Advice from the River

Island.jpg

To celebrate Autumn’s arrival I intentionally joined a canoeing/camping excursion offered by Washington Women Outdoors (a local outdoor adventure group for women). On the last morning of summer I awoke on an island in the middle of the Susquehanna River (the largest river on the East coast) outside of Harrisburg, PA; with a part Huck Finn, part Peter Pan and the lost boys kind of feeling. After six hours of meandering down this waterway we began searching for our evening real estate. Like Goldlocks tasting her porridge, the first island we came to was too small, the second one was already occupied and the third one was just right. Plenty of room for seven spacious camp sights. Canoes were beached, tents were pitched, campfire was built and the traditional WWO happy hour began. Each of us slowly made our way to our sleeping bags on full bellies, sun warmed skin from our day on the river and muscles pleasantly tired after a day full of physical effort. Sleep came easy. Dawn sun rays poked me awake through my tent screen along with the morning chorus of crickets, tree frogs & the haunting call of a train whistle. A soft river scented breeze began to seep into my bones. My six two legged companions were beginning to stir as well. As poet Wendall Berry says, I was returning to ‘the peace of wild things’.

Leaving my world behind, whether to take a short hike solo or with other women, often can calm my frazzled nervous system like no other medium. As Robert Greenway notes in his contribution to Ecotherapy, Healing With Nature in Mind, many things begin to happen when one enters the wilderness or brings ‘the wilderness mind’ to an outdoor excursion. Physically, the body begins to awaken when tasked with being responsible for whatever might be need during our weekend and while meeting the navigational demands of an unknown waterway with lots of rocks, class 1 or 2 rapids and shallow water. Traveling in a group helps us remember our tribal nature. ‘Exercises of mutual caring and of developing trust in the sharing of camp duties, cooking and eating food together all arouse this tribal consciousness.’ - 1 Sitting around a crackling fire naturally connects us with our ancestors, a sense of gratitude for it’s warmth and light along with a sense of “We’ve been here before’. Finally, rivers are a natural place of balance that we can align with when the senses are opened to her gifts.

One of my favorite shows of the 1990’s was called Northern Exposure. In this comedy-drama series, Native American wisdom and seasonal rituals were often featured. One of the most beloved characters was ‘Chris in the morning’, part time radio DJ, philosopher & artist. In one episode a variety of random personal items were going missing ie hair dryers, blenders, etc. Finally, Chris was caught in the act or stealing a car radio and confessed without any resistance stating, ‘sometimes you just have to do something bad to know you’re alive. My take on this is sometimes you just have to do something that takes you out of your comfort zone & provides an appropriate challenge (within ones’s skill set) to remember the feeling of being alive.

Maybe going camping or spending time on a river is not your thing, however, a nature prescription is available to everyone of us. Whether just stepping into one’s own back yard for a few minutes in the morning, sitting next to a plant on a windowsill or visiting a favorite park for a long walk these simple choices can reconnect us to the more than human world and most importantly to ourselves. The best part, it’s free. Spend some time this autumn remembering this important relationship and enjoy Ilan Shamir’s:

Advice from a River

Go with the flow-~immerse yourself in nature

Slow down and meander~Go around the obstacles

Be thoughtful of those downstream~stay current

The beauty is in the journey!

1 edited by Buzzell, Linda and Chalquist, Craig, Ecotherapy, Healing With nature in Mind,2009, Sierra Club Books

canoes.jpg

Mind, Body & Nature

moe.jpg

This past weekend I led two different Mindful Outdoor Experiences, one on a mountain, the other by a river. Both creating space for participants to pause, breathe with intention and experience present moment awareness through the senses. Research continues to support what we already know and because of what nature writer Mary Reynolds Thompson says “the ancient Earth-consciousness that resides within you-within us all-that you can access any time, in any place, even in the midst of the busiest city….four billion years of Earth wisdom are embedded in your cells.” Participants say these excursions allowed them to notice how often we are distracted and how to come back to the present moment; that being outside and gardening (although a wonderful experience) feels different than just ‘being’ in nature and not even realizing how much time outdoors is needed for rebalancing and realligning the psyche and the soul.

