We have snow and every day a new morning.
We have trees and rain, hope and tears.
We have humus and oxygen, animals and all the colors.
We have distant lands and bicycles.
We have sun and shadow.
…I discovered this quote in a precious little book of Friedensreich Hundertwasser’s artwork and writing. It took my breath away.
It was handed to me by Harriet Segal, the gifted artist who just installed “Taproot”, a stained glass piece commissioned for our foyer.
Harriet is 100% artist- she dresses, moves and communicates full-body creative expression.
So much so, she didn’t want her photo taken-
I don’t think she knows how to pose.
After installing this amazing piece of art in our foyer, she needed a smoke in her van.
When she returned, clutched in her hand was a tiny, well-worn treasure… a collection of paintings and writings by the artist that has influenced her art the most.
Oh, I can understand why. Flipping through it, I was deeply moved by the way Hundertwasser sees the world.
The book is propped on my desk. She insisted I keep it awhile.
“Art should be something very great, something religious and infinitely beautiful.
Art should be a place where you can pray, where you receive intense spiritual help, a kingdom of peace.
Art should help you to find the way you have lost.
Art must be precious.”
This vibrant, imaginative masterpiece is precious.
As is all the artwork in our home.
An act of courage and honesty- I stand in awe of these gifts of human self-expression.
What more could anyone hope for to greet them when opening the front door?
I can feel the energy and creative flow still pouring from the “Taproot” piece… even after the artist has released it to us.
Whatever exchange happens between artist and art… it doesn’t stop just because of an arbitrary deadline.
Harriet said she had been up since 2 a.m. finishing the last touches.
I can only imagine how it felt for her to install it and then leave it behind.
Like a birth… the hard work now behind her, sending it into the world to do its work.
Over the last four months Harriet, Tim and I met and then exchanged emails to share thoughts, feelings, and visions about this something that might somehow capture the vitality and magic of this place.
Of course the artist’s interpretation is her own, but looking at it, I recognize:
the water table (the source) at the bottom; and the plant pushing its way upward through it all (it can’t help itself :-); the grounded mountains at the bottom and the top; the sun/energy at the center of it all; the breathtaking ribbons of color/sky all through it; four seasons represented in textured clear glass- leaves, blossoms, raindrops…; and the many little treasures embedded in hand-rolled glass- surprises revealed if you slow down long enough to look closely. It is Taproot no doubt.
At the end of this first real warm day of spring, I found myself in the garden.
And as the sunset splattered red stripes above the western mountaintops, I looked toward the house when Tim flipped on the hall light – flooding the stained glass window from the inside out.
I couldn’t help but smile and take in the moment … green shoots bursting through chocolate brown soil, plump buds opening into apple blossoms and Harriet’s work illuminated.
Oh, to be in the presence of full expression!
In the garden, in the art studio… whereever the glory of LIFE pushes itself out from the inside.
There is no stopping it.
One can only pause and celebrate.
“Everything is here on earth to be happy.
We are rich”
and “Art is precious”!
Thank you Harriet.
Thank you Friedensreich.
Thank you Taproot Farm.
The Perigree moon called me last night.
As her magnificence rose over eastern treetops, I gathered a blanket and some hot tea …
hoping to curl up a bit in the spot where Querencia, my earthen artist cottage, will soon be born.
The light was surreal. Like a room filled with burning candles- holding the intensity of darkness and light at the same time.
I don’t know how long I sat there.
I watched her move across the sky until she perched over our thinking rock on the hill.
It is amazing what you can see in full moonlight, once your eyes adjust and your mind quiets.
I could make out the restlessness of birds in treetops, peace in the sillouettes of contented lambs, new life at the base of dry, brown fields.
I could feel the grace of a day and night in perfect balance, neither one longer or brighter than the other.
Perhaps it was gratitude. Perhaps the clarity of a night illuminated.
But something made me remember a journal entry I wrote years ago. When I was beginning to realize how much of my spirit had been locked away over time… in the name of “maturity”, social convention, and convenience.
I remember that transformative time in mid-life , when I began questioning what parts of my persona no longer served my health and true happiness. Remembering what I had known as a child- that one must kick up some dust and spill some paint in order to express this life within us fully… even if it makes others uncomfortable.
