Sheer Silence: Part Three

This is the third installment, where we explore a key question:  In the midst of the busyness and noise of daily life, where can we turn for perspective and refreshment?

This question has been particularly relevant in the midst of the political dysfunction and rancor that takes place in Washington D.C on a daily basis.  This past week I couldn’t take any more.  I realized that I was internalizing the debate going on (particularly around the hearings for Judge Bret Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and the heartbreaking testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford).

I realized I needed to turn  off the television news programs and head for the water.  For me the water is a place of refuge.  A place to slow down, reflect and get some perspective.

So I loaded up my kayak and put in on the Ipswich River.  It was early October, cool, cloudy.  I began to paddle.  The Ipswich is a meandering river which doesn’t allow you to hurry.  For seven miles I paddled….just me and my neighbors… egrets, herons, turtles, beaver and ducks.

 

With each dip of my paddle, I felt the tension in my shoulders begin to lessen and my breathing become easier, deeper.   I remembered the wisdom of John Muir, the Grandfather of the American conservation movement, and champion for the creation of national parks.

Muir said:

How true.  I paddled the Ipswich to lose my mind.  To let go of my worries, my anger, my sadness… for a while.  To remember to breathe deeply.  To look up and around and say ‘wow’ and ‘thank you’.   To ‘find my soul’.  To allow my soul to heal.

It has been said that working for the common good and confronting injustice and callousness is a marathon, not a sprint.  It requires an ability to persist, to endure, for the challenges never leave us.

Spending time being quiet (on a river, in your back yard, in a park) is essential for gaining perspective…for remembering to breathe and relax, if only for a while.  To open up to the wisdom of that great mystery we call ‘Spirit’.

I’m not an advocate for  permanently withdrawing from the chaos and complexity of our time.  We need good people of conscience to be informed, to speak out.  Now, as much as ever. Yet, I also know, that being quiet, resting, renewing is essential too.

I hope you find places to rest, to reflect, to be renewed.  As we know, life is a marathon and not a sprint.  Paddle well.

 

Awe…been awhile?

When was the last time you were filled with awe, wonder, mystery? When was the last time you were so inspired that your response was a catch in the throat,  a whispered ‘awesome’ or a shouted ‘whoop’!

Been awhile?

According to a series of scientific studies awe is an essential component to living well.  Awe leads to greater generosity, increased ethical decision making and enhanced capacity for the common good.   One study put it this way: ‘Standing in a grove of towering trees enhanced prosocial helping behavior.’

http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/psp/108/6/883/

It seems that being in the midst of nature has a way of putting our grandiosity or worries in perspective.  Looking into the depths of the Grand Canyon, hiking the White Mountains or standing in a grove of trees can speak to the depth of one’s soul.  A reminder that it isn’t all about us. It’s about belonging to something greater, so intricately complex and beautiful that in response, we simply whisper ‘thank you’.

photo-opal-creek-wanderer

Soul is that inner place where we instinctively sense a connection to that which is greater than oneself.  Remember the last time you looked up at the night sky and saw a shooting star?  Perhaps its been a very long time.  But you remember your response…a whispered or shouted ‘wow’ as a million year old meteor burned bright and then was gone.

John Muir put it this way:

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

Since the beginning of time humankind has experienced awe.  Awe inspires, transforms, creates.  Awe fires the imagination…giving us art, science, poetry, music, dance, religion.

The challenge in life is to make space for awe. In our hyper busy, technologically driven lives we can miss out on so much.  Sometimes it takes a natural disaster  i.e. blizzard, blackout, flood to catch our attention.  A whack upside the head from the Universe that says ‘listen up’!

The invitation of course is ours.  To experience the beauty,  wonder, harshness, the sacredness of nature here and now.

Sometimes when I’m kayaking …I feel suspended between the water and sky.  A moment when I can’t distinguish between me and my surroundings.  There’s no duality only unity. I simply am.

Creation speaks in infinite ways…for those with the ears to hear, eyes to see and with lips to praise.

The poet Mary Oliver offers this:

‘Let me keep my mind on what matters which consists of standing still and learning to be astonished.’

May it be so.

 

 

Outdoor Religion: Part One

The Latin for religion is re-ligio meaning to attach or re-attach. Our word ‘ligament’ is from this root. Religion in its myriad forms is intended to help us attach to a source which is greater than oneself. Since the beginning humans have collected stories that seek to describe our relationship to the mysteries of life. Rituals help us connect so that we might be transformed and transported.

In Celtic theology both pagan and Christian, there is the concept of the ‘thin place’. The Celts believe that there is a permeable membrane that separates the conscious world from the supernatural. Thin places are often found in nature where our senses are heightened. In nature we become aware of a different level of reality and are invited to consider our place within it. The island of Iona in Scotland for a thousand years has been a thin place for countless pilgrims.

photo Iona

Today many in our western culture are moving away from traditional forms of religion. A book called ‘The None Zone’ point to a trend particularly among the young, away from organized religions. Yet, the majority who say that they have no religious affiliation, consider themselves to be spiritual. By that, many refer to an openness to a source of wisdom greater than oneself. A presence that inspires and transforms.

Many whether they be religious or not, find spiritual meaning in nature. Mountains, rivers, deserts, forests, oceans, the night sky remind us that nature is complex, mysterious. Such complexity both humble us and inspire. The natural world calls us to look up and out and in so doing, to go within. Religions seek to guide us so as to tap more deeply and intentionally into this mystery that some call God/Creator/Sprit/Sacred Mystery/Other.

Mechtild of Magdeburg, the 12th century Christian mystic said: ‘The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw – and knew I saw – all things in God and God in all things.’ John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club put it this way: ‘I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.’

What helps you to attach or re-attach to that which you hold sacred? What rituals do you practice that help you go up and out and within?

A few days ago I went skiing at Loon Mountain, New Hampshire.

FullSizeRender

The day was crystal clear, the temperature a bracing 10 degrees. For me it was a mystical place that blessed and transported me. Rather than simply observing I felt connected, attached to this beautiful and complex ecosystem to which we all belong. Perhaps this is what the mystics and monks of various religions aspire to, to feel apart of all that is.