Last fall I graduated from Kripalu’s newest School of learning, Mindful Outdoor Leadership. “This training—which combines forest bathing, yoga, Ayurveda, outdoor skills, and an overview of relevant research on nature’s health benefits….. is designed for those who are called to share nature’s gifts by integrating their love of the outdoors with mindfulness.” Meaningful connection with the generative powers of nature is an essential part of a healthy and balanced life. With the average American now spending about eleven hours a day on screens and ninety percent of our time indoors our health is suffering. I now humbly call myself a certified Mindful Outdoor Guide, trained by the knowledgeable Kripalu faculty who are a ‘dedicated group of earth stewards, environmental protectors, and nature lovers deeply committed to sharing with you the wondrous gifts of Mother Earth.’

Recently, I read an article, Ice Wisdom, The Ice is Speaking, about the effects of climate change. As long ago as 1963, two young Eskimo-Kalaallit men ‘noticed that water was coming out of the Big Ice way up the wall. When they returned and told the Elders of that strange phenomenon – no one believed them. How could water move, when the temperature has been less than minus 30 degrees Celsius (-22 ºF) for about three months. Later that winter other Elders went hunting and upon returning confirmed that water was trickling out of the Big Ice at the Big Wall. That became the first sign that something was amiss – not at home – but in the world.’ We can no longer ignore what is happening with our planet. For many years now I have been offering therapy and programs that include nature as a co-therapist. Consistantly, attendees have found their participation meaningful, informative and healing. I must confess, these offerings help me as well. The work I do and how I live my life must mirror my intention for this planet I call home; it must be sustainable, efficient and regenerative.

River.jpg

For more information on joining one of my next mindful outdoor events or bringing my services to your group or organization please contact me at www.livingbalanced.org. Although studies continue to document the numerous health benefits of time in nature; come see for yourself how being with the living earth and the more than human world can calm the nervous system, quiet the mind and sooth the spirit. See you on the path.



Sunday Morning Musings: What has yoga done for you lately

Sunday Morning

Sunday Morning

Sunday mornings are precious in my house as they are leisurely, slow and unstructured. On sunny mornings my yellow walls and oak table turn my kitchen into a sanctuary. Usually there is nothing on my calendar allowing for a leisurely breakfast with my beloved, a savored cup of java (one of my adored vises I will be taking a break from during my upcoming spring detox) and to peruse the Sunday paper. Most of the time my optimistic outlook is unphased by the headlines but today my mindset took a turn toward despair with headlines such as ‘Death toll at 50 in mosque attacks in New Zealand’, “Do-or-Die decision for the Chesapeake Bay’ and ‘Depression rising for the young’. Where has our concern for ourselves and our planet gone, my entire life efforts dedicated to healing, does it make a difference?

‘When despair for the world grows in me’ as Wendell Berry so elegantly describes in his poem ‘The Peace of Wild Things’, a simple stroll to my favorite spot in nature usually does the trick. Most likely a nature connection moment will happen later, but for now off to a yoga class I go. Sometimes the call to be with other like minded souls is stronger then the pull of nature. The soothing sound of the teacher’s voice, the soft music in the background and the slow cadence of our collective breathing allows me to ‘come in the peace of wild things’ and ‘come into the presence of still water’. Even after seventeen years of practicing this ancient art of self care, savasana still allows me to experience ‘For a time to rest in the grace of the world, and am free’. That is what yoga did for me today. What has yoga done for you lately.

The Alchemy of Compost

Alchemy of Compost | LivingBalanced.org | Photo credit

  A recent meandering through my garden revealed what I thought was a squash plant. Blossoms came, some were eaten by rabbits, some dried up and a few began to bear fruit. I waited patiently for them to grow, looking forward to some end of the season stir fry additions, but instead of squash, mini pumpkins began to emerge. Funny thing though, I had not planted any pumpkin seeds. A pleasant feeling washed over me when I realized these little treats were the result of the decorative pumpkins I tossed into my compost pile last year. 