It both breaks and lifts my heart to read it again.
I’d like to share it because I imagine it speaks for many of us….
tromping in swampy fields planting cider apple trees, propped on the ground against the lamb barn scratching their chins, biting into a dusty carrot straight from the garden… covered in mud, hair in my eyes, smile on my face.
Tomorrow I head off for a 4-day, silent, women’s retreat in New Windsor, Maryland.
My packing list is short: comfortable stretchy pants and tops, warm sweater, socks, shawl, and meditation cushion. No makeup, no cell phone, no reading, no gadgets.
When we arrive, we’ll check in, find our shared room, plop our cushions in the meditation hall and have a delicious vegetarian meal. There will be lots of chatter and energy as 85 women from all over the country come together in this place with a common intention.
I love thinking of the day before a retreat… in different towns, life situations, personal stages… all of us “strangers” are preparing ourselves to arrive.
It is no small thing when so many people travel long distances to gather for a common purpose. For peace.
Something powerful is created by that simple act- something palpable. Because we know it is not at all simple to devote a weekend to “filling your own well”. Because the lives we live have become so complicated.
So, when I am sitting there among those sojourners, I feel like our gathering matters. Not just to my own well-being… but to a larger healing. Somehow you can feel the ripples leaving the room…
At 8 pm that first night, we will settle into the meditation hall to hear a wise teaching, adharma talk- practical and profound guidance about how to “pause”, “arrive”, “allow”, and “stay” with what is HERE, right here, in this body, in this room, in this life we bring with us.
The teachings this weekend will be gentle and forgiving. They will need to be. Because only human beings sign up for these retreats 🙂 We are women bringing with us busy, noisy minds and baggage full of normal, human life issues. No saints ever show up to these things, as far as I’ve noticed.
By the time we leave the meditation hall, we will be in silence. It will not be broken until Sunday afternoon when we gather for the closing. (sometimes there are small group gatherings with the teachers to ask questions and share issues coming up for us in practice).
Yep. All weekend… and it is divine.
When I first started attending silent retreats, my friends laughed. They just couldn’t believe I could last an hour, much less a weekend or week, without talking. I admit I thought the same thing.
But then I experienced it… and was changed.
I was simply shocked at how effortless it was to close my mouth and operate from another voice.
To follow a thought deeper and deeper into wisdom- without interruption.
And, of course, it is much easier and delicious when you share space with other souls moving about, eating, and sitting in silence.
It is a rare gift to be encouraged to hear the birds or taste the soup. To really pay attention to sensations in your body. To awaken the other senses that get drowned out by talking and rushing around all day… like touch, or smell. (have you ever really smelled the layers of jasmine tea as you sip it?)
The weekend is structured around set blocks of sitting and walking meditation, meals and dharma talks. The schedule is posted everywhere and bells let you know the end of one and beginning of another period. No one needs a watch, phone, day planner. No one cares if you keep walking and miss a sit. No one is watching. No one is judging. Our focus is inward and sensory. It is okay not to smile or make eye contact when you pass another- the pressure of social convention and those “shoulds” that control us are left at the door.
It takes time to quiet the mind and wake up in the body. There is so much unlearning to do. There is so much control to relinquish.
Each day, sometimes each hour, you can feel your body soften a bit more. By the third night the meditation hall is enveloped in a sweet, thick quiet… feels natural, not so “practiced”. The connection between me and the women beside me has grown… although we have not uttered a word to each other. It is magical. It is profound.
Sitting here anticipating the weekend ahead, I am having a strong body memory of how snow days felt when I was a child or young, busy mother.
They were a gift. Permission to let go. Unannounced. Unplanned.
Snow days always felt like a warm bath.
Unlike a vacation- which can kick a busy mind into overdrive; planning, packing, worrying, anticipating- snow days take it all “down a notch”.
Snowdays force you to let go of control- roads are blocked, schools are closed- can’t go shopping, can’t carpool, no homework assigned today. You eat what is there, enjoy who you are with, and feel the relief that you can’t change things.
Ahhh, yes, it is a relief sometimes to be powerless.
Snowdays whisper, “so, what do you really want to do right now?” The answer from inside might be, “I want to stay in my jammies, eat oatmeal, and start a good book!” or ” I just want to sit on the floor and play a board game with my kids… and listen, and laugh.”
