April 10, 2011: We Are Rich

“Everything is here to be happy on earth.
We have snow and every day a new morning.
We have trees and rain, hope and tears.
We have humus and oxygen, animals and all the colors.
We have distant lands and bicycles.
We have sun and shadow. 

                         We are rich. “

~Hundertwasser

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…I discovered this quote in a precious little book of Friedensreich Hundertwasser’s artwork and writing. It took my breath away.
It was handed to me by Harriet Segal, the gifted artist who just installed “Taproot”, a stained glass piece commissioned for our foyer.
Harriet is 100% artist- she dresses, moves and communicates full-body creative expression.
So much so, she didn’t want her photo taken-
I don’t think she knows how to pose.


After installing this amazing piece of art in our foyer, she needed a smoke in her van.
When she returned, clutched in her hand was a tiny, well-worn treasure… a collection of paintings and writings by the artist that has influenced her art the most.
Oh, I can understand why.  Flipping through it, I was deeply moved by the way Hundertwasser sees the world.
The book is propped on my desk. She insisted I keep it awhile.

“Art should be something very great, something religious and infinitely beautiful.
Art should be a place where you can pray, where you receive intense spiritual help, a kingdom of peace.
Art should help you to find the way you have lost.
Art must be precious.”

sigh…
This vibrant, imaginative masterpiece is precious.
As is all the artwork in our home.
An act of courage and honesty- I stand in awe of these gifts of human self-expression.
What more could anyone hope for to greet them when opening the front door?

I can feel the energy and creative flow still pouring from the “Taproot” piece… even after the artist has released it to us.
Whatever exchange happens between artist and art… it doesn’t stop just because of an arbitrary deadline.
Harriet said she had been up since 2 a.m. finishing the last touches.
I can only imagine how it felt for her to install it and then leave it behind.
Like a birth… the hard work now behind her, sending it into the world to do its work.

Over the last four months Harriet, Tim and I met and then exchanged emails to share thoughts, feelings, and visions about this something that might somehow capture the vitality and magic of this place.
Of course the artist’s interpretation is her own, but looking at it, I recognize:
the water table (the source) at the bottom; and the plant pushing its way upward through it all (it can’t help itself :-) ; the grounded mountains at the bottom and the top; the sun/energy at the center of it all; the breathtaking ribbons of color/sky all through it; four seasons represented in textured clear glass- leaves, blossoms, raindrops…; and the many little treasures embedded in hand-rolled glass- surprises revealed if you slow down long enough to look closely. It is Taproot no doubt.

At the end of this first real warm day of spring, I found myself in the garden.
And as the sunset splattered red stripes above the western mountaintops, I looked toward the house when Tim flipped on the hall light – flooding the stained glass window from the inside out.

I couldn’t help but smile and take in the moment …  green shoots bursting through chocolate brown soil, plump buds opening into apple blossoms and Harriet’s work illuminated.
Oh, to be in the presence of full expression!
In the garden, in the art studio… whereever the glory of LIFE pushes itself out from the inside.
There is no stopping it.
One can only pause and celebrate.

“Everything is here on earth to be happy.
We are rich”
and “Art is precious”!

Thank you Harriet.
Thank you Friedensreich.
Thank you Taproot Farm.

and thanks Anne Rocca for the leaf in our river photo.

March 20, 2011: Taking Down the Ropes

The Perigree moon called me last night.
As her magnificence rose over eastern treetops, I gathered a blanket and some hot tea …
hoping to curl up a bit in the spot where Querencia, my earthen artist cottage, will soon be born.
The light was surreal. Like a room filled with burning candles- holding the intensity of darkness and light at the same time.

I don’t know how long I sat there.
I watched her move across the sky until she perched over our thinking rock on the hill.

It is amazing what you can see in full moonlight, once your eyes adjust and your mind quiets.

I could make out the restlessness of birds in treetops, peace in the sillouettes of contented lambs, new life at the base of dry, brown fields.
I could feel the grace of a day and night in perfect balance, neither one longer or brighter than the other.

Perhaps it was gratitude. Perhaps the clarity of a night illuminated.
But something made me remember a journal entry I wrote years ago. When I was beginning to realize how much of my spirit had been locked away over time… in the name of “maturity”, social convention, and convenience.
I remember that transformative time in mid-life , when I began questioning what parts of my persona no longer served my health and true happiness. Remembering what I had known as a child- that one must kick up some dust and spill some paint in order to express this life within us fully… even if it makes others uncomfortable.
It both breaks and lifts my heart to read it again.
I’d like to share it because I imagine it speaks for many of us….

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         I am a castle.
A beautiful, expansive, intricate castle… full of halls and halls of colorful rooms.
            There was a time when I felt free to skip through the corridors. My laughter echoed off the walls like windchimes. Light streamed in windows that were opened wide to the outside world. Songs of birds in the trees blended with my delighted giggles.
            My castle was open to the public. Anyone was free to explore. And I was proud to show everyone around.
           
