Dirty Fingernails

Half an hour in the morning.

Ann swimming at the club, I’m dressed for yoga when she returns with the vehicle. Dog still in bed. I put down her breakfast to entice her out. I have scrolled through emails, thank goodness stayed off Face Book. My mind is racing with ideas… shall I communicate with myself in the quiet of the journal, or communicate with “you”—whomever reads this blog: today, tomorrow, or in the mysterious digital timeframe that streams on and on… (Robots are still reading older entries here: if I get a comment on a certain outdated post—it’s not from a human… the rest of you, I love hearing from!)

Half an hour in the morning. Unload dishwasher? Start laundry? Turn on the office computer? Clean my desk? For a few minutes I stand whirling in the midst of tasks and choices. Then breathe. What do I want? What would give this moment meaning?

I want to communicate something quieter than my mind, something small and green, a thought with bud and possibility. My primary reader is myself—I need to know I am capable of settling into the level of quite notice that writing is capable of instilling. If you want to come along, welcome…

Raven sculpture in the garden

Raven sculpture in the garden

It is rainy/cloudy/sunny today. Wherever you are, suck in this soft sweet air of gift. Rain. Cloud. Water above and below. A patch of blue is drifting down from the north. Puget Sound is an undulating grey blanket, the foothills are completely shrouded. Sometimes the clouds are so low it doesn’t seem that rain is falling, but rather emerging out of the grey and green of things.
This world offers so much beauty. The neighbor’s lilac bush is weighed down with purple blossom clusters as big as grocery grapes. We have nearly 40 peony buds shooting up in the garden. The spinach is ready to start munching, and we laid out a line of chicken wire fencing for the peas to climb. We weeded the beds, beheaded the tulips, and mowed the lawn before the rains came in.

World's biggest lilacs

World’s biggest lilacs

I need to keep doing this—bringing dirty fingernails to the keyboard. I need to touch the green, find the beauty, tend to nature—especially in places not so easy to find it. I have stood in a parking lot on a cell-phone call, knelt down and weeded the beds of struggling landscape plants. It literally grounds me in the conversation and in my place on the earth. I am tending. Tend, tendance, attention all stem from that same source.

Tend, v.t. means 1) to care or minister to, 2) to look after, watch over. Tendance means ministration, as to the sick. Tending is an antidote to all the pulls of attention that stream in from the machine world… Tending is a ministry—to my yard, to my hearth-friends, to what is not connected to the Internet and is connected to the web of life.

Half an hour… paying attention. I know I will put some green-time into my day.

 

Entranceway

Entranceway

 

 

Fist to the heart–Five Months Later

It has been five months since a midnight phone call pulled us into the emergency of our 33-year-old son’s dying. We were on our way to the airport by 3:00 AM, and by 6:00 AM I had sent an email to extended family and friends asking for prayers and articulating what was happening as it unfolded. We flew to Denver. His sister arrived. His father arrived. Friends surrounded him. He hung onto the thread of life with a ventilator, and after this day of being loved by many who knew him, his heart stopped at 8:07 PM, all his organs in failure due to prescription drug interactions and post-surgical complications.

For the next two weeks I continued to send emails that communicated the complex information and heartfulness of these first days. Exactly a week after his death I had four hours alone on a plane and I wrote in my journal, “The story shatters…” I then documented moment by moment that 24-hour passage from the phone call to the strange, exhausted slumber in a Denver motel. I have hardly written since.

The story really did shatter—and the hardest question of the whole winter has been people’s inquiry, “How are you doing?”

How should we know how we’re doing? By what measurement does one respond?

In my book, Storycatcher, I say, “Words are how we think, story is how we link.” Life story is developed by attaching a new experience to an old one, like putting two children in line together and saying, “Hold hands. Don’t let go. Help each other cross the street.” A previous experience, which we have already transformed through the narrative function of the mind into meaning , serves as a tutor to help us absorb a new experience and begin to integrate it.

But when the new experience is extreme in some way—we can’t link it. This is called shock. The world right now is full of shocks. And what observers call “news”—a missing jetliner, a deadly mudslide, a sinking ferry with hundreds of teenagers on-board, Sherpas carrying their dead off Everest, etc. etc.—is individual, familial, and community survivors experiencing breakdowns in their capacity to integrate what just happened into what has happened before: shock on a massive scale.