The voice inside knows, “I just want to be Here, right Now”.
And surrounded by a white frozen world outside, you get to do just that.
I loved who I was with my kids on snowdays- playful, spontaneous, relaxed.
On those blustery, family “retreat” days, the carpet felt softer, the hot chocolate tasted chocolat-ier, and the world seemed at peace.
Snow days seem to awaken the senses and make the ordinary feel fresher somehow.
I think my retreat weekends are just like that… except I put these “snow days” on the calendar.
I am so thankful for a meditation practice that teaches me not only to allow “what is” to be what it is, but also to smell it and taste it and sit down on the floor to play with it.
And I am thankful for a community of fellow seekers who courageously stop their busy lives, if even just for a weekend, to create our own snow days. To release the “shoulds”, put down the planner, and ask our hearts “what do you really want in this moment.. and this one?”
I am looking forward to letting it all go… into this weekend.
I guess I need to pack my snow boots.
There is now a makeshift bulletin board hanging on the wall across from me.
Huge foam-core boards are dripping with post-it notes, inspiring images and architectural drawings of Querencia- my soon-to-be artist cottage.
It is big and messy and changing shape daily, but the vision remains pure. I will revisit it often as we get pulled into the busy execution of construction plans.
I think each creative project needs a compass, a true North.
This one started with the enticing question stapled at the top of the board-
It does not believe in limits. It begs creative solutions.
It grabs your hand and pulls you out of your comfort zone.
And it will not accept excuses!
“What if?” led me to Natural Building…. a healthier, more creative, people-friendly way to build.
When I first dreamed of a little artist cottage, I wondered what sort of building might provide the comfort and freedom and inspiration that creativity needs to blossom.
I imagined it would have lots of natural light and a “fluid” shape- not the typical right-angle boxes we are used to.
Inhabiting the building would be inspiring in and of itself.
I realized I was dreaming of a place that didn’t feel built at all- more sculpted and alive.
“What if“, I wondered, “you could create a little building that feels like it just sprouted from the earth”. It occurred to me that that is exactly what any creative work feels like- a gift of nature, something blossoming naturally from the seed you’ve planted.
Then I read about the book, The Hand-Sculpted House, by Ianto Evans, Michael Smith and Linda Smiley-
“A Cob Cottage might be the ultimate expression of ecological design, a structure so attuned to its surroundings that the authors refer to it as “an ecstatic house”. They build a house the way others create a natural garden, using the oldest, most available materials earth, clay, sand, straw, and water and blending them to redefine the future (and past) of building. Cob (the word comes from an Old English root, meaning “lump”) is a mixture of non-toxic, recyclable, and often free materials. Building with cob requires no forms, no cement, and no machinery of any kind. Builders sculpt their structures by hand.”
When I finished reading that book cover to cover, my perspective about shelter was changed forever. I’m hooked!
The first chapter- the “why”- is worth reading on its own… beautifully philosophical and clear-headed.
“Natural Building means paying attention to all the details of how the world really works”…and then building in harmony with Natural Laws. Amen to that!
There is no denying that in Nature:
-Nothing is ever created or destroyed: it merely changes form.
-Everything gradually falls apart.
-Everything is unique.
-There are no monocultures.
-Nature uses just as many resources as are necessary and no more.
So why do we insist on designing homes dictated by the straight 2″ X 4″ board or the 90-degree angle? Before the last nail of any new house is sunk, Nature has already begun warping the board and applying pressure at the weak corners- trying to restore it to its natural form: curved and stable.
Take a walk through the woods… there are no straight lines, there are no squares.
The rest of the book teaches how to cooperate with Nature in building structures that; age gracefully, capitalize on nature’s strongest shapes and materials, and look like they belong in their setting.
When you stand inside a natural building it FEELS good. It is true! People visibly relax, even sigh, when they enter a home made of mud or straw… because their body is saying “I’m at home here. It feels familiar. My oldest memories are of earth and green and sunlight”.
One of Ianto’s examples really stuck with me.
He compares a picture of a bird sitting in her bird-designed nest to a bird in a man-made birdhouse.