            Then I began to listen. I tried to understand some of the things the older visitors were saying. I began to slow my skipping to a walk in order to overhear their critiques- noticing how their voices fluctuated from a pleasant sing-song in front of some rooms to a hushed whisper in front of others.
            Oh, how they threw their heads back and smiled with praise after viewing some rooms… chatting of “progress, and growing up, and cooperation, and manners, and achievement, and exemplary behavior”. These rooms full of good behavior had lines of admirers at the door- leaning in, pointing to all the A’s and plusses and glowing comments from teachers on the report cards pinned to the huge bulletin board. Here, if they stepped in and closed their eyes, visitors could drink up the accolades booming from speakers… an endless audio tape loop of conversations between adults at school, adults at bridge parties, parents of my friends… praising Beth for being such a nice girl, such a sweet girl, quiet and obedient, so easy… such a good, good girl… saying “you must be so proud”.
            But their mood became solemn and the talking between them hard to make out when I enthusiastically threw open the next door where my wild abandon was housed. Furniture knocked over, paint spilled, half eaten melons dripping off the table… drawing startled looks from the crowd as they stepped back further and further, afraid of getting some of it on their shoes.
           I learned to ignore that room on the tour as time went on.
           Spirits would lighten again when I showed off the room of optimism, of good works, of positive dreams. The color returned to their faces while viewing plaques and letters of gratitude and awards for citizenship displayed on shelves. Few of them ever figured out, though, that this was only the front room- that my suite of dreams was actually much bigger, filled to the brim.  But I had learned to separate the “attainable” dreams from the “crazy” ones- arranging the first ones under the lights for visitors, keeping the more mysterious visions in the back room to be explored alone at night while sleeping.
So many rooms… endless halls.
            In time, whole wings of my castle became roped off- I didn’t lead them down those anymore. Rooms of sensuality, anger, aggressiveness and sadness began to get musty… walls of red, gray, black no longer seeing the light of day behind closed doors.
            I was so busy giving tours to the public that even I did not venture down those roped-off halls and stairs anymore. No time. Too busy. Fading curiosity. Growing judgement of my own.
             I became just another one of those selective visitors myself- taking the “feel good” tour, avoiding the uncomfortable floors, or the controversial sidebuildings.
            I eventually redid the brochures…improving the marketing appeal until it promised only sunshine and light if they visited my castle. And, because I am committed to honesty in advertising, I delivered what I promised. 
           But… because it became overwhelming to keep all those doors locked and the ropes up everyday…
            more and more often, it just became easier to shut the whole castle up to the outside. To build a moat of silence. A protective wall of steel. Sometimes that was the only way I could get some rest.     
            Eventually I was able to keep all the visitors away for long periods of time by setting up a dog-and-pony show out front. It kept them entertained and pleased. They convinced themselves that that was all there was to see.
            And then, with the lights out so as not to draw attention, I was free to wander the long, lonely halls of my castle by myself.
            It felt comfortably familiar… but I had forgotten how to skip.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~                             b. reese 3/ 2006

My heart is heavy when I think of how, at some point, I traded in my childhood courage for a pretty costume… repressing my divine “messiness” to earn safe, positive responses from others.
And, yet, my heart is full remembering how I spent yesterday…
tromping in swampy fields planting cider apple trees,  propped on the ground against the lamb barn scratching their chins, biting into a dusty carrot straight from the garden… covered in mud, hair in my eyes, smile on my face.

I wonder what stirs in you…
           have you closed any doors over the years?
What kind of beautiful mess would you make if you thought no one was grading?
Let’s take down the ropes.
Let’s stop selling tickets.
Let’s live in the full light, unafraid.
                                                                                         Happy Equinox dear ones,
                                                                                                               Beth

February 2, 2011: The Gift of Snow and Silence

Tomorrow I head off for a 4-day, silent, women’s retreat in New Windsor, Maryland.
My packing list is short: comfortable stretchy pants and tops, warm sweater, socks, shawl, and meditation cushion. No makeup, no cell phone, no reading, no gadgets.
When we arrive, we’ll check in, find our shared room, plop our cushions in the meditation hall and have a delicious vegetarian meal. There will be lots of chatter and energy as 85 women from all over the country come together in this place with a common intention.
I love thinking of the day before a retreat… in different towns, life situations, personal stages… all of us “strangers” are preparing ourselves to arrive.
It is no small thing when so many people travel long distances to gather for a common purpose. For peace.
Something powerful is created by that simple act- something palpable. Because we know it is not at all simple to devote a weekend to “filling your own well”. Because the lives we live have become so complicated.