Narrative is our life-line. The psyche goes into free-fall when our attachment to meaning is broken. I had my hand on Brian’s chest when I saw the heart monitor go flat. For most of the past five months, when people ask, “How are you?” I have internally re-experienced that moment, and realized that in many ways “I” am still in that room where we took an emotional fist to the heart that will influence our lives forever.

I have started to blog a dozen times these months, and not had the energy to complete my thought process. This entry signals me that linkage is starting: I am beginning to hold hands with Brian’s death in words as well as in raw experience. Because restoring narrative is essential for wholeness and well-being, I will write more about this as I learn my way into language.

Brian and his nephew Jaden

Brian and his nephew Jaden

Meanwhile, I pray for all those I see grieving on the news, and for patience from the rest of us who do not understand why they are so fixated on the downed plane, the mudslide, the tipped ferry, and millions more private traumas. How are they? They don’t know. Just don’t abandon us—however you come across people in the aftermath of sorrow, trauma, and travail—hold our hands until we can hold the hand of story.

Weather Reports

It is mid-February. A few days ago I was sitting on the deck of our house, in the sunshine—and it was 55 Farenheit/12 Celsius. I hesitate to mention what a lovely winter we are having when across the North American continent there is so much snow and ice and disastrously low temperatures—however you measure it. And England is awash in floods; heavy rains, and storms tearing at its coastal towns. And Australia is broiling hot and dry and afire.

Our mountains have looked craggy—cliffs showing through which should be covered with snow—until this week they are finally getting a super load of snow. From near drought conditions (for rain forest mountains) to normal snowpack depths in a week! Ann and I are hoping to take a day-trip, get out the snowshoes, and go tromping if the storms back off by the end of the week and the avalanche danger settles down. Not safe yet… we have to be content with beach walks and greenery until NOAA gives some kind of all clear.

All this to say, looking west and east at the mountains that hover over Puget Sound views, I have joined the collective vulnerability that weather is creating this season in both hemispheres. A wake-up call, to what we are not sure. Several faraway friends are writing or phoning in search of information on the community garden we started a few years ago, and recommendations on the woodstove we bought—as suddenly they are taking seriously their own needs to retrofit and reshape their life-styles for greater self-sufficiency.

Anxiety and ambiguity can be helpful motivators as long we experience them in moderation and keep educating ourselves in chunks we can cope with. We don’t know what’s coming; we don’t know when the collapse of things is going to hit our individual lives and plans, and thwart our hopes for ourselves, our children, or our grandchildren.

I just finished cooking the lentils I bought to get through Y2K. This year our goal in the garden is to find some kind of grain or protein we can grow successfully in this climate—the cool salted breezes are not Mediterranean here. I want to set an example of a person awake to the larger picture, doing what I can in my work and my lifestyle to contribute to commonsense and rationality. I want to lean down, enjoy what is, build resilience in my own heart, my family, my community—and in the wider outreach that something like a blog touches.

Here are some photos of beauty that I see from my front steps. May they green a place in your heart as well.

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Heather and yucca in the yard

 

Olympics in new snow--western view

Olympics in new snow–western view

Benediction for Brian

It has been a month now since Ann’s son/our son, age 33 years, suffered cardiac arrest 48 hours after reparative surgery and a grueling 14 months of recovery from a serious accident in the line of paramedic duty.

At his memorial on December 12, I read the following benediction… It is both personal to Brian, and universal to our longing to know and be known. I offer it into a quiet moment in your holiday/holy days…

Perhaps we do not know the full measure of our lives because we cannot know it: it is a secret that our community holds for us. Each person who has loved us, befriended us, worked alongside us; every person we have loved, befriended, neighbored, worked with, bought groceries from, smiled at on the sidewalk—each one holds a tiny mirror in which the impact of our presence is reflected. No one sees the fullness, but we know it is there. We offer our broken bits of reflection to one another and so doing create a mosaic of tiny, bright lights—

  • Lights like rippling sun on water,
  • Lights like an ambulance in the rain,
  • Lights like candles in the window,
  • Lights like stars in the night sky… now, one more.