The first bird has built a structure that conforms warmly and comfortably to the shape of its body, intelligently slopes upward to contain it’s contents (eggs), and uses only the materials it needs for this purpose- no waste, less materials to gather. The square birdhouse has four empty corners- wasted space that draws heat and bedding away from the inhabitant. Wood, nails, glue and paint for the birdhouse required trips to the store and undoubtedly scraps were thrown in the trashcan.
I think this is a beautiful illustration of what natural building is all about.
We are animals. We like spaces that “fit” us. We are hard-wired to feel energized in clean, natural light. We feel safe leaning against backs that support and protect us while giving us a view “out” into the world (window seats, reading nooks near windows).
The authors provide example after example of shelters designed to feed our instincts, not our ego.
Tall ceilings, long halls, and massive foyers are designed to create a feeling of awe and powerlessness- they make sense in cathedrals and museums. But would you want to live in one?
What if we asked our bodies what kind of space makes us feel comfortable, safe, connected, creative…
What if we built it from the land it sits on…
What if we invited others to create it with us?
Stay tuned. I hope to do just that!
Natural Building helps us connect again to our local natural environment, to our own intuitive and innate creativity, and to each other. It helps us to shift from an industrial, and often toxic building process to one that is affordable, empowering, community-building and life-affirming. We are co-creating ~ learning to dance in balance with nature.
Learning to …”live ingeniously in a low-carbon world !”
-a quote by the Zero Footprint organization
This is my annual end-of-the-year invitation…
to choose a word, not a resolution.
I have been doing this in January for 5 years,
ever since I read Christine Kane’s blog called The Resolution Revolution.
It has changed me over and over.
Here’s the invitation:
Instead of making futile promises to “fix” something (like lose weight, or get out of debt)…
choose a WORD toward which to tilt your life.
Then let go… and see where it leads.
Be curious about it. Be sincere about your choice
and allow it to slowly, deeply change you…. for 12 months.
My first year I chose the word Truth. sigh.
I suppose the wise voice inside wanted me to cut through the bullshit- to help me peel things away and stare straight at, well, the truth about things. When I chose the word I had no idea where it would lead me. At the end of that year- through reading, journaling and exploring- I realize I had let go of a lot… a lot of “masks” I had been wearing, a lot of stories I was believing.
The word “truth” had led me fearlessly out of pretending… closer to authenticity.
Choosing a word sets an intention. That is all we need to understand.
It is not a verb. not an action. not something to add to the to-do list.
Instead, it is something to wonder about. It is best to choose a noun. Something with a life of its own. Something to lead you, not something to conquer.
And like a treasure, it is best to hold it lightly. gently. with reverence. with confidence.
The rest is an adventure. Just follow where it leads.
Other years, I chose the words; Transcendence, Love… and Blossom.
Last year it was Patience.
I am drawn to words that are mysteries to me. Ones I can not define yet. Concepts that intrigue me.. and often intimidate me.
I tend to be kinda serious. Philosophical.
You don’t have to be.
Just be sincere.
Many of my friends do this on New Year’s Day now.
Some of the powerful words I remember them choosing are :
ACTION COMMITMENT JOY Courage
TRUST Presence Ease HOME
I used to host a “Soup and Sisterhood” dinner each January.
Girlfriends would gather and reflect on the year they had spent with their word. Many were shocked at how their life had shifted because of this simple exercise. Some admitted they had forgotten about their word for long stretches only to find it had been subtly working its magic at a foundational level.
Our conversations were fascinating and inspiring. The whole thing felt so creative!
And as we blew out the candles, we would say farewell to the word that had kept us company for 12 months…
and offer up our new word for the year- a bit wide-eyed and curious about what it had in store for us.
I never know what my word will be.
Not until I sit in the quiet, candle lit, heart open… do I hear the whisper of it.
I am often surprised by what surfaces. Surprised, but never unsure.
When I recognize what my word of the year is… it’s as if it has risen from a solid place in the belly, not the head. It is a “gut” knowing. Held out… as an invitation.
I encourage you to try it this year.
You won’t regret it.
Christine Kane’s blog explains it further.
Happy New Year!
ps- I’d love to hear about the word you choose if you feel like sharing. We learn so much from each other 🙂
It is really happening.
