A Universe of Pain

This morning as I was making breakfast, I thought the words, “I am in a universe of pain.”  As someone who deals with chronic pain, I have previously thought, “I am in a world of pain” on days when it has been really bad.  But today was different.  For even though I was experiencing the most pain I’ve had in recent memory, I wasn’t using those words to mark or measure it.  Instead, there was an immense spaciousness around it, a comforting endlessness .  I didn’t feel trapped in my “world of pain”. I felt like a part of some larger truth.

To be alive, we must all experience pain at some point, be it physical or emotional.  To be a part of nature is to be in pain.  Not all the time hopefully, but it is a common experience, a thread that binds all living things together in our remarkable web of life.

Being in a universe of pain means that there is space to experience whatever is being felt.  In the past, I’ve sometimes thought of pain as being “bad”.  But in the spaciousness of the universe, there is no “bad”.  There is just space for the sensations to exist.  A space to be held.  A space to simply be.

To those friends and loved ones who might be reading this and feel inclined to send me condolences or well wishes, let me say that there is no need (although, of course I appreciate any such intention).  I am at home in my journey.  Instead I ask only this:  look inward at whatever pain you are feeling, be it physical or emotional.  Crack your heart open, even just a little bit, and surround that pain with love.  Trust that there is a place for it in the universe of pain.

Incidentally, the words “universe of pain” came to me as I was making toast.  I guess you just never know what is going to pop up in life!  Get it?  Pop up?  Toast?!  Hahaha!  I love a good pun.  Wait, is that an oxymoron? Oh well, I guess that’s something to ponder another day.

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Constant Companions

I distinctly remember the first time I realized that I would die.  I was about 9 or 10 and I was lying in bed at night, when suddenly this realization poured over me.  I am going to die someday.  The room spun.  My heart pounded. Surely, this couldn’t be possible.  Yet, not only was it possible – it was absolutely going to happen!

Sometimes I wonder if I think about death more than the average person.  It’s not that I have a morbid fascination with it.  Nor do I fear it.  But the knowledge of this universal truth compels me toward a respectful recognition of this point within the Circle of Life.

I feel a need to confront death and suffering head on.  This is difficult work, and it is a part of what draws me to working in wildlife rehabilitation.  I do not want to run, hide, or be in fear of the Truth.  I want to walk hand in hand with it, to welcome it, to be at peace with it.

A couple of days ago, I received the news that my beloved raccoon friend, Nyxie, had died.  She was a special patient at the wildlife rehabilitation center I work at, and her sweet, gentle disposition touched the hearts of all who knew her.

I was so crestfallen when I got the news, even though I knew it was best in the long run.  I took a walk down to the old cemetery near my house, and I saw a flock of turkeys coming up the path.  How apropos.  Turkeys somehow always remind me of the gifts of life and death.

I walked down to the weathered tombstones, the graves of townsfolk who witnessed the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the turn of the century.  Normally, I only walk to the edge of the cemetery. There is something that prevents me from entering.  I think it is just the knowledge that I am standing on the bones of lives that were once filled with vitality –  people who laughed, ate, slept, suffered, loved.  And now their skeletons lie flat and crumbling below my feet.

But I did not hesitate to enter the cemetery this time.  I looked at the headstones.  I looked at the surrounding forest.  I listened to the cars in the distance.  I smelled the autumn air. I felt Death and Life beside me, around me, inside me – constant companions and friends.  I felt grief. I felt the wind rustle. I felt my heart beat.  I felt peaceful.

On that note, I’d like to share one of my favorite excerpts from Johnny Muir:

“All the merry dwellers of the trees and streams, and the myriad swarms of the air, called into life by the sunbeam of a summer morning, go home through death, wings folded perhaps in the last red rays of sunset of the day they were first tried.  Trees towering in the sky, braving storms of centuries, flowers turning faces to the light for a single day or hour, having enjoyed their share of life’s feast – all alike passed on and away under the law of death and love.  Yet all are our brothers and they enjoy life as we do, share heaven’s blessings with us, die and are buried in hallowed ground, come with us out of eternity and return into eternity.”

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Nyxie had a gentle and loving demeanor that was very calming to be around.  She was a miracle of Nature, and she has now returned Home.

 

 

 

 

 

Finding the point

I woke up this morning feeling depleted and bereft after pushing too hard against my natural rhythm all week.  The burning question in my mind was, “What’s the point?”  I honestly couldn’t say.

I went out into the garden, knowing that connecting with living, growing things is usually balm for my soul.  I picked raspberries, gently plucking the sweet thimble-like fruit into a well worn paper pint container – a simple and kindly reassuring task.  I harvested beans and tomatoes, and checked on the status of the rest of my nourishing bounty.  One corner of the garden has been rather over-taken by milkweed, which I left intentionally to attract monarch butterflies.  Lo and behold, this morning, I spotted 15 monarch caterpillars munching away on the smooth oval foliage.  What a heartening sight!

