ve all known each other for 20 years and we’ve created these escapades into nature for quite a few of those years.
While camping, my mom-friend read a bit from an article about Carl Rogers to us. Here we were, all four of us tucked nicely in our tent, after having watched a spectacular sunset and having spent a wonderful day by the ocean and amongst the trees. We were all starting to get sleepy as she read us our bedtime story, excerpts from the philosophy of this great humanitarian, author, therapist and Nobel Prize nominee (for his work in South Africa and Ireland in conflict resolution).
One part really struck me about the nature of change and life, and I want to share that beautiful quote with you here:
“lt has been my experience that persons have a basically positive direction. Life, at its best, is a flowing, changing process in which nothing is fixed. In my clients and in myself I find that when life is richest and most rewarding it is a flowing process. To experience this is both fascinating and a little frightening. I find I am at my best when I can let the flow of my experience carry me, in a direction which appears to be forward, toward goals of which I am but dimly aware.”
Carl Rogers, “On Becoming a Person”
In that same article, my friend Julie also shared how Rogers believed making a good life for oneself involved accepting the true, authentic self. He believed there was an essential practice to acceptance, something he called “unconditional positive regard.”
As Julie ead about this concept of radical acceptance of self and other, I could feel a palpable rest fall over all of us in the tent. The definition was so delicious, so vivid and so real for all of us. – as it illustrated something that we had just experienced. Only hours before, all four of us had stood on the side of an ocean-side hill, looking at probably the most spectacular sunset any of us had ever seen in our lives. We must have spent 30 minutes ooohhing and aaawwing and cooing. It was pure pleasure, which left at least for me, a few sun spots for a bit, as I closed my eyes!
The picture above is from that sunset.
Here is the Carl Roger’s definition Julie read us that captured us all in the tent:
“People are just as wonderful as sunsets if you let them be. When I look at a sunset, I don’t find myself saying, ‘Soften the orange a bit on the right hand corner.’ I don’t try to control a sunset. I watch with awe as it unfolds.”
Just having had our sunset experience, it was easy to go from one to the other and to really feel the weight and power of Roger’s words.
To truly watch each other as if each and every one of us is like a sunset, like a glorious sunset – like the most wonderful sunset you have ever seen! What could the world be like if we watched each other like the magnificent beauty of the descending light of the sun.
As I say goodbye to my beloved dog, Aimee and say goodbye to my beloved daughter Erinne as she settles back to Amsterdam, I feel the precious, time-limited and fading aspects of life. Life changes and flows always. It is when we are too in it that we can easily forget its glory.
Each and every one of us is a precious, beautiful and time-limited sunset. To feel each other as this kind of every-changing flowing energy as well – we are here and then we are gone – gives the taste and bitter-sweet flavour of gratitude.
Please go squeeze your loved ones for me.
Sending you much summer love,
PS – If you’d like to jump into the whole Carl Rogers article yourself, here you go – makes for nice summer reading.
Last month, I wrote a post entitled “How Shall We Die”
I heard from a few readers about the impact that article had on them, including an old-time friend in Mexico who appreciated a new way to integrate her own sorrow about the state of the world, with its eco-systems collapses & social disintegrations.
Another dear friend, Ti Hallas, shared her own perspectives on the state of the world and was curious how I could still be so present in the world with the amount of grief it holds.
And all at once it came to me. Another heart friend died last year, Angela Aarts-Faris (that’s her at the top). It’s amazing how people keep on living inside of us and through us, teaching us and inspiring us, even after they die. Have you noticed that? What a gift.
Angela was a friend I first met when our children were in choir together almost 20 years ago. Over that time, we grew closer as I pulled together my favourite moms into a friend group as our children grew up. About a decade ago, we also started to spend some family holidays together and she became a second mother to my daughter.
Angela was always strong, sensible and spiritual. So when she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer 6 years ago, we were all devasted. Except Angela. She took every step of her journey with grace and in fact grew more translucent as she lived with her death prognosis and the weeks turns into months and then turned into years.
Angela made peace with death, every single day of her life. She spoke about how she lived with her diagnosis. The diagnosis and the prognosis didn’t keep her from living her life to the fullest. In fact, it was the opposite and quite intentional on her part. In fact, she lived more fully than I’ve seen most anyone else in my circle. She danced, she sang, she let us all know how much she loved us. She stayed close to nature and she stayed close to the angels.
She was also physically strong. She hiked most every day, she cooked beautiful meals, she dived into all the healing modalities – traditional and alternative.
When her health took a sharp turn last year, we as her community were surprised. Not Angela. She kept dreaming and visioning forward. The next trip she would take and the people she wanted to touch. As her body shrivelled away over a few short months, she stayed her ever-present self.
I saw her hours before she died. She was already in a coma and had lost so much of her body mass. She was barely there as the Angela I knew. But her love kept her magnetized. Her sister flew in from Ontario, and her dear husband journeyed with her right to the end. She was in her beloved home, with her beloved family and her beloved lake and nature as she passed.
I realize in hindsight that Angela provided me a model for what I mean when I talk about living with “How Shall We Die?” She gifted me (and you as I share her with you) – a way and evidence that we can still live our lives with dignity and communion almost because of our predicament.
You too may have examples in your life of people who knew their death was imminent and that knowledge gave them a way of living their lives you didn’t seem to have access to before you saw them. Can their example live on in you as your tribute to their example, to their suffering and to their love?
Every day that we wake up to, is resplendent with gifts. I pray I notice some of these gifts because in the noticing I rejoice. In my rejoicing, I bring more life. In the life, there is a more penetrative present moment and a vision of a journey to death and beyond full of grace, dignity and communion.
This is what I carry forward when I think about our human race and all the other species and life forms in disintegration at the moment. We can live forward with the same kind of grace, dignity and communion.
Will you join me in this vision?