Category Archives: Nature

100 Morning Walks

The Challenge

I took on a challenge a bit more than 60 days ago to go for 100 consecutive morning walks, and to post a picture from each one on my social media accounts facebook and Instagram. Initially the purpose of this challenge for me was to dip my toes into being more consistently visible in the online world, the introvert’s nightmare! I wanted to become more comfortable there, so that I could begin to be able to connect with, and hopefully help, more than just the few local folks who can come in for appointments.

Interestingly, and gratifyingly, it has grown into much more. What I notice happening is that it isn’t just the walking that has grown into a true “practice,” but the noticing has too. I would say that my intention and ability to see, to be aware, and to find some pleasure in the seeing and awareness, have grown exponentially over the past two months.

I’m not sure that I was aware of my need to find pleasure when I started,

but I can tell you, that to do anything every single day for that long (with more than a month yet to go) it’s absolutely vital to be genuinely interested in it!

It hasn’t been completely delightful every day. Some days it’s been cold and wet and I’ve been grumpy and tired, so “pleasure” wasn’t really part of the story. But even those days, there was something happening, or something to see, or focus on through the camera lens, that engaged me, and pulled me out from underneath my dripping hood.

I recently co-hosted a webinar with Jann Dodd, PhD, a psychologist from Houston, Texas, on the subject of Positive Psychology. Her community is still pulling itself back together after Hurricane Harvey, and before we talked, I wondered if it was a bit of a stretch that she could so wholeheartedly be coming from a place of positivity.

One of the things she really brought home to me during the webinar was that the real definition of “happiness” in the research and science of Positive Psychology, is NOT rainbows and fluffy kitten unicorns, but a combination of three factors.

Pleasure, Engagement and Meaning

Pleasure is the one we usually think of, and it’s certainly part of happiness, but only one facet. The other two, and far more predictive of a “happy” life, are engagement and meaning.

To consider ourselves happy, in other words, research has found that people need to be actively interested and engaged with life around them – friends, family, hobbies – whatever it is that keeps us attentive and involved. And that we need to be using our skills, strengths, and character for something that has meaning to us. Often that means a larger purpose. It doesn’t have to mean an earth-shattering Nobel Prize winning purpose, just something that has greater meaning to us, like giving our customer great service and a smile, to make their day better. Pleasure is part of the recipe too: we need to know how to feel it, but it needn’t be present in huge quantities or all the time, for us to live happy lives.

When I started it, I had no idea that my #100MorningWalks had anything to do with happiness – with pleasure or engagement or meaning. Yet two months into the process, I had the wonderful synchronistic experience of learning that what I was doing was something perfectly calculated to increase my happiness! Having a solid practice in place (my public promise to show up every day!) has given me engagement, meaning, and enough pleasure to make it a reasonable gamble to keep going outside for that walk every day.

I will keep you posted, but I think it’s working.

Even with the downpour, and even though I absolutely reserve the right to be cranky once in a while, I do feel lighter.

For those of you who have joined me visibly in the #100MorningWalks posts, thanks for the company! And I sincerely hope that it has begun to work its magic in you. If you haven’t tried it, you might find it “enlightening!”

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The Geology of My Spirit

Have you ever felt like certain landscapes nourished your spirit?

Sixteen years ago I took a road trip all by myself for about six weeks. Sometimes it still feels like yesterday. During that trip I spent about two weeks exploring a string of National Parks in Southern Utah from Arches near Moab through Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion, and some of the surrounding country. I was immersed in a landscape of otherworldly rock formations and a warm red colour palette completely foreign to the “50 shades of green” of the Pacific Northwest that I was accustomed to.

Somewhere in my spirit there was a desert rat just waiting to run free.                                                                                         

I listened with awe to Park Ranger lectures on desert plants, animals, and the history of the original human inhabitants of those lands. I went on that trip during a time of personal distress, when I felt worn out, lost and not at home in my own life. My spirit felt as dry as sandstone. I hoped to find myself again by getting a little lost out in the world. Coyotes, lizards, eagles, ravens, and a surprisingly beautiful tarantula let me see what belonging looks like to them. The tang of juniper and the burnt caramel scent of Ponderosa pines, and the prickling dry heat of the sun drying my skin after swimming in a cold river brought my spirit back home to my own body and senses.

Who knew my biggest learning would be from a Ranger talking about rocks?

I don’t honestly remember which park I was at for that lecture – but the impact has remained. The words themselves, “sedimentation, lithification, uplift, erosion,” still echo in my spirit like a drum, a poem, a call. The cyclical process of growing and forming, then being undone in some way, to reform in a new shape, is so universal that even rocks go through it. You could think of this as just psychology, but for me it touches on something essential enough that I choose to call it spirituality.