Shortly after coming back inside, I saw a movement outside my window.  A young black bear was out in the yard.  I watched as it made it’s way up the front slope, behind the woodshed, and up into the woods behind the house.  It was so calm, so unperturbed – just following its own rhythm and its own flow.  It wasn’t wondering what the point was.  It was just BEING and doing what bears do.

Soon the monarch caterpillars will have eaten their fill of milkweed and they will begin their transition to pupae, and then eventually emerge as butterflies to begin their migration back to warmer climes.  They too, have their own rhythm, and nothing can be rushed.  They do not question the point.   They simply go with their own unique flow.  But maybe that IS the point.  We all need to find the rhythm and flow that works for us.  Maybe it’s then that we can emerge as fully developed beings and soar to our deepest potential and purpose.

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Going backwards into Summer

Going backwards into Summer

Summer is here! I went for a paddle on Laurel Lake in Erving with a neighbor this evening, which was a great way to ring in this vibrant season.

As I started paddling, I found myself veering off in a weird and unexpected direction, unable to control myself.  It took me a few seconds before I realized that I was on my paddle board backwards.  I laughed and said, “Well, that basically sums up the way my day has been.  What a metaphor for life!”  It was funny because it was true. I really did feel like I was going backwards today, and most certainly did NOT feel in control.

I love these little moments of wisdom in life, and it’s especially great when they make you laugh.  Let’s face it.  We all have days like this – heading in an unexpected direction, or feeling fear or frustration when we seem to be going backwards instead of forwards.  Hey, it happens.  But, eventually, we straighten ourselves out and move ahead through the calm, clear waters.

Being out on the lake was so peaceful and serene.  The mountain laurel is in bloom all along the shore line, and it looks like little while and pink candies dotting the dark green foliage.   A loon was swimming at one end of the lake, and watching it dive under the water inspired me to do the same.  The water was so sweet and cool, like liquid velvet gliding across my skin.

I’m excited for summer.  Even if I find myself veering unexpectedly, out of control, or going backwards, I know I can always depend on the gentle magic of nature to set me straight.

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Pink and white candy blooms of mountain laurel

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Yours truly on Laurel Lake

Innocence Regained

The other day I saw a puddle on the pavement that was mixed with gasoline leaked from a car. It looked like a big, swirly iridescent rainbow.

I remember seeing these kinds of puddles when I was a kid, and feeling a great sense of delight as I exclaimed, “Look, Mom! A rainbow!”

And so, we go from childhood to adulthood. The simple things that delighted us become weighted by knowledge and reality. A pretty puddle that once made me happy now makes me sad, as I think about the toxins entering our watersheds and harming our wildlife.

The loss of innocence can feel devastating, even if it’s just the happiness we felt at something seemingly so small. But the Season of Spring is a time when innocence is regained. Tender green growth is all around us, flowers bloom in a myriad of hues, birds sing out with clear, sweet voices, and animals give new life to their precious young.

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Yesterday, Rob and I watched two juvenile squirrels running up and down a hollowed out tree. It looked like they were playing hide and seek as they darted in and out of different cavities in the tree trunk. And in that moment, I felt that same pure delight I did as a child.

Childhood is a time of innocence, growth, and learning. But maybe adulthood is too, in its own way. It is a time when we get the opportunity to consciously welcome all the experiences and feelings we encounter in life – sadness, excitement, anger, elation, confusion, wonder. What will we find on our journey? And how will we greet it?

Today I greet the world with a mix of exhaustion, wonder, and perhaps a little sadness. These feelings seem like friends visiting me – like the pair of mourning doves in the garden this morning, or the cheerful goldfinches sitting on the telephone line. They are the gifts of adult life, and they are welcome here.

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Welcoming Winter

Welcoming Winter

I have a confession to make.  I have been dreading winter since the last dreamy, verdant weeks of summer.  But as summer turned to autumn and then autumn to winter, I have found myself befriending the cold, quiet days and the long, dark nights.  The air feels crisp and invigorating on my face during my contemplative wanderings through the woods.  There is a stillness that fills the forest, which I find peaceful and soothing, and the early nightfall gives me permission to rest and relax.

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A winter landscape as seen through my living room window

Winter seems to have arrived well before solstice this year, and we’ve been enjoying a tranquil frosted landscape here in western Massachusetts. By the time solstice rolled around, I found myself ready – and perhaps even slightly eager – to embrace the ups and downs of the season.  My attitude about winter surprised me, given the level of dread and loathing I previously felt.  However, there is wisdom in nature – even the parts we don’t favor – and that feels too precious a gift to squander.

On the first day of winter, I saw a truck strike a wild turkey while I was on my way to work.  It tottered across the road while the traffic kept moving.  I slowed to a stop on the side of the road where the turkey piteously hobbled to the shoulder and collapsed face down into a snow bank.

I grabbed a blanket from my car and slowly approached the turkey, arms outstretched, and gently wrapped it up and put it in my car.  My initial thought was that I would contact a wildlife rehabber, but my first glance at the turkey told me that it wasn’t likely to survive.  I didn’t see any blood, but I could see the life slipping away from its limp body.

