April 25, 2010: Tending

I have been on my knees a lot lately.

Kneading soil between my fingers like a baker… breaking up the clay chunks, blending them thoroughly with chocolate-rich compost and sugary-light sand.
I even catch myself sniffing it.  mmmm…healthy soil smells like morning in the heart of a forest.
Countless hours and hours of turning and digging.
Preparing these beds like I would for a house guest.
I’m anticipating the needs of tiny white roots pushing out from the seedlings under our grow lights.
I don’t remember ever spending so much time close to the ground.
Foundation work.
Building a garden from the ground up.
I’ve learned the hard way that there is no quick fix down the road, if the soil is poor.
Since  gardening doesn’t seem to take up all parts of the brain at once, mine loves to wander and ponder while my hands are in the dirt.
              Lately, I’ve been pondering this idea of TENDING…
                           tending one’s garden, one’s relationships, one’s health, one’s life.
Tending, I used to think, was for old ladies with lots of time on their hands.
Watching elderly neighbors fuss over their roses or talk to their cat as they fed it…. I admit I probably thought that was all they had to do with their day.
Tending was slow. Tending was repetitive. Tending was not for me, a busy young mother making her mark in the world. I had places to go, children to deliver, items to check off the list.
I was DOING things… and tending, I guess, looked like just fiddling.
But, I remember a particular day when I was in my busy, “doing” early forties.
It stands out so clearly in my mind, as any watershed moment does.
I was a typical mom- three active/scheduled kids, a young non-profit I had founded, marriage, house and garden, community obligations, etc..
After another long day of pushing myself “out there” in the world, I pulled up to the side of our house. And for some reason, probably a wave of fatigue… or grace…  I looked up and “saw” my garden in a new light.
Wilting brown leaves, struggling roots imprisoned in rock hard soil, stunted flowers crowded with mats of roots.  It certainly didn’t look like the vibrant photos on the nursery tags shoved in beside each plant.
How did it become so, so abandoned?
Hadn’t I had a vision when I bought all those colorful plants? Didn’t I think that adding more and more color would do the trick? Sure, I plopped them in the ground, but I meant to water them regularly. Meant to trim them.  
One day, I told myself…. when I slowed down, when I had time. One day I was going to get out there.
But all the while I was busy planting more gardens in the world- beautiful non-profits and commitments and promises.
Something about that scene, one I had hurried past so many times, broke my heart that day. Sudden tears caught me by surprise.
An untended garden.
          An untended life.
I don’t know why on that day I looked up in the way I did.
I believe our hearts get our attention anyway they need to.
Passing out from lower back pain months earlier or missing dinners with my family because of working late hadn’t done it.
But that sad, neglected garden on that ordinary day did.
It was asking me when I was going to get down on my knees and tend its roots.
My tears whispered that my family and my health were asking me the same question.
I believe tears are like bread crumbs.  If we listen and follow them back to their source, they’ll take us home.
That was 7 years ago when I started my long, winding journey “back to the garden”.
Through writing and meditation I am learning, in the stillness, to listen to what aches for my attention.
By returning to the land, I am reconnecting with what I already know… the smell of healthy soil, the sound of my own voice, the rhythm of the timeless.
Through the presence of tending, I am listening deeply to the dreams of my amazing children and noticing the sweet compassion in my husband’s daily chores.
Together, with the garden as our teacher, he and I are building a healthy farm for ourselves and others.       A place close to the ground.
 Sigh…
I am learning to be a Tender

        down on my knees,
           one shovel full at a time.

I hope I am becoming one of those gray-haired ladies.

        The ones with the healthiest roses.

March 28, 2010: The Return of the Wood Ducks…

A week or so ago, as the remnants of a long, frozen winter were finally melting, Tim tromped excitedly up the hill from the river with a  little boy look on his face, “The Wood Ducks are back!”

We smiled… and shared a still, unspoken moment.
At the top of that ridge somehow it hit both of us similarly- a sense of completion, of full cycle, of belonging to a place in which there was a “returning”.
I think it was there and then that something shifted permanently for us-
a feeling that we are now Home, in the truest sense of the word.

What was it that rose so deep in him at the sighting of those beautiful birds?
…the same ducks that we had studied through binoculars last year in the glass cafe of our new home?
Why is it so powerful to witness the familiar return?

Perhaps it is the deep, sweet feeling of everything being right with the world.
and a relief, at some level, that it is flowing regardless…
a permission to let go of the need to control it…
an invitation to “come home” to the cycles of life, instead of pushing so hard to steer them.
And perhaps it is the gratitude of being in a place where something so magnificent is actually familiar.

For us, a family who has experienced 18 months of uprooting, I know our hearts were waiting for this.
Through all the packing, “leaving the nest:”, releasing, relocating, unpacking- the existential Big questions related to Home have been an underlying  theme- “What is home?” and “How do you know when you are there?”.
Less about brick and mortar, more wondering about truly belonging in this world, in this changing life…

Sigh.
Hearing of the returning wood ducks brought up a body memory of being 4 or 5 years old standing at the shore break at Bethany, letting the waves lap against my shins- fearless, safe- sensing the weight of my body sink another inch deeper in the sand with each ebb and flow.
The more the ocean returned and retreated, the deeper I was rooted.
The more that huge, wild, water world came and went, the more solid my footing.
Even as a child, I learned in my bones, with wet sand between my toes, that the leaving and returning were part of my safety. Something to celebrate. Something to lean against.