So, when I am sitting there among those sojourners, I feel like our gathering matters. Not just to my own well-being… but to a larger healing. Somehow you can feel the ripples leaving the room…

At 8 pm that first night, we will settle into the meditation hall to hear a wise teaching, a dharma talk- practical and profound guidance about how to “pause”, “arrive”, “allow”, and “stay” with what is HERE, right here, in this body, in this room, in this life we bring with us.
The teachings this weekend will be gentle and forgiving. They will need to be. Because only human beings sign up for these retreats :-) We are women bringing with us busy, noisy minds and baggage full of normal, human life issues. No saints ever show up to these things, as far as I’ve noticed.
By the time we leave the meditation hall, we will be in silence. It will not be broken until Sunday afternoon when we gather for the closing. (sometimes there are small group gatherings with the teachers to ask questions and share issues coming up for us in practice).
Silence?
Yep. All weekend… and it is divine.
When I first started attending silent retreats, my friends laughed. They just couldn’t believe I could last an hour, much less a weekend or week, without talking. I admit I thought the same thing.
But then I experienced it… and was changed.
I was simply shocked at how effortless it was to close my mouth and operate from another voice.
To follow a thought deeper and deeper into wisdom- without interruption.
And, of course, it is much easier and delicious when you share space with other souls moving about, eating, and sitting in silence.

It is a rare gift to be encouraged to hear the birds or taste the soup. To really pay attention to sensations in your body. To awaken the other senses that get drowned out by talking and rushing around all day… like touch, or smell. (have you ever really smelled the layers of jasmine tea as you sip it?)

The weekend is structured around set blocks of sitting and walking meditation, meals and dharma talks. The schedule is posted everywhere and bells let you know the end of one and beginning of another period. No one needs a watch, phone, day planner. No one cares if you keep walking and miss a sit. No one is watching. No one is judging. Our focus is inward and sensory. It is okay not to smile or make eye contact when you pass another- the pressure of social convention and those “shoulds” that control us are left at the door.
It takes time to quiet the mind and wake up in the body. There is so much unlearning to do. There is so much control to relinquish.
Each day, sometimes each hour, you can feel your body soften a bit more. By the third night the meditation hall is enveloped in a sweet, thick quiet… feels natural, not so “practiced”. The connection between me and the women beside me has grown… although we have not uttered a word to each other. It is magical. It is profound.

Sitting here anticipating the weekend ahead, I am having a strong body memory of how snow days felt when I was a child or young, busy mother.
They were a gift. Permission to let go. Unannounced. Unplanned.

Snow days always felt like a warm bath.
Unlike a vacation- which can kick a busy mind into overdrive; planning, packing, worrying, anticipating-  snow days take it all “down a notch”.

Snowdays force you to let go of control- roads are blocked, schools are closed- can’t go shopping, can’t carpool, no homework assigned today. You eat what is there, enjoy who you are with, and feel the relief that you can’t change things.
Ahhh, yes, it is a relief sometimes to be powerless.

Snowdays whisper, “so, what do you really want to do right now?” The answer from inside might be, “I want to stay in my jammies, eat oatmeal, and start a good book!” or ” I just want to sit on the floor and play a board game with my kids… and listen, and laugh.”
The voice inside knows, “I just want to be Here, right Now”.
And surrounded by a white frozen world outside, you get to do just that.
I loved who I was with my kids on snowdays- playful, spontaneous, relaxed.
On those blustery, family “retreat” days, the carpet felt softer, the hot chocolate tasted chocolat-ier, and the world seemed at peace.
Snow days seem to awaken the senses and make the ordinary feel fresher somehow.

I think my retreat weekends are just like that… except I put these “snow days” on the calendar.
I am so thankful for a meditation practice that teaches me not only to allow “what is” to be what it is, but also to smell it and taste it and sit down on the floor to play with it.
And I am thankful for a community of fellow seekers who courageously stop their busy lives, if even just for a weekend, to create our own snow days. To release the “shoulds”, put down the planner, and ask our hearts “what do you really want in this moment.. and this one?”

I am looking forward to letting it all go… into this weekend.
I guess I need to pack my snow boots.

January 28, 2011: Building Querencia – The Hand-Sculpted House

There is now a makeshift bulletin board hanging on the wall across from me.
Huge foam-core boards are dripping with post-it notes, inspiring images and architectural drawings of Querencia- my soon-to-be artist cottage.
It is big and messy and changing shape daily, but the vision remains pure. I will revisit it often as we get pulled into the busy execution of construction plans.

I think each creative project needs a compass, a true North.
This one started with the enticing question stapled at the top of the board-
What If?

Ahhh… I love that inquiry.
What if? is an invitation to dream big, to remember what matters most, to create something that works.

It does not believe in limits. It begs creative solutions.
It grabs your hand and pulls you out of your comfort zone.
And it will not accept excuses!

“What if?” led me to Natural Building…. a healthier, more creative, people-friendly way to build.

