Look Up

IMG_1340 copyright Of-the-Essence Blog 2019

Winter tree shape on white birch bark, Five Rivers, November 2019

 

Sometimes when I walk through the woods, I look up from my feet and visions pop out.

A lone leaf wiggles frenetically in the wind. Sunlight breaks through the gloom to light up one small yellow oxalis flower. A red eft wriggles on rock, or a snake slides under dry oak leaves, or a tiny brown toad hops-hops-hops in the path ahead.

 

IMG_1748 copyright Of-The-Essence Blog 2019

I looked back and there it was–a bird’s nest lit by autumn sun. Five Rivers, November 2019

I say to myself–treasure these gifts, these moments. Pay attention.

Even in my office, captured by computer screen and phone rings and beeps, I look up and stretch my neck. Light from the window on the other side of the room captures me. Above trees, I see a horizon. I am reminded again: I don’t have to spend hours in meditation every day; I can take these moments over the day and their richness will feed me.

I just have to look up.

 

A New Beginning: Diane’s Photo of the Week

 

New England asters ready to unfurl in the fall (Vischer Ferry Preserve, Rexford, NY, Oct 2019).

A little explanation–

Yes, it has been quite a while. Yes, with a few posts here and there. No, not what I had envisioned or desired when I began this writing endeavor.

But life changes.

The transition to day job has not been instant or even short, and certainly not easy. Balance, balance, balance, I say to myself each morning, sometimes with gritted teeth but more and more with an ease that surprises me. Each day I discover something lovely.

Last week I took a promotion to a new position and a new department. At my former job, in lieu of writing essays and posting online here, I determined to do the small things that I was capable of. I brought in one of my photos each week and posted it on the outside of my cube.

It’s what I could handle.

My workmates came by to witness, comment, enjoy, question, compare, express memories about their own nature places and photos, and even give preferences about which photos they needed to see that week—bright colors or flowers in winter, cooling water or ice images in August, signs of seasonal change, details and broader vistas. The previous week’s photo stayed up, and acted as a comparison, a talking-point.  At one point I had three photos up at once–the needs had grown! The photos became a Monday or Tuesday morning joy for many, a way of connecting that grew and expanded over the days until the next Diane’s Photo Of The Week was pinned up.

As I took in the departing hugs and best wishes, I was invited (ok, ordered, thank you Kelly!) to continue this tradition online. Here I begin Diane’s Photo of the Week, five work days after the move out of my old cube and yes, I know, on a Wednesday (chalk it up to technical difficulties).

You can subscribe by email or RSS feed to get a bit of what I shared for almost two and a half years with my dear Guidance & Counseling office family. You could also just drop by this virtual outside-of-my-cube, whenever you get up from your desk and need a break. Feel free to leave a comment and join the conversation.

Thanks for wandering by.

Things to notice about the photo

Take a look at the velvety and furry texture of the the outside layer of greenish bracts on the foreground flowers. Bracts (also called phyllaries in some sources) protect the petals of the aster until they open and then form part of the underneath support. (The tightly curled purple petals trying to burst out make me smile. I understand that desire to grow.)

Actually, there are two kinds of petals on an aster.  The interior orange ones you can only see in the blurred background flowers here are called disk florets since once the flower opens they form a flat disk in the center. The purple ones that are uncurling are the ray florets–yes, those ones doing a modern dance wave and gesture as they “wake up” in the fall.

What does this photo make you think of or remember?  Is there something you are feeling ready to wake up to this autumn?

 

Forest Therapy Walk August 21st

YELLOW GOAT'S BEARD

Yellow goat’s beard: to notice the golden and green.

There is so much to write about what I feel and experience in the outdoors. So much to talk about, so much to share. However, I am practicing deliberate (silent) meditation on my last forest therapy walk guide experience as I prepare for the next one, on August 21–though I look forward to shaping and sharing my thoughts on both of them after that.

In place of my words, this is some of what the participants said after my first forest therapy walk in July:

[I have] become more aware of the small and large beauty around us, and the greater possibility and actuality of greater PEACE.

You would only be helping yourself [to do a walk]; you have to disconnect to reconnect.

Wonderful for helping you take yourself to another level of mindfulness…

I am calmer. Slowed down. More peaceful.

I want to invite my loyal readers, and anyone else in the Capital region, to come and experience. Once again, it’s a free event; just use the Contact Us tab on this website to register, or hop over to my business website for even more detailed information. 

08-21-16 Forest Therapy Walk flyer

 

Forest Therapy Walk Announced

 

A mandala of bird's foot trefoil: symbol of my new endeavor

A mandala of bird’s foot trefoil: symbol of my new endeavor

This is a short post to invite those of you in New York’s Capital Region (and anyone else interested) to mosey on over to my business website Of-the-Essence Holistic Wellness or take a peek at the flyer here:  July 22 Forest Therapy Walk flyer

It’s all about my first Forest Therapy Walk, which will take place on Friday, July 22, in the morning–and I’d love to have you along.

I will also note that July 4 was the fourth anniversary of Of-the-Essence Blog. Sixty-one posts in, thanks for reading along; a new essay is percolating nicely and should arrive soon!

