On a recent trip to CA we went for a walk with friends in the nearby woods. Even though the temperature was in the nineties, the walk was entirely in shade and in some spots you could still feel the refreshing comfort of morning cool from a few hours before. Our friend mentioned something called forest bathing, which I had never heard of, and which consists of a romp in the woods or forest concentrating all your senses on the trees. Known as shinrin-yoku in Japan, there is no hiking or photography or talking allowed. Just being. Listening to the trees rustling in the wind or watching the sunlight dapple on the path as it filters through the leaves, keeping all your senses on high alert, even your 6th sense, your state of mind. I'm glad we weren't officially tree bathing on this particular day because I did snap a photo that caught a heart at the top of the canopy.
Trees, some living for thousands of years, do possess a certain ancient wisdom to pass along if we but listen and see, breathe and touch and be. They mark time and bear witness, survive calamity, resilient and faithful in their ability to go on. No two silhouettes, branches or leaves are alike providing us a new experience with each encounter. Shinrin-yoku teaches us to be stewards of nature with the patience to allow the details to unfold. In return, we receive an appreciation for the bounty that surrounds us, and the solitude to be aware and in the moment.
Trees have been an important symbol at the center of history, literature and spirituality throughout the ages. Buddha became enlightened under the shade of a Bodhi tree and the Tree of Life from Genesis conferred eternal life, much to the chagrin of the exiled and fallen Adam and Eve. In more modern times, Anne Frank kept track of the seasons through the one uncovered window in the attic and dreamed of life outside by the watch of a horse chestnut tree. Inspired by her tree, she wrote, "The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God." To that end, there is a beautiful pear tree at the 9/11 Memorial, the "survivor tree", initially scarred, burned and pulled from the rubble that was nursed back to health, and now stands for hope and rebirth.
As the summer winds down and before the leaves begin to fall, take a moment to look up at a nearby canopy, or sit in the shade of a wise old tree. As Hermann Hess wrote, "...a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me!" And allow yourself to ponder.
Summers are a time of great celebration. There are graduations, weddings, births and even celebrations of life scheduled when it may be easier for families and loved ones to be together. Yet, it's not only the big moments that deserve recognition. Cause for celebration exists in the small moments as well. A family BBQ, a day at the beach, a walk in the woods, the reduced traffic in the city while others are on vacation are all to be savored.
It's easy to get caught up in the more is better column of life, but that's not always a good thing. I'm trying to practice the less is more approach to life, but that's not always easy. The truth is in my world, sometimes it doesn't even feel possible. I have so much for which to be grateful. Less is more takes intention, in part because there are many demands, some real (like those nasty bills that keep coming and need to be paid) and others imagined (like I am personally responsible for everyone else's good time), that I place on myself. If January is a good time for making New Year's resolutions, then summer is a good time for self-assessment and re-calibration.
I am striving to remember to capture the joy of the moment that I feel whenever I find a great parking spot in each of my experiences. As many of you know, when my father passed away more than 25 years ago, I gave him a job. He worried about me driving hither and yon, whether it was daylight or in the wee hours of the night. Driving never bothered me, I enjoyed finding new places and connecting with the people I met along the way. What did terrify me was the necessity of entering one of the large and creepy parking garages. Dark stairways, blind corners, hidden figures, all conspired to make me nervous. I knew dad would want to continue to offer his loving protection and so I dubbed him my very own Parking Angel. Like many other of his previous jobs, with the exception of home repair, it is a job where he excels. Finding my preferred space, no parking garage necessary, is cause for routine celebration thanks to dad. It is a way of continuing our connection in a concrete way and without fail it brings a smile to my lips.
These are the moments I cherish, parking spaces, the warmth of the sun, the companionship of friends, the laughter of family members, and with luck finding my lost luggage from one of my recent trips (please feel free to add your own prayer to St. Anthony). Not all celebrations require fireworks, some are more simple, merely bringing a smile. These are experiences that are subtle, free and available all year long. It is good to know it is enough.
It seems to be the human condition that we tend to appreciate in retrospect: the summer breeze in the middle of winter, good health when illness comes calling, even the too familiar footsteps of a loved one coming through the door. We expect tomorrow to be the same as today, the status quo, nothing to get too excited about. Until it changes - a lost job, a death, even a nasty cold can flip the switch of appreciation for the good old days, which may only have been last week. I am no different than the next person in this respect.
My mother once told me, "When there's ice cream on your plate, it's time to eat ice cream." About three years ago, I began to fill my plate with a triple scoop of chocolate chip (my favorite!) in the form of three grandsons, two of whom lived less than a mile away and filled nearly all of my mornings with a kind of warmth and belonging I could not have imagined. Their proximity to me was a gift I cherished and took advantage of whenever I could. They were my exception to the rule of appreciation in retrospect because I knew what I had, I knew it might be temporary and I appreciated (almost) every moment. A few weeks ago, they moved across the country. It made me realize that my seizing of the moment at the time made each one sparkle that much more.
It's a scientific fact that the universe is expanding. I do think the more we can appreciate all the good moments that come our way, understanding that "we may never pass this way again," the more our own universe expands. We change the stars for ourselves and others in the same way the expanding universe must. When it comes to an end or changes in a way that breaks our heart, perhaps there is a little bigger cushion for the fall. In retrospect, I have no regrets, a foundation of love and joy to cherish that is so big it's not of this world. (Katie)
I spent a fair amount of time over the last month with my 2-year old grandson and while he is quite verbal, he is often less than completely clear. To catch his meaning, I had to listen, both to the context and to the sounds, piecing together his special language of enunciation and words. With patience I came to understand. All it took was to really listen; his meaning was there all the time for me to hear.
Imagine my surprise then when at a recent library event featuring the journalist and prolific author Tom Friedman, he spoke about his love of, and interest in, people. In fact, he told us he especially loves listening. Not only do you get to learn, but he explained that listening shows an overt sign of respect. In his experience once others know you respect them, they become willing to hear what you have to say, even when your message may be something they don't want to hear. It's no shock that listening is essential to facilitate open communication. It's what we do with children: simple, and yet profound.
A few days later, I had, as Oprah would say, another "Aha" moment. As the only participant at a strength-training class, the hour became far more than an opportunity to exercise my physical self. The instructor had experienced a health crisis with a beloved parent and needed not only to debrief, but to find the space to take a breath. The result of our conversation was to accept that we all need help at different times in our lives. Whether it is to aid with aged parents or to cope with kids or illness or changing circumstances, it doesn't matter. Our natural inclination is to resist thinking we need help. We are reticent to ask for assistance. We try to handle everything on our own and don't want to burden others. And yet, when we are actually allowed to help each other it is a gift. We feel satisfied, worthy and compassionate. To rob others of this experience is a double blow; it's unfair to both you and those who care about you.
This is another of the things children teach us. When kids look up with eyes wide and pleading, it takes only one word, "Help," or perhaps it's just an outstretched hand. We know what it means. It is a call to action. We do what we can to respond to their plea. Either we "fix" it ourselves or figure out how to make the situation right. In doing so we feel happiness alongside satisfaction, self-worth and compassion. It brings joy to our heart and fulfillment to our soul.
There is one other word that anyone who has been around a 2-year old knows well. It's the ability to say "No" without worry of losing love, or respect or one's place in the universe. It's direct and conveys exactly how they are feeling. And we love them just the same. Yes, out of the mouths of babes comes the honesty and the tools we need every day to survive. All we have to do is to listen, ask for help and learn when it's best to say no. (Joan)
To capture photographic evidence of a black hole billions of times more massive than our sun, in a giant galaxy 55 million light years away sounds too fantastical to be real. A black hole gobbles up anything that gets too close to its edge, sometimes, ominously enough, called the point of no return. Not even light can escape, meaning the laws of physics also collapse into this cavernous mysterious, stellar-charged denseness. "It is a smoke ring framing a one-way portal to eternity" as one NYT reporter put it. Until this month, black holes were only theoretically known to exist because they were thought to be un-seeable.
Miracles are all about seeing the un-seeable. Sometimes it is as simple as seeing something more in the beauty that crosses our path - a flowering burst of spring, or a baby's smile, or our own ability to love. Other times, it's not so simple as there is no evidence of what lies behind or beyond; there is no tangible evidence at all. A leap of faith is required after hearing a story or experiencing our own odd coincidence. In pursuit of the black hole's cameo, a telescope the size of earth was assembled to find it. In finding the miracle, we puny humans have a wing and a prayer and a feeling. But many of us know it's there to be found.
For the better part of a century, modern physics has proven that uncertainty is an integral part of the physical world and that as observers you and I can alter what might have been. I've always had a particular affinity for finding science, especially physics, a breeding ground for miracles and I have to say this visual evidence of Constellation Virgo called M87 where the black hole lives, beats all. Maybe other dimensions and eternities live inside black holes. We don't know and have no way of knowing at present. Anything is possible. And, the possibility of miracles lives inside the ambiguity built into the universe; miracles are the part where the light escapes. (Katie)