When I first dreamed of a little artist cottage, I wondered what sort of building might provide the comfort and freedom and inspiration that creativity needs to blossom.
I imagined it would have lots of natural light and a “fluid” shape-  not the typical right-angle boxes we are used to.
Inhabiting the building would be inspiring in and of itself.
I realized I was dreaming of a place that didn’t feel built at all- more sculpted and alive.
What if“, I wondered, “you could create a little building that feels like it just sprouted from the earth”.  It occurred to me that that is exactly what any creative work feels like- a gift of nature, something blossoming naturally from the seed you’ve planted.

Then I read about the book, The Hand-Sculpted House, by Ianto Evans, Michael Smith and Linda Smiley-
A Cob Cottage might be the ultimate expression of ecological design, a structure so attuned to its surroundings that the authors refer to it as “an ecstatic house”. They build a house the way others create a natural garden, using the oldest, most available materials earth, clay, sand, straw, and water and blending them to redefine the future (and past) of building. Cob (the word comes from an Old English root, meaning “lump”) is a mixture of non-toxic, recyclable, and often free materials. Building with cob requires no forms, no cement, and no machinery of any kind. Builders sculpt their structures by hand.”

When I finished reading that book cover to cover, my perspective about shelter was changed forever.  I’m hooked!
The first chapter- the “why”- is worth reading on its own… beautifully philosophical and clear-headed.
Natural Building means paying attention to all the details of how the world really works”…and then building in harmony with Natural Laws. Amen to that!
There is no denying that in Nature:
-Nothing is ever created or destroyed: it merely changes form.
     -Everything gradually falls apart.
     -Everything is unique.
     -There are no monocultures.
     -Nature uses just as many resources as are necessary and no more.

So why do we insist on designing homes dictated by the straight 2″ X 4″ board or the 90-degree angle? Before the last nail of any new house is sunk, Nature has already begun warping the board and applying pressure at the weak corners- trying to restore it to its natural form: curved and stable.

Take a walk through the woods… there are no straight lines, there are no squares.

The rest of the book teaches how to cooperate with Nature in building structures that; age gracefully, capitalize on nature’s strongest shapes and materials, and look like they belong in their setting.

When you stand inside a natural building it FEELS good. It is true! People visibly relax, even sigh, when they enter a home made of mud or straw… because their body is saying “I’m at home here. It feels familiar. My oldest memories are of earth and green and sunlight”.

One of Ianto’s examples really stuck with me.
He compares a picture of a bird sitting in her bird-designed nest to a bird in a man-made birdhouse.
The first bird has built a structure that conforms warmly and comfortably to the shape of its body, intelligently slopes upward to contain it’s contents (eggs), and uses only the materials it needs for this purpose- no waste, less materials to gather.  The square birdhouse has four empty corners- wasted space that draws heat and bedding away from the inhabitant. Wood, nails, glue and paint for the birdhouse required trips to the store and undoubtedly scraps were thrown in the trashcan.
I think this is a beautiful illustration of what natural building is all about.

We are animals. We like spaces that “fit” us. We are hard-wired to feel energized in clean, natural light. We feel safe leaning against backs that support and protect us while giving us a view “out” into the world (window seats, reading nooks near windows).

The authors provide example after example of shelters designed to feed our instincts, not our ego.
Tall ceilings, long halls, and massive foyers are designed to create a feeling of awe and powerlessness- they make sense in cathedrals and museums.  But would you want to live in one?

What if we asked our bodies what kind of space makes us feel comfortable, safe, connected, creative…
What if we built it from the land it sits on…
 What if we invited others to create it with us?

Stay tuned.  I hope to do just that!

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Natural Building helps us connect again to our local natural environment, to our own intuitive and innate creativity, and to each other. It helps us to shift from an industrial, and often toxic building process to one that is affordable, empowering, community-building and life-affirming. We are co-creating ~ learning to dance in balance with nature.
                Learning to …”live ingeniously in a low-carbon world !”
-a quote by the Zero Footprint organization
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December 26, 2010: A Word Can Lead You…

This is my annual end-of-the-year invitation…
to choose a word, not a resolution.

I have been doing this in January for many years,
ever since I read Christine Kane’s blog called The Resolution Revolution.
It has changed me over and over.

Here’s the invitation:
Instead of making futile promises to “fix” something (like lose weight, or get out of debt)…
choose a WORD toward which to tilt your life.
Then let go…  and see where it leads.
Be curious about it.  Be sincere about your choice
and allow it to slowly, deeply change you…. for 12 months.

My first year I chose the word Truth.  sigh.
I suppose the wise voice inside wanted me to cut through the bullsh**- to help me peel things away and stare straight at, well, the truth about things.  When I chose the word I had no idea where it would lead me. At the end of that year- through reading, reflecting in my journal and exploratory arts-  I realize I had let go of a lot… a lot of “masks” I had been wearing, a lot of stories I was believing.
The word “truth” had led me fearlessly out of pretending… closer to authenticity.

And it led me to Mindfulness meditation- the practice of “seeing clearly”- a very important part of my life to this day.