Blessings on your summer.

***I’m finally responding to some folks who have asked for this:  If you like what you read and see here on the blog, consider plunking something into my brand new tip jar by clicking here:     Tip via Paypal

A Surprising Summer Sabbatical

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Dahlia readying to bloom.

This spring of 2016 has been a little strange—and it’s not just the weather.

In the cold days of February I did not venture to the beautiful new Capital Roots Grow Center to dig through bins of donated seeds.

In March, I did not plan out sections for chard, arugula, carrots, blue borage—or any novel plants, either.

I did not go to the April workday at my little plot; in fact, I did not even pencil the date into my calendar.

This spring, after six years, I am taking a sabbatical from Community Gardening.

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My first community garden plot, in 2010. You can spy arugula, chives, tomato plants, butter crisp lettuce–and a hose–amongst the horrendous weeds. I had a lot to learn.

***

I call the time off gardening a sabbatical because, like a traditional academic sabbatical, this seventh season will concentrate on studied time outside of my usual setting. A pause enables me to focus on other things and will include a little required travel. Whenever I might return to community gardening, it will be with a refreshed perspective.

In particular, I am beginning a six-month Forest Therapy* certification in May. During the time I would have spent digging up my plot, fencing, planting and weeding, I’ll be reading about relationships between natural experiences and human health, learning our local ecosystems in more depth, taking a seven day intensive course, sitting under the forest canopy, and leading guided meditation walks.

Beforehand, I’ve started with a series of classes about wild edible plants. They are led by Dave Muska of Ondatra Adventures, and held up at Dyken Pond Environmental Education Center.

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For example, I now know that these trout lilies have edible leaves and bulbs, though proper plant identification and sustainable harvesting techniques are required before ingesting.

***

This summer I also want to finish dozens of pieces of writing about the garden, and about my life. In addition, I am wrestling with three book manuscripts stuck at various stages (hence the increasingly intermittent posting here on the blog). Finally, I anticipate moving into the world of the day-job very soon.

The richness of the outdoor life not only grounds me, it can distract as well. There is always more to do, more to experience.

Strange as it sounds to say, in order to focus on the beauty and meaning of the natural world, I have to decrease the amount of input. Or at least choose which forms I can take in right now.

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On the hill, a much more organized and bountiful garden, 2014.                                                                          (Still more weedy than I would prefer.) 

***

I have very mixed feelings about the sabbatical, like any choice to step away from a beloved activity.

Community gardening is part of how I have defined my summer life and myself, since I moved to upstate New York. It’s felt intrinsic to the new life I have created. My plan, therefore, is to pay attention and be open to how it feels to NOT work this garden.

I ask questions.

What emotions do I feel? Where do they come from?                                                                   What do I miss?
What do I NOT miss? (Aside from woodchucks.)
How do I get out in the dewy world of early morning sun, that feeds me so well?
How do I meet my body’s craving for hands and knees in soil?
What other repetitive jobs do I find meditative and soothing?

I sit with my thoughts, long and patiently. As I have learned to do with my writing–let them steep like tea, simmer like soup, rise like dough.

Then the meaning behind the meaning has a chance to show its shy self to me.

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One beautiful sweet pepper, ripened to red in its own good time.

***

Some questions we can all ponder:

What feeds you?

Which are the “bare minimum” self-care activities that you know you need?
What do you want to leave —and just be done with already?

What do you desire to take a sabbatical from?
What would you concentrate on if you did?

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End of season plum tomatoes, ripening in the kitchen, 2015.

****

*Forest Therapy is a research-based framework for supporting healing and wellness through immersion in forests and other natural environments. In Japan it is called “shinrin yoku,” which translates to “forest bathing.”  I will be leading some meditation walks, required for my training, in the summer and fall so if anyone is interested,  information will be available on my business blog. More information about Forest Therapy is at shinrin-yoku.org

Part the Eleventh: Wherein winter continues, but Color intervenes—Endings and Beginnings

Winter sky rainbow, The Crossings of Colonie (Albany NY)

Winter sky rainbow, The Crossings of Colonie (Albany NY)

Friday, March 6. Winter and weeping are wearing me down, along with the monochrome light, and dirt-infused precipitation on everything. I used to say Chicago street snow looked like the bottom of an ashtray. After this long winter in upstate New York, innumerable cigarette pellets of gunmetal ice and ashy road salt line our avenues–and spirits.

Even where the snow is still blank white, it has grown dull to my eyes. It’s been months since the amaryllis bloomed, and a week since my pale yellow butterfly faded away.

I travel in search of color, to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MOCA). Once again I am surprised by serendipity.

Sol Lewitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective, Mass MOCA Winter 2015

Sol Lewitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective, Mass MOCA Winter 2015

Swirling, spraying, wiggling: wall after wall after wall of gorgeous and intense paint by Sol Lewitt swims around me.

More Sol Lewitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective

More Sol Lewitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective, Mass MOCA Winter 2015

Liquid looking gold and black (Teresita Fernandez) flow over me.

Teresita Fernandez: As Above So Below, Mass MOCA Winter 2015

Teresita Fernandez: As Above So Below, Mass MOCA Winter 2015: window reflections in her black and gold sculpture.

On the way to Massachusetts, a friend and I crunch through snow to meditate in the icy stillness of a small temple at the Grafton Peace Pagoda.

Golden peace cranes at the Grafton Pagoda.

Golden peace cranes at the Grafton Pagoda temple.

We are surprised by a Japanese Buddhist nun wearing a headlamp, who pops out from behind the altar where she’d been organizing items. She is startled by us. So cold! So cold! Come and have tea when you are done.  

After sitting zazen in the frigid air as long as we can stand it, we find our way to the kitchen, where we nibble a cookie, sip hot brown Kuchika Twig tea and get to know her—Jun-San. We speak of peace walks and meditation and the essence of the Lotus Sutra.

My companion says, Ever since I first heard Na-Mu-Myo-Ho-Ren-Ge-Kyo, I have wondered what the words meant.

She answers that it comes from the Buddha’s last teaching, where he moved from the internal, concentration on just the self, to concentration on the other, the community  (something about the Golden Rule). She added: But really, you should not look to others’ translations because then the meaning does not come from within.

The acts of chanting, breathing, sitting with its sounds reveal the sutra’s message for each individual.

We laugh over it later: Here you spent forty-some years pondering, in search of what you thought was a mysterious, erudite, complex and distant definition, and she tells you you’ve had it inside all along!

My acts of weeping, seeking color, meditating on life, breathing, walking and sitting with moments regardless of their pain or joy—reveal the meaning of those acts and moments for me. Wisdom inside of me all along. Color inside of me all along.

Now my stomach and heart don’t go sour when I see the gray light over the gray hills and gray snow. Spring will come.

Buddha statue at Kripalu, October 2013. The answer is inside of you.

Buddha statue at Kripalu, October 2013. The answer is inside of you.

****

Accidents happen. Living long doesn’t always happen.

I think of the children who come into our lives, how we are often trying to save them, sometimes not able to: horribly, sadly, naturally. We have saved them so many times to start with, watched over them, cared for them, taught them. And if they live, if it all goes as it often does—they can grow into gorgeous young people we adore, full of creativity and angst and love.

We are called to pay attention to each day and moment, and to love: love and care for our individual selves as best we can, love the people we love, deeply, honestly; and not search way-out-there for meaning but find it right here next to us, in us, shining through us with unexpected color.

Spring comes. But sometimes it is bittersweet.

****

In memory of one Dainty Sulphur, who appeared unbidden in my apartment on February 11 and exited on Feb 28.

In memory of a creative soul I never met except through his mother: photographer, student, beloved son, brother, and more, Max Maisel, who went missing Feb 22, whose memorial service was March 27 and whose body was finally recovered April 17.

Winter bittersweet.

Winter bittersweet.

Part the Tenth: Wherein the butterfly lands

The amaryllis I theorize brought the Dainty Sulphur into my winter apartment.

The amaryllis I theorize brought the Dainty Sulphur butterfly into my winter apartment.

The bud formed...

The bud formed…

The flower formed.

…then the flower…

...blossomed into gorgeous color...

…which blossomed into gorgeous color…

...and caused me to study the tiny details intently, while I could.....

…and caused me to study the tiny details intently, while I could.

Friday, February 28. I put her in the yoga room, the sacred space, two days ago on the 26th, resigned that she was almost gone—but yesterday, I literally leapt for joy; she’d only had her antennae tangled! Parts of her were not in as bad a shape as I had thought.

Of course one of her legs was still detached, and her energy very low. Then last night I couldn’t find her. I looked under the radiator again, all over the floor, worried I’d step on her accidentally. Finally I figured she was, well, gone. This morning I found her in the stones again—was she there all along and I couldn’t see her? or did she go someplace and then come back?

However, she was barely there, not responding much to air movement or things around her.

Later, nothing: the end. Death.

Dainty still faced the sun, wings folded, but slightly fallen over. I’d felt such surprising happiness the day before; just to have her there, alive, made me feel hope about the missing boy, too. But then the next day–today–she’s done.

It is empty in the kitchen by the window. It is empty in the bedroom. It is quiet, as quiet as it was before, but different.

I live alone, again.

Yes, there are plenty of bugs in my house I don’t see. Outside: squirrels and starlings, crows and chickadees; robins yet to come.

But no one else just showed up uninvited, spent time alongside me, and gave me so much to think about in the iced over, snowbound, super chilled air of this February.

What feels miraculous, and is yet usual: life, and death.

***

Max is still missing. I ache for his family, I ache in their exposed place—exposed in the media, in search of possible information—exposed in their pain and mixture of hope and dread. I admire their courage and ability to appreciate those who assist and accompany them.

I fear writing the saccharine, the simplistic. I don’t know what this feels like for them.

I dance around the edges of it, and even that makes me stagger in grief.

Even where snow has melted, frost covers everything. (Laingsburg, MI)

Even where snow has melted, frost covers everything. (Laingsburg, MI)