I called work to say I was running late, then brought the turkey back home.  By then I could see that its spirit had left.  I carried the warm, lifeless body inside and placed it on the kitchen floor.  I have never seen a turkey up close like that before, and I was struck by how beautiful it was.   It was magnificent, with gleaming iridescent feathers.  They felt impossibly soft and thick as I ran my hands through them.  The wings were wide and striped with a remarkably intricate pattern.  How could such an impressive and beautiful animal exist right here in New England?

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Big, beautiful bird

I felt confused as mix of sorrow, anger, and awe coursed through me.  How could someone just hit an incredible creature like this and not stop or seem to care?

I decided to accept this sad event as a gift.  I sat next to the beautiful bird with loving admiration, seeking to honor it.

While I’ve never hunted or farmed, I do eat meat, and I realized that this gift was a opportunity for me to connect with the land in a new way.  And with Christmas right around the corner, I knew this turkey would go to good use.

I plucked and dressed the turkey on tarp in the kitchen, as Rob read instructions to me (thank goodness for the internet!).  It was an unforgettable experience – one that gave me a newfound respect for our animal brethren and for the lives that they give to us so that we may have sustenance.  I also gained a newfound respect for myself as I took responsibility for cleaning and preparing an animal to eat.  Having had no prior experience with that, I wasn’t sure it was something I could do, but it connected me to nature in a way that I have never experienced before.

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Plucking the turkey

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Removing the insides of the turkey – an experience I’m not likely to forget anytime soon. The “blood” on my shirt is not from the turkey – it’s fake blood leftover from Halloween!

Today is Christmas eve, and a magical layer of ice and snow drapes the trees like fine crystal.  As I glance out the window, I can see juncos hopping from the rooftop to a branch and then back again.  Later today, I will be roasting the turkey and, as always, I will be giving thanks for the sacredness of life and the miraculous wisdom and divine harmony of Nature.

Wishing you all a safe and Merry Christmas.

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Spirit and Place

It’s peak foliage season here in Western Mass.  The weather has been spectacular, with striking blue skies and streams of sunlight pouring through the fiery foliage.  Leaves appear to glow,  They rattle and rustle as if in a shamanic trance.  And then they rain down, like gold coins, spreading a wealth of riches on the forest floor.

I’ve always thought that fall foliage is nature’s fireworks display.  It starts slowly – a burst of orange and red here and there, until it rises into a crescendo of color – a stunning grand finale to celebrate the end of the growing season.

The leaf peepers are out en masse.  But not me.  I’m not going anywhere.  I don’t need to.  There is more beauty surrounding my house than I could possibly absorb, and to be honest, it feels good to appreciate what is right in front of me.

I’ve particularly been admiring the way the afternoon sun falls on the rock ledge behind my house.  The stand of white birches in front of the ledge has such poise and grace.  And all along the edges of the yard, sassafras saplings are turning a brilliant shade of yellowy orangish red – three types of leaves aflame on a long, slender wick.  That’s right: sassafras trees have three distinct leaf shapes – one that looks like a classic leaf shape, one that looks like a mitten, and one that looks like a ghost.  The all have the same lemony-citrus scent.

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I harvested dried beans from my garden today, shucking them from their shells and running my hands through the cool, smooth pile of small stones as they accumulated in my basket.  I looked at my hands as the beans sifted through them, thinking about the work they have done, the food they’ve sown and reaped, and their connection to this land.

I’ve come to realize that a relationship with the land is a lot like a romantic relationship.  When you first see a place of beauty, you are in awe.  You get excited, you want to take a picture, and to preserve it in your memory forever.  But eventually you move on to the next scenic vista.

However, the longer you sit with a place, the deeper your connection becomes.  And when you work with the land – tend it, care for it, honor it – that connection becomes deeper still.

Like any relationship, it’s not always easy.  I think about the countless hours I’ve spent toiling and tending to my little corner of the world, but no place fills me with such a sense of fulfillment and gratitude.

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Autumn is such an ephemeral time, and it seems to be a reminder of the Impermanence of Everything.  While spring brings the promise of life, autumn brings the reminder that all things are fleeting, and must, someday, die.

Today, I found out that an important person in my life passed away.  Although we hadn’t been in close contact for many years, Skip was one of those rare people whose impact lasts a lifetime.  He was a mentor who guided me as I began my journey as a seeker of truth, love, and the great Mysteries of Life.  I am not filled with sadness at the news of his death, but a sense of poignancy and gratitude at the light he shone on the world, and the fact that I was lucky enough to have it shine on me.

Perhaps it is the fleeting nature of autumn that makes it such a natural time for reflection and appreciation.  We see life around us slowing down and letting go – a tender release, like a pensive sigh.  There is a sadness there, but also relief.  Just as the trees shed their leaves, perhaps we have a chance to let go of some of our own burden.  And in letting go, we too, may receive the gift of rest.

In loving memory
Skip Weatherford, 1933-2017