But the mosaic comes together only at the end; only then do we see how each shard fits the pattern. How each jagged or smooth edge contributes to the whole design that was our life, our purpose, our meaning, our loveliness. Ahhh, what elusive desire to understand we have carried through the decades. Sometimes this longing to know who we are shows up as a musing that soars on the updraft while we hike the high ridges; sometimes it grabs the gut in secret midnight desperation. And now… now it comes? Accompanying the final beat of the deep red muscle of life, floating out of our lungs on the last molecule of air… Finally, we see who we really are. Finally, we see who we have always been.

We have gathered here today to hold our pieces of mirror up for Brian, to offer our reflections that his soul may receive his fullness. This is our benediction.

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Sail on, Brian, into the realms of wonder, knowing fully who you are.

Enter the winter through e-space

I loved doing the e-course. There were nearly 600 people receiving the emailed essays on “Restorying Your Life.” Most of these people received the emails and wrote in private, or tucked them away for a less busy time. I am reading on Facebook that folks are just now settling down by the winter fire and starting (or continuing) to follow the writing prompts.

This is true for me too–looking forward to following my own advice in the long evenings this season provides. (Hint: turn off the TV, and design a corner of calm in the midst of busyness.) As I write this I think of our Australian friends–long evenings of another kind happening in the southern hemisphere… Up north we write by lamp and candle, down south you write by long, sunny twilight. Either way, works.

Before moving on, I want to note a few things from the cyber environment that warmed my heart. In the Practice Circle, 263 people checked in, introduced themselves. Even if they didn’t share their process beyond that, it gave the whole group a sense of who had shown up–made the reading more intimate, and certainly encouraged the posting process.

Then in the following weeks, dozens–maybe up to a 100 voices–did at least one posting about the writing prompts in the emailed essays. We held circle. I wrote to them–many strangers to my larger body of work, a brief description of circle space:

When bearing witness in circle, which is where I spend most of my listening time, everyone speaks to the center/centre. Say we are in a comfortable, quiet room with a candle on a coffee table in the space between us… one by one we hold a talking piece, maybe a rose quartz stone in the shape of a heart: whoever holds the stone speaks his/her story, the rest of us listen. At the completion of the story, the stone goes to the next person who, if s/he is ready, speaks their story. … Round the stone is passed and the ear of the heart opens and we receive the stories… All the stories are placed in the center around the flickering flame. We don’t carry them, but we can have empathy and honor and place them down.

 

We know this rhythm: it is in our bones, an inheritance from millennia of before there was any technology beyond the human voice and our capacities to tell a tale and learn from one another. Sweet to see this rhythm here in this virtual space. May we protect and trust and observe this rhythm together throughout our time together.

Everybody observed such care/full/ness with one another. The Practice Circle was organized by topic: each essay had a designated place to respond. There was also a place for “Community Support, Prayer Requests, Off-topic Comments,” and this became a sweet spot of shared concerns–still following circle protocols.

I was astonished and am still marveling at our ability to tend one another and bear witness in a group that had never met. I remember in 1998 when a friend who worked in this world wide web environment paid us a visit and said, “Ladies, you have to get out on-line…” We resisted, saying, “But all our work is about creating face-to-face connection!” He said, “You’ll go out of business if you don’t figure out how to connect in cyberspace.” Maybe as a human community we are learning how to bring and share the deeper aspects of ourselves in these new ways.

Thank you, all, for learning with me. Now… find that quiet light and tap into your own heartspace.

Writing excuse: I’m too busy writing!

This blog is something I think about–either late at night waking to the moon and communing a while, but not moving from under the comforter (there’s a reason it’s called that… ahhh, downy delight!); or about 9:00 in the morning when I have an hour before Debbie comes to work and we all show up in the PeerSpirit office to check in and start a different kind of business day… And I won’t let myself derail into blogging when I have so many other demands of my time.

At the moment, this is a legitimate excuse: I am writing my first e-course, consisting of 12 carefully crafted emails and once the course activates an hour+ a day in an on-line writing community practice circle where we all get to share our reaction to the suggestions and exercises embedded in the e-mails.

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I’m having fun doing this–and several hundred people are signed up so far… And the blog will continue once I get this loaded and into the world. There is the creative practice of making a point and coming up with a fun exercise in less than 1000 words… and then there is the fun of being in the Practice Circle with people, engaged with all of us reStorying our lives together.

I’ll let you know, next month, how it’s going, and if you read this in a timely fashion: sign up here: https://peerspirit.com/writing-workshop-dates.html#restorying…

Still on the trail… and the trail is still here.

As I turn the calendar to September, I realize that Ann and I have celebrated summer in six countries this year.  Celebrated is the right word—for we love the long light and barefoot days, the sense that at the end of the “work day” there are still hours and hours of daylight to play in.

This year that has meant, walking the Medicine Wheel with twilight prayers for the questers on the mountain during our annual vision fast in Eastern Washington; strolling through the woods of the Taunus next to our conference center near Frankfurt, Germany; hiking all day and then watching hours of alpine glow on the snow covered peaks of the Eiger, the Munch, and the Jungfrau in Murren, Switzerland; getting up early to hike to the view over the Slovenia hill country northeast of Ljubljana; bicycling through vineyards in the slanted light of day’s end along the Croatian coast; a week with our children and grandchildren in coastal British Columbia… and finally, home again to the gardens, the beach, weeks of  tending to this little plot of earth we get to love. Dirty fingernails and old clothes, catching up with a few friends, the late summer Circle Practicum and culminating with an Advanced Circle Practices group that will gather on Whidbey mid-month—bringing us right to the Autumn Equinox.

Chain of Lakes trail, columnar basalt

Chain of Lakes trail, columnar basalt

Quite a trail…and while hiking the latest stretch—a 6+ mile tree-line ramble in the Mount Baker wilderness area on last week’s camping trip, I found myself reminiscing about the pace of life I find myself attempting at 67 years old.

A friend says, “A lot of people your age are retired, you know…”

I laugh and say, “I’m not the retiring type.”

Under the banter I’m seeking words to explain what I mean. I feel my aging, and celebrate that I am able to hike over rockslides with a view at the top of the Cascades Mountains. I let go of tracking certain aspects of pop culture while struggling to discern what I need to keep tracking. I accept leadership younger than myself. I practice focusing around the question: what is mine to do now? I seek to complete the task I said “yes” to: to plant the circle firmly into the world, to carry the story, to love the Earth. My goal remains to enable myself and others to live somehow differently in the midst of unraveling circumstances. My work is to inspire us to be our best selves, and then to act our best selves. And to use our full capacities to stand for what we believe.

This is the trail I’m on. This is the never-ending trail. It offers the long-view, and the hope of spiritual replenishment along the way. I am honored to be hiking–and in great company.

A startling question

Story circle in Slovenia

Life is rushing me on when I want to yell—“Hey, slow down, I’m still in Europe in my heart!” So many dear people, doing amazing work using circle. Ann and I were so happy to sit in the training councils in Germany and Slovenia, to participate in the development of widespread circle practice in consulting, community leadership, organizational development, European Commission agencies, coaching, and business ownership…  Let me share one story that exemplifies the spirit of these circles.

In Slovenia, in a three-day training on Circle and Story as Leadership, there were 32 people participating from 14 countries. We were meeting in a retreat hotel north of in the hill country north of Ljubljana. The second day morning we were ready to dive into a story council that would help us explore shadow. To more readily hear one another we divided the group into two circles of 16 people each, with one American and one Slovenian co-host. The invitation to story was: Please share a story of a time when you felt unable to respond to the needs in the group; you didn’t know what to do, or you felt incapable in some way… what did you learn?

It was a question that required we really live the four agreements: trust in confidentiality, listening with curiosity and compassion, asking for what we need and offering what we can, and willingness to pause and let silence be a witness as well as words. The circles went on for 3.5 hours—all the morning. Each one had its own flavor. What I know about my circle is that by listening to each of us go to this place of vulnerability and speak about how hard this work can be, how relentless the learning field, the more we shared that moment of feeling at a loss, the more I saw each one’s strength. I developed a much greater sense of the capabilities of each storyteller.

By showing one another the learning process inside what we might have called a failure, the whole group had an experience of success that moved me profoundly. I have never asked this question in a circle before, and this group was comprised of people already skilled at hosting… I will look for opportunities to do this again and see what richness occurs and if you have experiences to share, let me know.

…And what did we learn?