Choosing a word sets an intention.  That is all we need to understand.
It is not a verb.  not an action.  not something to add to the to-do list.
Instead, it is something to wonder about. It is best to choose a noun. Something with a life of its own. Something to lead you, not something to conquer.

And like a treasure, it is best to hold it lightly. gently. with reverence. with confidence.
The rest is an adventure.   Just follow where it leads.

Other years, I chose the words; Receptivity,  Love… and Blossom.
Last year it was Patience.

I am drawn to words that are mysteries to me. Ones I can not yet define. Concepts that intrigue me.. and often intimidate me.
I tend to be kinda serious. Philosophical.
You don’t have to be.
Just be sincere.

Many of my friends do this on New Year’s Day now.
Some of the powerful words I remember them choosing are :

ACTION             COMMITMENT            JOY             Courage

           TRUST              Presence         Ease           HOME

I used to host a “Soup and Sisterhood” dinner each January.
Girlfriends would gather and reflect on the year they had spent with their word. Many were shocked at how their life had shifted because of this simple exercise. Some admitted they had forgotten about their word for long stretches only to find it had been subtly working its magic at a foundational level.
Our conversations were fascinating and inspiring. The whole thing felt so creative!
And as we blew out the candles, we would say farewell to the word that had kept us company for 12 months…
and offer up our new word for the year- a bit wide-eyed and curious about what it had in store for us.

I never know what my word will be.
Not until I sit in the quiet, candle lit, heart open… do I hear the whisper of it.
I am often surprised by what surfaces.  Surprised, but never unsure.
When I recognize what my word of the year is… it’s as if it has risen from a solid place in the belly, not the head. It is a “gut” knowing.  Held out… as an invitation.

I encourage you to try it this year.
You won’t regret it.
Christine Kane’s blog explains it further.

Happy New Year!
Beth

ps-  I’d love to hear about the word you choose if you feel like sharing.  We learn so much from each other :-)

December 3, 2010: A Place of My Own

It is really happening.
A dream come true.

Today, I began searching in earnest for doors, windows, shelving and such for my own little cottage- one I plan to build with Tim’s support and many hands this spring and summer.
A shelter of my own.
Made of mud and straw bales. Adorned with colorful bottles and mosaic tiles.
A place for daydreams and solitude and meditation and creativity.
A place to share tea and intimate conversation and playful arts with others.
A mystery. A curiosity. A dream manifest.

I don’t know when the idea first surfaced in me.
Probably sometime as a young mother in the wee morning hours before anyone else in the house was awake. In that precious daydreaming time, listening to the longings of my own heartbeat… I imagined a place I could retreat to be still, to be silent, to be ME.
Or maybe this cottage image appeared in a meditation class years ago when the teacher led us in guided imagery to a spot where we felt safe, and free, and alive. With eye’s closed, I rounded the corner of a freshly mowed path and  there lay the little house, door open as if smiling at me, beckoning me home.
Or perhaps it was on my physical therapist’s table as she teased my energy trying to relieve lower back pain. I colorfully described to her the stress-free place I’d go in my imagination… windows open, sounds of trickling water outside, smell of pine through the curtains- no phone, no tv, no clocks, no “to-do list”.
I remember her looking down at me, in all her Reiki wisdom, saying “Beth, the cottage you are describing is YOU. You realize that right? ”
Wow.
I love that interpretation.

Hmmm… the place I retreated when life was too busy and my well was empty… was the real me. The ME with the unlocked front door, guitar propped in the corner, open paint bottles, candles flickering, lace curtains blowing gently in the clean breeze, fresh fruit piled high in a bowl.

A place of my own.

silent. simple.
restorative.

Children have always understand what it is to need a place of one’s own… cardboard appliance boxes, wooden forts, concrete culverts.  I remember that giddy feeling of being just one step below the noise- slipping under the kitchen table, invisible to the hustle-bustle of adult feet and grown-up plans  A place to be alone with one’s thoughts.  A lookout from which to spy all the busyness of life without getting swept downstream or stepped on.

I think it is just hard-wired in us… to yank coats off  hangers in the hall closet for a topsecret hideout or rake leaves in a pile to make a nest just our size. What child hasn’t tucked herself in a corner, low in the bushes, or high in a treehouse… to run free through the fields of her own imagination?

Well, that longing runs strong and clear in me. Always has.
During my busy mothering years I found getaways in cushy reading chairs, long walks and a little green room (“womb”) I carved out in the basement. It was there that I reconnected with my own voice through journaling and my own breathing in the quiet when babies napped.
I love my family. I love my new life in the country.
and I know I still need a little place of my own to keep my balance.

I am convinced we are both social and solitary animals.
We all crave the warm intimacy of family and friendships. And, I believe, we also hunger for the sweet whispers of a voice found only in deep stillness.
Solitude is a rarity these days with 24-7 stimulation and demanding “on call” technology.
And yet, it is only in solitude, alone with my own thoughts, that I discover truly original ideas or wise, non-reactive answers to life’s important questions.