The process of alchemy that happens in my compost bin has gifted me with not only excellent nutrition for my garden but some little orange surprises as well. Composting physical material makes sense and is ‘good medicine’ for the soil and our air while saving money and landfill space. A similar argument can be made for composting psychological garbage. Carrying around unresolved remnants of our past is wreaking havoc on our mental health, costing millions of dollars in health care, keeping many from living a full life and taking up way too much space in our psyches. I read a story about a therapist who had his clients write down what was bothering them on different rocks. The client then had to carry the rocks around in a sack until finally one day the sack was put down and a declaration uttered, ‘I can’t carry this around any more’. The therapist said, ‘so which ones do you want to take out’.

Composting psychological garbage can be beneficial when we learn how to view the past from another perspective and learning from our experiences. Some of my favorite questions to ask clients when stuck on wishing things were different are: what are my takeaways, what is no longer serving me and what do I want to ‘pay forward’. As spiritual teacher Ram Dass says, ‘everything is grist for the mill’ and no experience is wasted. Rituals around releasing can be helpful, also, and as simple as imagining giving one’s sorrows to the earth or writing them on a piece of paper for burning, burying or placing in moving water. My teachers often say the earth loves to receive your pain, sorrow and suffering for transmuting and recycling. 

Whether concerned about carrying around extra weight from the past or about how much physical garbage is thrown away, adding a practice of composting or releasing to one’s life can be an incredible act of reciprocity. One in which receiving is inherently linked to the act of letting go or giving away.

Ahoe


pumpkins.jpg

Don’t Just Stand There, Do Something!

earth-181x182.png

In the early 1980’s I used to work for the YWCA in Richmond, VA, my initiation into the women’s movement and learning to take a stand on women’s rights. I worked in the Women’s Advocacy Program that provided services for domestic violence and sexual assault victims. My own awakening began as I dipped my toe into the reality that women made only 59 cents to every dollar a man made and 1 out of 4 women were victims of domestic violence. One of my most memorable experiences was marching on the capital for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment which was being introduced at that time. Fast forward almost 40 years later, I’m still advocating, but feeling discouraged. Not until the Women’s March this past weekend have I felt such hope that change is coming.

Participating in the march along with my adult pregnant daughter, my unborn grandchild and thousands of like minded folks in D.C. has revivified my spirit. My anguish has been so profound lately around the recent election, often wondering where is the outrage towards what is happening to us as a species and what we are doing to our planet. Watching the outpouring of support from around the world brings tears to my eyes and touches my spirit so deeply. I know evolution happens slowly and can take millions of years but it feels as if I am living it at this moment. As Eckart Tolle says In A New Earth,when comparing the evolution of flowers to the flowering of human consciousness, when the conditions were favorable, ‘a widespread flowering occurred’. When ‘a critical threshold was reached’…suddenly there would have been an explosion of color and scent all over the planet’ (2005, pg 1).

We were an ‘explosion of scent and color’ at the March and are in a wave of evolution. Now more than ever we need a collective call to action. I am writing to document this momentous occasion in our history and my own. Hopefully this is the beginning of a global movement to remember our interconnection to one another and the earth, our home. That how we are in relationship to one another and the planet is more important than how much stuff we can accumulate and turning the other way from injustice. Sitting on the sidelines is no longer an option. Even if you can’t walk, make some phone calls to your local & state officials. Your voice is powerful. Make conscious choices in your purchases and who you vote for. Here are a few resources to get you started. These offerings were shared by Molly Maher of Stratejoy: “Knowledge precedes action. When you know better, you do better.”

https://www.indivisibleguide.com/

http://feminineeconomy.com

https://www.mycivicworkout.com/

https://www.wall-of-us.org/

https://www.flippable.org/

We still have work to do, but our tasks do not feel so heavy when shared. This post will be continued but for now I need to go make some phone calls.