I look out the window- eleven bluebirds are perched in the low bushes outside right now.  I remember them from late March last year, flocks and flocks of them sprinkled in the woodland. They came through about the time those little white wildflowers appeared …
and, yes, come to think of it, I nearly stepped on a few blossoms yesterday on my way to the compost pile!
So, does that mean I can expect wild violets in the far field next? 🙂
Oh, and the iridescent green Swallows were checking out the birdhouse last week… just like last April.

We are no longer visitors.
And, I see, we never are… as long as we stay intimately in tune with the ebbing and flowing of this world we inhabit.
The tiny flowers, the traveling ducks, the dropping needles, the fruiting trees…
reminders that we are all part of the home to which they return.
The home. Our home.
Home.

So, I wonder,
how does it feel to you to be part of the “returnings”?

What is it in your life that reminds you that all is right… that the wheel is turning as it is designed to?
The daffodils in your front yard? The cherry blossoms along the road? The sound of birds again in the morning or  the heat of the sun on your skin at lunchtime?
Is it the new energy in your body? The aliveness of your senses as the days grow longer?
I believe returnings can be both internal and external.

I now intend to practice more attention to the returnings
in my life…
To notice how it feels to be at that still place in the center
of all this coming and going.
And to allow the turning of the seasons to beat against my shins…
            sinking me deeper and deeper into this Life.

March 8, 2010: Mindfulness

Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: On Purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”      
– Jon Kabat-Zinn

Ahhh, sounds so simple… and on some levels it is.
Yet, I found out that in order to be consistently mindful– to be PRESENT, NOW, HERE- I needed some training.

We are conditioned to want to be anywhere but “here”. The mind is like a puppy- if you tell it to sit and stay- in a few seconds it hops up again, chasing its tail or anything else that attracts its attention. We are a culture lost in thought, out-of-body, living in either the past or future. We believe we don’t want to be “here” because what is going on here (internally or externally) can feel uncomfortable or boring.
But all this “chasing our thoughts” actually takes us nowhere real.
There is no “there” there.  There is only Here.

Years ago, after too much busy-ness, too much chasing after happiness “out there”, I was introduced to Vipassana meditation. http://www.imcw.org/    Instantly I felt that I had come Home.
This simple, profound practice helped me return to my body, my senses, and the life right here.

The key is the “on purpose” and “non-judgementally” part. Attitude is everything.
Mindfulness is cultivated by paying attention on purpose, deeply, and without judgment (friendly and inviting) to whatever arises in the present moment, either inside or outside of us. By intentionally practicing mindfulness, deliberately paying more careful moment-to-moment attention, we can live more fully and less on “automatic pilot”, thus, being more present for our own lives.
And in that space, where the mind calms down and our senses come awake… we find Insight.
Looking the reality of “what is” in the eyes, in that space, we find wisdom. Not “my” wisdom. “The” wisdom.
And, amazingly, we realize it was right here all along.
As Dorothy found out in The Wizard of Oz, “there is no place like home”. Or, put another way,

“there is no place like HERE”.

This practice (and I do mean practice!- haven’t found any shortcuts 🙂 has changed the quality of my life. Sure, my puppy mind is still busy and distractable at times. But, through a regular Vipassana meditation practice, I don’t stray too far from that calm, clear, compassionate place inside. I have learned strategies to help me in the course of everyday life to return… to pause and come home again.
I call that place “the water table”… just under the busy, noisy surface.
If I stray too far from the water table… my well dries up.

Mindfulness is not about “blissing out”. Just the opposite.
It is about waking up. Noticing, feeling, and facing everything that Is… with friendliness, nonreactively.
I find that when I stop clinging to or pushing away “what is”… I relax, and the fight in me disappears. The world appears in full color!
Life is not meant to be a struggle. And the good news is, it doesn’t have to be.                                                                                                                                                                                    ~ Beth

It is our mind, and that alone, that chains us or sets us free.

~Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche


March 6, 2010

Welcome to From Deeper Water… a place to ponder what surfaces from the sweet, still place inside us where dreams and art are born.

Tucked here on the banks of the Cacapon River, my family is beginning a new chapter of small farming and mindful living. We were drawn to this place by the big sky, slow river and abundant wildlife. We intend to live with more intention- a simpler, slower and healthier life.

I can feel my spirit expand in this setting.
And I am struck by the question-
“What does it mean for a person to FULLY BLOSSOM
in this life?”
I intend to follow that question into gardening, writing, painting and sculpting.
I hope to let the wisdom of the river and the life she supports teach me the answer.

Check back in from time to time to see where this exploring leads me!

Peace,
Beth