So, when we bought this land by the river, Tim and I began dreaming of where to build a “not so big house” for ourselves, and then we looked around for where we might fashion little corners of our own. (As I type, Tim is adding insulation and shelves to his workshop- a man’s imagination palace!).
I am grateful everyday for my husband- the one who, on a cold March day before we had even poured the footings of our home, looked me lovingly in the eyes and said “and you need a cottage of your own too, don’t you?”
Yes, after 30 years of marriage, he not only understands my need for creative solitude, he protects it.  As I do his.

My cottage, my Querencia, will be across the stream, over a swinging bridge, through a curvy mowed path. With woodlands protecting her back, she’ll face the south sun and fields of wildflowers. It is still just a dream, slowly taking shape on paper. But if I close my eyes I can feel it in my body… as if itwere my body.

I found this photo of a little sitting nook in an earthen house. It embodies the warm, nestled, whimsical feeling I want in my cottage. I will keep it with me as a compass… while I sketch, collect salvaged materials, and sculpt her round, earthen walls.

Everyone should have a place of their own.
The child inside is eager to remind us how.

September 15, 2010: The Call of River Time

I’m sitting in the warm sun on the front porch… watching the breeze whisk yellowed leaves from the Sycamore trees. 
Fall is in the air and all living things are feeling the pull of gravity. 
It seems stronger as the days shorten.
How long have I been sitting here? The sun has passed the mid-sky point, must be afternoon.
I don’t know. I don’t care.
I am in Kairos time. Feminine time.  “Losing track of time” time.
I love it. I am at home here writing and pondering until my knees cramp and shade abandons me.
Moving out to the country was our last radical rejection of left-brained Chronos time- clocks, calendars, day planners.
Now the lambs wake us. Our exhaustion draws us to bed. Grumbling bellies reach for the refrigerator or vine. And our hearts stop us in our tracks at unexpected times…to breath deep and sing praises.  
Thirteen women have answered my invitation next weekend to pack up their journals, walking shoes and longings. To head west to Taproot Farm… toward still water.  
Touching Stillness” is what I call it- a restorative women’s weekend. An opportunity to leave the cell phone and planner in the car. To listen instead for the invitation of the meditation bell, the tug of the tired body toward the hammock…to drop below the chatter of the surface to the deeper wisdom and peace of the water table. A weekend of Kairos time. Nature’s time. Body time. Heart time.
This morning I am reminded of why I came to the river. Of how it called me in the middle of a busy, noisy, exhausting life “above the concrete”  and how naturally my daily rhythms now match the flow of the Cacapon. 
It was just a matter of letting go…as the Maples and Sycamores know so well.
 Here is  something that I wrote years ago when I felt the first call from the water table…  
back to Nature’s time.
Enjoy. 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Real Time
What if
            very early one morning,
            you could slip behind her dressing room curtain-
            before TIME has donned a costume for the day.
What if… you could see her naked, unadorned, as her natural Self.
What if… she is NOT that foot soldier
             buttoned up in a stiff blue uniform marching “left, right. left, right”, eyes locked forward.
What if, instead… she is truly a meandering child,
            eyes darting to catch the flight of a dragonfly dancing around her head,
            long before she knows her left from her right.
What if… she is NOT that tailor,
            bifocals slipping on his nose, intently stitching snippets of activity together to make a “something” for you to wear proudly; a cape of accomplishments in many colors.
What if, instead… she is really a knitter,
            contently rocking and humming to the rhythm of the clicking needles.
             “Knitting one, pearling two”, then happily watching her work unravel…
          delighting simply in the creation and re-creation of a single stitch.
What if… she is NOT the highway planner,
            pushing the surveyor’s wheel down the paved road-
            stopping to place mile-stone after mile-stone at points of arrival,
            leaning over with marking pen to label decades, degrees, phases of growth and deaths.
What if, instead… she wanders aimlessly
through the trees, along the shoreline, in her own backyard.
Placing a birthday candle at each spot that catches her imagination.
Igniting each tiny flame with an exhale of awe.
What if TIME is NOT
            a square on a calendar, a tick of a clock,
                                    a coordinate on a map, a notch on the coffin.
What if… TIME IS, in her essence-
a gentle river that slides under your feet on a lazy warm afternoon,
erasing gravity, carrying your tired body on a buoyant, pillowy raft.
Silently slipping you out to sea
while the overactive thoughts are left,
like gossiping aunts, to chatter on the shore.
And what if
as you are floating on Time
staring up at the sky,
you no longer can tell, as hard as you may try,
who is doing the moving- the clouds or you.
And soon all the questions remaining in your head
softly change shape like the clouds above:
                                                  From - “how fast am I going?”
                        to - “in relation to what?….
                                                                        -the cars on the shore?
                                                                        -the stones on the bottom?
                                                                        -my heartbeat?”
                                                From – “where am I going?”
                 to – “from which point?…
                                                                        -the dock?
                                                                        -yesterday?
                                                                        -my comfort zone?”
And, what if
as your sleepy sun-drenched eyes begin to close,
you glimpse,  floating by in the current,
a brass button… a thimble…. a marking pen…
And
What if… this once,
as you reach again to clutch those shiny ornaments,
your fingers simply slide through them like mirages
…until finally,
 riding along with Time herself,
you are able to just let go.
                                                                                      ~b. reese

April 25, 2010: Tending

I have been on my knees a lot lately.