These incredible canyons, cliffs, and stone arches were formed when mud, sand, stone, and gravel were eroded from other mountains, swept downstream, and deposited in new layers (sedimentation.) Over time, with the pressure of its own weight, and with the help of minerals in the water, those materials became stone again (lithification.) More time passed, and forces from deep within the earth forced the layers upward (uplift.) And the cycle begins again as wind and water cut through the rock, eroding it and exposing the layers to view (erosion.)

All at once I could see myself at every place in that picture.

At that time I felt scraped thin, with all my layers, good and bad, exposed. I think that’s how it is for most of us at one time or another. Wherever we land in life, we build up layers of what works: thoughts, beliefs, habits – all the stuff that we end up thinking is “us.” We can turn into a kind of stone: brittle, unbending.

 Sooner or later though, a bigger force comes along, like a change or a loss, or even just the passing of time. But it acts on us like an earthquake, to shake us up. Maybe it lifts us up, maybe cracks us open. Then all those layers of habits and old beliefs, all the things good and bad that make us tick, are out there for everyone to see. We’ve been trying to bring the skills and the story of who we were before, along with us as we grow up or change circumstances, and it just doesn’t work. Hopefully seeing leads to learning, maybe a little loosening, but for sure it leads to change.

 And so we’re swept down another river again, until we can settle again into stillness and a new shape, until that no longer serves us, and we get to ride the whole process again.

Want to see the actual geology? Check out this site: https://www.nps.gov/zion/learn/nature/geology.htm

 

 

 

A Threshold Time

What is a threshold?

The first definition that comes to mind is a doorway or entrance – a line or step you cross over to move into another space. Fall is a threshold season. It lies between summer and winter. Halloween, or the Celtic Samhain, is a threshold day, roughly halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice, marking the end of harvest activities and the beginning of a fallow time of rest. Some believe it is a thin place in time too, when the threshold between the visible and invisible worlds is easily crossed. Another definition of threshold is the amount or magnitude of something that is required for something new to happen, such as the temperature water must reach to turn to steam, or the amount of money you must earn to move into a different tax bracket, or the  knowledge you must attain to move to another grade in school. You  might want to think of both senses of the word when you think about what threshold you are crossing (or what state you are moving into) this coming winter.

 Honouring the past, crossing the threshold

One of the issues that I frequently work with clients on is how to honour and cope with transition. In traditional societies, human beings were supported through changes by many different rituals marking various threshold times, such as puberty, marriage, and death. In most rituals you will find a dynamic of “Yes – No – Yes.” We say the first “yes” by celebrating what was true or of value in the past phase, and then we say “no,” where we turn away from the past and say, “I’m ready to be done with that time of my life.” We then turn towards something new – that’s our second “yes.”  Here is a “yes – no – yes” art exercise I’ve given myself this fall to help me embrace this particular threshold season. It’s as much (or more) about the process than about putting it together into a finished piece, so feel free to omit the last step if you like!

Autumn into Winter: A Threshold Project

Materials:

Magazines, scraps of coloured paper, beads, feathers, or other natural and found items, glue, scissors, poster board or a shoe box or other box with lid.

 The first “Yes” The harvest

Sort through your materials. Choose a whole bunch of images and pieces to reflect your life over the last three months or so. Include everything, good and bad, that you can think of.

The “No” The garden clean up                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Sort through your collection from the first step. What images, or parts of the images you chose, could be trimmed down or cut out? Metaphorically speaking, is there anything that needs to be put in the burn pile? Can some of it be composted, or used as mulch to cover the tender earth through the winter? Put these images and pieces aside for now. We’ll call this the compost pile.

The second “Yes” – Embracing the fallow season

Take another look through the pile again. This time you’ll be looking for images or parts of images that feel new, tender, or in need of protection from the winter ahead. Is there any growth in your life that is still quite young and fragile? New thoughts, plans, or ideas on the horizon that you are ready to to turn towards? You can set these elements aside in their own pile too. These are the things in your life that can use the winter season as a time to rest and gather strength. They will benefit from being quietly nurtured until the next growing season. This is the tender new growth pile.

Putting it all together

You will now have three different groups of images now: a compost pile, a tender new growth pile, and what’s left is a pile of elements that are full grown and can be celebrated. You could stop here and journal about the process, or you might already have an inspiration for how you want to work them all into a collage on the poster board. If not, here’s an idea to try using a box:

Using a shoe box or other lidded box, glue the “compost pile” elements to the outside of the box (not including the lid). You might want to creatively cut or tear these images up, since you don’t necessarily want to see them anymore. These elements will act as mulch to protect the inside of the box.

Glue the items in your “tender new growth” pile to the inside of the box. These elements need to be protected through the cold months, nurtured beneath the soil.

Finally, those images that portray the elements from the past season that you want to celebrate can be glued onto the lid of the box. These parts of your life can weather the winter out in the open, and can give you a lift or boost your confidence whenever you need it.

As always, writing about your experience and any insights you get while working (playing!) this way can deepen the benefits of the project. I’d love to hear what you think of it! Enjoy the harvest!

 

Listening to nature; Listening to myself

Moving through nature, transitioning with nature

As some of you know, I make an effort to go on some kind of retreat annually. My preference is for that to include at least some time when I can be alone with myself, out in nature, in addition to time for intensive learning. This year (and last year too, actually) I found myself in Central Oregon, in the “high desert” region near Bend. I drove down there this time, and the experience of moving through several different types of forest, of climate, and geology was profound, especially during fall – itself a transitional season, moving from the light and warmth of summer to the cold and dark of winter.

From darkness into light…

I navigated Highway 101 from Port Angeles down to Olympia, Washington in the dark and nearly in the rain. My shoulders stood perpetually on guard, around the altitude of my ears, and I questioned my judgement many times as I squinted against the bright lights of oncoming cars and the constant, unfamiliar curves in the road. On the other hand, at that hour there was little traffic behind me wanting to go faster than I was comfortable with – a small but important blessing!

After a short and poor sleep at a cheap and noisy motel, and a lot of urban sprawl past Portland, my mood matched the sky as I finally entered the Mount Hood National Forest in Oregon. It was grey with rain-heavy clouds, and the scent of smoke from wildfires was strong. I knew the mountain was there – in fact the map told me I was driving right on the southern slope of it – but my senses didn’t reflect that reality at all. Where was the nature I was so desperately seeking? Where was the view I expected? Was I stuck with a narrow view of dripping aspens (still green, no interesting fall colour yet) and mind-numbing asphalt? Where were the poetic vistas I remembered from my last trip this way?

How many times do we not see the change until it’s already happened?

Suddenly, Highway 26 dropped out of the clouds and I found myself driving along widening canyons more tan and red than green and wet. The sky seemed to lift up and it was as if the rainy morning had never been. The road was the same, the curves were as scary, and yet … now it felt like the road would get me somewhere, the curves revealed a new potential photograph every second. And there were my beloved rock formations, undulating along the roadside where only seconds earlier I had seen nothing worth noting.

It prompted me to wonder, “What changes might be happening underneath the surface, underneath my current mood or mindstate? What is acting as cloud-cover in my life right now?” Luckily for me, the very next day I got to take these questions into my Anamcara training community* and the three-day study retreat that brought me to Oregon. It’s so valuable to me to have a place (and people) who can help me to ask this kind of question in a spirit of mindful curiosity rather than judgement. It’s good to be accompanied and held while we look into the depths.

The metaphor of landscape – nature as mirror

It’s useful to ask myself sometimes, “What’s my inner landscape like today?” I can ask this question from the comfort of my desk or my bed. Sometimes the picture is dramatic: cliffs and canyons, or wild rivers. Sometimes it’s a more placid or domestic scene with meadow or lawn.

When I travel into a specific landscape, like the uniqueness of the high desert, I like to turn the question around a little. “How am I like this landscape? Where is my life dry? What is hardy or tough in me, growing despite the climate, like these junipers? Where am I like the Ponderosa pines, who thrive after forest fires? What makes up my layers, like these layers of rock that have weathered and become exposed over time? Where am I surprised by nourishment, like I was by that river at the bottom of a dry canyon?”

My hope is that these questions will bear fruit in both my work and home life. I would like to reflect some of the peace, strength, and power that I find in the desert. I would like to recognize and nurture the vulnerability in myself and others that is reflected in a landscape where it can take one hundred years to grow a layer of lichen, and where the layers built up over aeons can be suddenly upended by an earthquake, and then eroded again over more aeons back into sand.

 If you feel drawn to working on some of these deeper questions yourself, in an atmosphere of acceptance and creative exploration, I’d like to invite you to contact me for a conversation. You can contact me by e-mail here: openhearthstudio.com  or phone me at 250-595-0405. I am pleased to support people in person at my studio in Victoria BC, Canada, as well as by video conference call for those who live elsewhere.

*The Anamcara Project is a program of The Sacred Art of Living Center in Bend, Oregon. I am in my second year of apprenticeship.  https://sacredartofliving.org/