Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Treasure at Barnes & Noble

One of my favorite activities is going to B&N, grabbing a book off the new book shelf, and settling down in the cafe with a chai (officially banned by my doctors due to heart palpitations, the tall size seems to keep me under the caffeine limit that sends me to the ER). Today I found Traveling with Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd (Secret Life of Bees) and her daughter Ann. It is the story of their journey together to Greece, with Sue approaching 50 and menopause and Ann wondering what to do with her life after college. They are both journeying within and without, and the wonder of the book is the revealing of that which is typically not seen and not spoken. It is an intimate portrait of two lives, at different stages, going through similar processes as they search for wholeness. It makes me wonder at the universality of the quest for wholeness. What is it that impels us to reach beyond? Where does the small voice that says "um, something is not working here" come from?

In my own life, as well as my budding coaching practice, I am seeing instances of people who have outwardly very secure lives, who are in the process of throwing it all over because there is something that simply cannot be tolerated anymore. What magnificent and terrifying power that small voice has, that can cause us to leave jobs and relationships, that sometimes makes us willing to walk through hell in order that we can come to a point of greater alignment... perhaps the need is simply to be able to rest more comfortably in ourselves.

While Traveling with Pomegranates would seem to be a book for women, for mothers and daughters, I suspect that on some level the search for wholeness presented here will resonate with anyone paying attention to their journey.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Communing with Copperheads

It was a dark and stormy night at camp in the summer of 1972. Rains from Hurricane Agnes had pounded the camp for days. Making one last visit to the bathroom before going to bed, I darted into the washhouse and occupied an empty stall. As no one else was in the building (they all had better sense than to be out in the rain), I left the door to the stall open. That's why I noticed the coiled copperhead resting just inside the entrance to the building. Recognizing that even snakes were seeking dry ground, I contemplated this state of affairs for quite a while, since in order to exit the building I would have to pass perilously close to the snake. Finally, I decided that the wisest course of action was to sing, and lull the snake into a sonambulant state. Tender Shepherd, Peace I Ask of Thee O River, Day is Done, all poured forth in the calmest tones I could muster. And indeed, I slipped passed the snake with no problem.

Returning to the cabin I mentioned, in an off-handed manner, "oh, by the way, there's a copperhead in the washroom." Well, that stirred some souls to action: "We have to go get Fred!" In retrospect, this may have been an appropriate - even a sound - decision. However, at the time I thought "Oh, no, they are going to kill the snake, and the snake is my friend, I just shared a moment with the snake. What have I done? I can't let them kill the snake." So we all donned our slickers, pulled on our boots, grabbed flashlights, and ventured out into the downpour. Cheryl went to get Fred while I stood guard over the snake, prepared to beat Fred off should he make any belligerent motions toward the snake. Fred arrived with a stick that had the appearance of a plunger handle. Fortunately, death was not an option that night, as copperheads are a protected species. Instead, handling the stick with great delicacy, Fred maneuvered the snake onto its tip, and we formed a procession through the torrential downpour to the Nature lodge, with Fred holding the snake aloft like a torch. (What do you imagine the snake was thinking?) The copperhead was deposited safely into an aquarium, and provided fodder for dramatic story-telling the first week of camp, before it was returned to the forest.

Since then, I have been known to sit and meditate with a two-foot long copperhead sun-bathing on a hiking trail. Communing with nature’s creatures, noticing where and how the live, is a source of curiosity and comfort to me. I like being reminded that humans are not the only ones occupying the planet, and enjoy getting to know all the birds, and animals, and reptiles that live in my neighborhood.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Friends of the long trail

"What is the tie that binds us together, friends of the long, long trail? Just this... we have shared the weather, we have slumbered side by side, and friends who have camped together shall never again divide." Anyone who has spent a summer at camp knows just what that means.

Today I spoke with my friend Ann, remembering our days at Camp Mawavi, a Camp Fire Girl camp in Virginia. Our first year there was 1972. Hurricane Agnes swept up the East Coast during staff training week, drenching us with unceasing rain. We woke to sunshine the last day of training, only to discover that during the night the water in the lake had risen so high it picked up everything that wasn't tied down on the waterfront and carried it over the dam. Life jackets dangled from tree limbs 20 feet high. Poles, buoys, paddles, 55 gallon drums, all were tossed around below the dam like so much debris. The magnificent and awesome power of water was there for all to see.

There was some concern that the dam might break, which would wipe out the waterfront for the summer (it didn't). Now in the summer in Virginia, swimming is a really important program activity, and the campers were due to arrive the very next day. What did we do? We took a deep breath, laughed, and went on with the business of cleaning up and preparing to give the girls the time of their lives. We told stories, of the copperhead in the washroom, of the pterodactyl-like blue heron skimming over the surface of the water, of trees littered with life vests. And we came together as friends and comrades, who delighted in the adventure and the challenge of Hurricane Agnes.

I have worked in many camps, but Mawavi staff are the ones I carry in my heart. Decades might go by without a conversation... but when we do connect, it is as though we have never been apart. What a blessing. Where in your life have you found friends like this?

Stay tuned for the story of the copperhead in the washroom (it was a dark and stormy night...)

Monday, September 13, 2010

9/11 Retrospective

I'm remembering the red squirrel that touched by heart on 9/11...

Yesterday morning, as planes were being boarded, as they taxied, took off and headed for their final destinations, I was walking in the woods with my cat Scamper. When we entered the woods a barrage of nuts came cascading down from a big shagbark hickory. Glancing up I saw a flicker of color and movement, and realized after a moment that there was a red squirrel in the tree top, scurrying from branch to branch, plucking nuts and sending them plummeting to the ground by the fistful. I watched this in amazement! I had seen this squirrel in the previous days gathering the nuts from the ground and carrying them in its mouth to wherever home is. But even though I have walked this path 2 or 3 times a day for 10 years, I had never seen any squirrel rattling through the treetops, chucking nuts over its shoulder as it went!

The remainder of my walk was spent in quiet and joyful contemplation of the delight of living in a world where a little red squirrel was busy harvesting hickory nuts and generally creating a racket. It was such a smart and efficient thing for that squirrel to do, and felt so homey and cozy and snug that I was simply thrilled to be alive, and honored to have been a witness to the wonder of each being going about its daily chores, preparing for the future and storing up supplies. It satisfied my soul.

When I remember September 11, 2001, I will hold this memory of a red squirrel gathering nuts as the most sacred part of my day. As we all lived through the horror of yesterday and face the unknown of our future it might be easy to hold pain, anger, fear, or feelings of vengeance in our hearts. For my part, I choose to honor and cherish my first experiences of the day, which filled me with gratitude and contentment, a wonder for the many interconnected lives that are being lived on this planet, and a respect for the importance of going about our daily tasks with just a sprinkle of joyful abandon. We all need to take care of ourselves and lay in a good crop of soul food to sustain us.

My prayers include (still) my little red squirrel.