Kneading soil between my fingers like a baker… breaking up the clay chunks, blending them thoroughly with chocolate-rich compost and sugary-light sand.
I even catch myself sniffing it.  mmmm…healthy soil smells like morning in the heart of a forest.
Countless hours and hours of turning and digging.
Preparing these beds like I would for a house guest.
I’m anticipating the needs of tiny white roots pushing out from the seedlings under our grow lights.
I don’t remember ever spending so much time close to the ground.
Foundation work.
Building a garden from the ground up.
I’ve learned the hard way that there is no quick fix down the road, if the soil is poor.
Since  gardening doesn’t seem to take up all parts of the brain at once, mine loves to wander and ponder while my hands are in the dirt.
              Lately, I’ve been pondering this idea of TENDING…
                           tending one’s garden, one’s relationships, one’s health, one’s life.
Tending, I used to think, was for old ladies with lots of time on their hands.
Watching elderly neighbors fuss over their roses or talk to their cat as they fed it…. I admit I probably thought that was all they had to do with their day.
Tending was slow. Tending was repetitive. Tending was not for me, a busy young mother making her mark in the world. I had places to go, children to deliver, items to check off the list.
I was DOING things… and tending, I guess, looked like just fiddling.
But, I remember a particular day when I was in my busy, “doing” early forties.
It stands out so clearly in my mind, as any watershed moment does.
I was a typical mom- three active/scheduled kids, a young non-profit I had founded, marriage, house and garden, community obligations, etc..
After another long day of pushing myself “out there” in the world, I pulled up to the side of our house. And for some reason, probably a wave of fatigue… or grace…  I looked up and “saw” my garden in a new light.
Wilting brown leaves, struggling roots imprisoned in rock hard soil, stunted flowers crowded with mats of roots.  It certainly didn’t look like the vibrant photos on the nursery tags shoved in beside each plant.
How did it become so, so abandoned?
Hadn’t I had a vision when I bought all those colorful plants? Didn’t I think that adding more and more color would do the trick? Sure, I plopped them in the ground, but I meant to water them regularly. Meant to trim them.  
One day, I told myself…. when I slowed down, when I had time. One day I was going to get out there.
But all the while I was busy planting more gardens in the world- beautiful non-profits and commitments and promises.
Something about that scene, one I had hurried past so many times, broke my heart that day. Sudden tears caught me by surprise.
An untended garden.
          An untended life.
I don’t know why on that day I looked up in the way I did.
I believe our hearts get our attention anyway they need to.
Passing out from lower back pain months earlier or missing dinners with my family because of working late hadn’t done it.
But that sad, neglected garden on that ordinary day did.
It was asking me when I was going to get down on my knees and tend its roots.
My tears whispered that my family and my health were asking me the same question.
I believe tears are like bread crumbs.  If we listen and follow them back to their source, they’ll take us home.
That was 7 years ago when I started my long, winding journey “back to the garden”.
Through writing and meditation I am learning, in the stillness, to listen to what aches for my attention.
By returning to the land, I am reconnecting with what I already know… the smell of healthy soil, the sound of my own voice, the rhythm of the timeless.
Through the presence of tending, I am listening deeply to the dreams of my amazing children and noticing the sweet compassion in my husband’s daily chores.
Together, with the garden as our teacher, he and I are building a healthy farm for ourselves and others.       A place close to the ground.
 Sigh…
I am learning to be a Tender-

        down on my knees,
           one shovel full at a time.

I hope I am becoming one of those gray-haired ladies.

        The ones with the healthiest roses.

March 28, 2010: The Return of the Wood Ducks…

A week or so ago, as the remnants of a long, frozen winter were finally melting, Tim tromped excitedly up the hill from the river with a  little boy look on his face, “The Wood Ducks are back!”

We smiled… and shared a still, unspoken moment.
At the top of that ridge somehow it hit both of us similarly- a sense of completion, of full cycle, of belonging to a place in which there was a “returning”.
I think it was there and then that something shifted permanently for us-
a feeling that we are now Home, in the truest sense of the word.

What was it that rose so deep in him at the sighting of those beautiful birds?
…the same ducks that we had studied through binoculars last year in the glass cafe of our new home?
Why is it so powerful to witness the familiar return?

Perhaps it is the deep, sweet feeling of everything being right with the world.
and a relief, at some level, that it is flowing regardless…
a permission to let go of the need to control it…
an invitation to “come home” to the cycles of life, instead of pushing so hard to steer them.
And perhaps it is the gratitude of being in a place where something so magnificent is actually familiar.