The eighth whisper

About 10 years ago I wrote a lovely little book called The Seven Whispers, Spiritual Practice for Times Like These.  It’s a little gem: a hundred pages long, seven essays on the common sense spiritual wisdom that guides my life. The book hasn’t yet reached its full audience, is kind of an orphan out there since it doesn’t espouse any particular religion, but instead invites people to discover their own daily patterns for staying connected to guidance. I’ve never met anybody who didn’t love it. I reread it the other day, and I love it, too.

  • Maintain peace of mind.
  • Move at the pace of guidance.
  • Practice certainty of purpose.
  • Surrender to surprise.
  • Ask for what you need and offer what you can.
  • Love the folks in front of you.
  • Return to the world.

When nearing the finish line of writing, I remember calling my editor and saying, “Hey Jason… funny thing happened at the end of the book… there’s another whisper coming… what do you think?”

He discouraged me from adding to the list. “Seven is kind of a spiritual number,” he said, “It has a ring to it that “The Eight Whispers” just doesn’t have.” I let it go. From a marketing standpoint, he was probably correct. But I snuck the phrase in the book, even without naming it, and it has been a profound practice of mine ever since.

The eighth whisper is: Notice how help comes.

I’ve written that phrase in my journal dozens of times to remind myself to keep looking about for the ways that the world is trying to help me carry this strenuous and usual work forward in the world—stewarding the increasing emergence of The Circle Way; creating space for storytelling and storycatching, holding onto the foundational values of my life while negotiating a wildly chaordic environment. (Chaordic, the creative space where chaos and order swirl together and make something new.)

Notice how help comes… a tiny email that opens a large opportunity or relationship.

Notice how help comes… a phone call that leads to needed work.

Notice how help comes… a meeting that leads to support beyond expectation.

I need all the Seven Whispers, and as the world moves crazily on this year I am more and more attuned to the need for noticing how help comes, and for how I can offer help to others. On an intimate scale, help is how we make place for one another, how we experience being seen and belonging. It’s a great daily practice of giving and receiving.

 

Blogging on a Friday night

It’s a glorious sunset after a cloudy day. I lower the window blinds and try to settle into my thoughts. One week in April: I paid my taxes, had a birthday, walked the dog, got my hair cut, went to the athletic club, trucked through a hundred business details and uncounted emails … and tracked two young men through the suburbs of Boston in a multi-million dollar manhunt. Middle-class life in America: one life undisturbed, a bunch of lives profoundly disturbed, some changed forever, some lives lost.

I can hardly discern what I think and feel about all this because the media is so busy telling me what I think and feel.

The bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon a terrible tragedy for the people who died and all those who now grieve them. It’s a catastrophe for those who were injured and now face a long recovery and perhaps life on artificial limbs. It’s a trauma for those in the vicinity who witnessed these events, who’ve been through the lock-down of an American metropolitan area, who’ve been witness to shoot-outs and explosions in neighborhoods where such violence does not occur at this scale. It’s a confusion for me because–

I cannot stand to watch young Bostonians flipping me thumbs up on the CNN videos like they are walking out of the parking lot after a football match.  And to know that cheering erupted on the streets, along with superficial analysis that “justice has been done… everything is all right now… it’s safe to return to life as usual…”

I cannot listen to NPR reporters milking the idea of how shocking it is that American suburbs should be disturbed by gunfire—as though this isn’t happening all around the world to people whose lives are just as precious to them as our lives are to us.

In an article in the on-line version of The Guardian, Kim Gamel of Associated Press, reports that on April 6th, a NATO airstrike called into a scene of heavy gunfire, killed 11 children who were in the same house as a suspected Taliban insurgent. Also killed that same day were 3 civilians  whose vehicle was hit by a suicide bomber while they were traveling to deliver books to a school.

Perhaps in light of this week’s news out of Boston we can see these people more clearly and imagine their pain, and the grief of their families and friends more distinctly. Perhaps we can imagine the hopeful grin on the face of one of those Afghani children drawing doves in a time of war. Perhaps we can see behind the burka to the face of a young mother. Or travel the idealism of a young foreign service officer trying to make a gesture of goodwill.

Martin Richard, age 8: killed at the finish line.

Martin Richard, age 8: killed at the finish line.

Let’s have a moment of silence, not dancing in the streets. Then let’s talk more deeply about these issues than we did a week ago.