A dream come true.
Today, I began searching in earnest for doors, windows, shelving and such for my own little cottage- one I plan to build with Tim’s support and many hands this spring and summer.
A shelter of my own.
Made of mud and straw bales. Adorned with colorful bottles and mosaic tiles.
A place for daydreams and solitude and meditation and creativity.
A place to share tea and intimate conversation and playful arts with others.
A mystery. A curiosity. A dream manifest.
I don’t know when the idea first surfaced in me.
Probably sometime as a young mother in the wee morning hours before anyone else in the house was awake. In that precious daydreaming time, listening to the longings of my own heartbeat… I imagined a place I could retreat to be still, to be silent, to be ME.
Or maybe this cottage image appeared in a meditation class years ago when the teacher led us in guided imagery to a spot where we felt safe, and free, and alive. With eye’s closed, I rounded the corner of a freshly mowed path and there lay the little house, door open as if smiling at me, beckoning me home.
Or perhaps it was on my physical therapist’s table as she teased my energy trying to relieve lower back pain. I colorfully described to her the stress-free place I’d go in my imagination… windows open, sounds of trickling water outside, smell of pine through the curtains- no phone, no tv, no clocks, no “to-do list”.
I remember her looking down at me, in all her Reiki wisdom, saying “Beth, the cottage you are describing is YOU. You realize that right? ”
I love that interpretation.
Hmmm… the place I retreated when life was too busy and my well was empty… was the real me. The ME with the unlocked front door, guitar propped in the corner, open paint bottles, candles flickering, lace curtains blowing gently in the clean breeze, fresh fruit piled high in a bowl.
A place of my own.
Children have always understand what it is to need a place of one’s own… cardboard appliance boxes, wooden forts, concrete culverts. I remember that giddy feeling of being just one step below the noise- slipping under the kitchen table, invisible to the hustle-bustle of adult feet and grown-up plans A place to be alone with one’s thoughts. A lookout from which to spy all the busyness of life without getting swept downstream or stepped on.
I think it is just hard-wired in us… to yank coats off hangers in the hall closet for a topsecret hideout or rake leaves in a pile to make a nest just our size. What child hasn’t tucked herself in a corner, low in the bushes, or high in a treehouse… to run free through the fields of her own imagination?
Well, that longing runs strong and clear in me. Always has.
During my busy mothering years I found getaways in cushy reading chairs, long walks and a little green room (“womb”) I carved out in the basement. It was there that I reconnected with my own voice through journaling and my own breathing in the quiet when babies napped.
I love my family. I love my new life in the country.
and I know I still need a little place of my own to keep my balance.
I am convinced we are both social and solitary animals.
We all crave the warm intimacy of family and friendships. And, I believe, we also hunger for the sweet whispers of a voice found only in deep stillness.
Solitude is a rarity these days with 24-7 stimulation and demanding “on call” technology.
And yet, it is only in solitude, alone with my own thoughts, that I discover truly original ideas or wise, non-reactive answers to life’s important questions.
So, when we bought this land by the river, Tim and I began dreaming of where to build a “not so big house” for ourselves, and then we looked around for where we might fashion little corners of our own. (As I type, Tim is adding insulation and shelves to his workshop- a man’s imagination palace!).
I am grateful everyday for my husband- the one who, on a cold March day before we had even poured the footings of our home, looked me lovingly in the eyes and said “and you need a cottage of your own too, don’t you?”
Yes, after 30 years of marriage, he not only understands my need for creative solitude, he protects it. As I do his.
My cottage, my Querencia, will be across the stream, over a swinging bridge, through a curvy mowed path. With woodlands protecting her back, she’ll face the south sun and fields of wildflowers. It is still just a dream, slowly taking shape on paper. But if I close my eyes I can feel it in my body… as if itwere my body.
I found this photo of a little sitting nook in an earthen house. It embodies the warm, nestled, whimsical feeling I want in my cottage. I will keep it with me as a compass… while I sketch, collect salvaged materials, and sculpt her round, earthen walls.
Everyone should have a place of their own.
The child inside is eager to remind us how.
It seems stronger as the days shorten.
I love it. I am at home here writing and pondering until my knees cramp and shade abandons me.
back to Nature’s time.