For us, a family who has experienced 18 months of uprooting, I know our hearts were waiting for this.
Through all the packing, “leaving the nest:”, releasing, relocating, unpacking- the existential Big questions related to Home have been an underlying  theme- “What is home?” and “How do you know when you are there?”.
Less about brick and mortar, more wondering about truly belonging in this world, in this changing life…

Sigh.
Hearing of the returning wood ducks brought up a body memory of being 4 or 5 years old standing at the shore break at Bethany, letting the waves lap against my shins- fearless, safe- sensing the weight of my body sink another inch deeper in the sand with each ebb and flow.
The more the ocean returned and retreated, the deeper I was rooted.
The more that huge, wild, water world came and went, the more solid my footing.
Even as a child, I learned in my bones, with wet sand between my toes, that the leaving and returning were part of my safety. Something to celebrate. Something to lean against.

I look out the window- eleven bluebirds are perched in the low bushes outside right now.  I remember them from late March last year, flocks and flocks of them sprinkled in the woodland. They came through about the time those little white wildflowers appeared …
and, yes, come to think of it, I nearly stepped on a few blossoms yesterday on my way to the compost pile!
So, does that mean I can expect wild violets in the far field next? :-)
Oh, and the iridescent green Swallows were checking out the birdhouse last week… just like last April.

We are no longer visitors.
And, I see, we never are… as long as we stay intimately in tune with the ebbing and flowing of this world we inhabit.
The tiny flowers, the traveling ducks, the dropping needles, the fruiting trees…
reminders that we are all part of the home to which they return.
The home. Our home.
Home.

So, I wonder,
how does it feel to you to be part of the “returnings”?

What is it in your life that reminds you that all is right… that the wheel is turning as it is designed to?
The daffodils in your front yard? The cherry blossoms along the road? The sound of birds again in the morning or  the heat of the sun on your skin at lunchtime?
Is it the new energy in your body? The aliveness of your senses as the days grow longer?
I believe returnings can be both internal and external.

I now intend to practice more attention to the returnings
in my life…
To notice how it feels to be at that still place in the center
of all this coming and going.
And to allow the turning of the seasons to beat against my shins…
            sinking me deeper and deeper into this Life.

March 8, 2010: Mindfulness

Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: On Purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”      
- Jon Kabat-Zinn

Ahhh, sounds so simple… and on some levels it is.
Yet, I found out that in order to be consistently mindful- to be PRESENT, NOW, HERE- I needed some training.

We are conditioned to want to be anywhere but “here”. The mind is like a puppy- if you tell it to sit and stay- in a few seconds it hops up again, chasing its tail or anything else that attracts its attention. We are a culture lost in thought, out-of-body, living in either the past or future. We believe we don’t want to be “here” because what is going on here (internally or externally) can feel uncomfortable or boring.
But all this “chasing our thoughts” actually takes us nowhere real.
There is no “there” there.  There is only Here.

Years ago, after too much busy-ness, too much chasing after happiness “out there”, I was introduced to Vipassana meditation. http://www.imcw.org/    Instantly I felt that I had come Home.
This simple, profound practice helped me return to my body, my senses, and the life right here.

The key is the “on purpose” and “non-judgementally” part. Attitude is everything.
Mindfulness is cultivated by paying attention on purpose, deeply, and without judgment (friendly and inviting) to whatever arises in the present moment, either inside or outside of us. By intentionally practicing mindfulness, deliberately paying more careful moment-to-moment attention, we can live more fully and less on “automatic pilot”, thus, being more present for our own lives.
And in that space, where the mind calms down and our senses come awake… we find Insight.
Looking the reality of “what is” in the eyes, in that space, we find wisdom. Not “my” wisdom… but “The” wisdom.
And, amazingly, we realize it was right here all along.
As Dorothy found out in The Wizard of Oz, “there is no place like home”. Or, put another way,

“there is no place like HERE”.

This practice (and I do mean practice!- haven’t found any shortcuts :-) has changed the quality of my life. Sure, my puppy mind is still busy and distractable at times. But, through a regular Vipassana meditation practice, I don’t stray too far from that calm, clear, compassionate place inside. I have learned strategies to help me in the course of everyday life to return… to pause and come home again.
I call that place “the water table”… just under the busy, noisy surface.
If I stray too far from the water table… my well dries up.

Mindfulness is not about “blissing out”. Just the opposite.
It is about waking up. Noticing, feeling, and facing everything that Is… with friendliness, nonreactively.
I find that when I stop clinging to or pushing away “what is”… I relax, and the fight in me disappears. The world appears in full color!
Life is not meant to be a struggle. And the good news is, it doesn’t have to be.                                                                                                                                                                                    ~ Beth

It is our mind, and that alone, that chains us or sets us free.

~Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche