Tag Archives: nature

Wild and Dangerous

1 Sep

I’ve been to Alaska twice but each time was for work so I didn’t get to see much of the terrain. However, even a glimpse of the locale is enough to witness its majesty. The natural beauty is breathtaking.

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Alaska is dark for much of the year though. At some points there are only four hours of light. Then in the summer there is endless light.

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I almost prefer it when it is colder and the tourists have gone home.

I have always met incredible people when working here – people I will remember for the rest of my life.

Despite not having seen much of the geography, every time I’ve been in Alaska some Higher force has spoken to me. Whether it’s the spirit of the people or the animals, something whispers that it’s okay to be wild. It’s okay to be free. Some of us are not domesticated.

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We are a world that thrives on convention and when you don’t fit into those conventions, it’s easy to feel lost and not good enough.

Alaska doesn’t care about those conventions. Alaska is true to itself. It has its problems for sure but it doesn’t apologize for itself.

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Emotional Heroism

3 Aug

This horse and I had a couple of moments. They were only a few moments but life is comprised of moments. It is the moments that make or break us.

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Studies show that the bond between humans and animals directly impacts our evolution as a species.

Specifically, exchanges between owners and their pets release high quantities of oxytocin, which profoundly impacts mood state and biochemistry. The process is highly similar to what occurs  between infants bonding with adults. When owners and their pets observe and are observed by each other, oxytocin releases that fosters feelings of calm and increases concentration. These are the opposite impulses that tear us apart. Excessive aggression, dissension and isolation become lethal for civilized society.

Linda Kohanov, a pioneer in the field of equine therapy and its effect on interpersonal relationships speaks specifically about what animals can teach humans regarding how to interact in ways that preserve vs destroy the herd. Horses are animals who wield enormous amounts of power yet still take care of their own. Kohanov writes, “Using power well is not a soft skill. Even so, it requires a sophisticated integration of leadership and social intelligence to channel potentially explosive forces into a focused and benevolent source of energy” (from “The Five Roles of the a Master Herder, p.4).

Linda recently spoke at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center. In the audience were people with vested interests in how horses enhance humanity’s humanity, including a much beloved actor from a much beloved t.v. show. Probably more than anything during Kahanov’s talk, I was struck by a term she called “emotional heroism” to describe the act of keeping one’s heart open even while knowing that the inevitable result is heartbreak. She uses the term to describe when an owner has to make the excruciating decision to euthanize an animal or when bonding with an animal may result in some other painful separation. She also mentioned this concept in conjunction with the risks entailed in various stages of relationships. For instance, within a herd, animals play different roles including nurturer, sentinel, dominant, leader and predator. All animals play the different roles at times to ensure the herd’s well-being. We humans have much to learn from what animals know about how to look out for one another. Likewise, learning to embody these roles fully is not for the faint of heart.

To be connected to others requires presence. It is a dance of interaction. Of the observed observing the observer. It also demands that we drop our social masks and be authentic. Horses can read through the bullshit we put out and so can most people. Horses are straightforward. They step away from you if they don’t like you and walk towards you when they do. What you see is what you get. They will also show deep concern for you if you are in pain and will invite you to play if you want to join them.

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We are becoming disembodied as a culture staring into our little screens and taking selfies of ourselves instead of looking out at the world around us. Increasing disparities in power and social isolation bring pressures often with little relief. So there is no shame in looking to nature for solace and sanity. It may be the thing that leads us to a higher evolution than we’re currently headed towards as a people.

 

What’s On The Other Side?

27 May

My father was a huge Steinbeck fan. When I was as young as five years old I was subjected to listening to entire passages read from the author’s novels. Wanting to watch cartoons or to read myself on a Saturday morning, I’d instead be interrupted by Dad as he puffed on a cigarette, sipped Coca-Cola and played James Taylor on the turn table.

One passage from the “Red Pony” perplexed me because my dad said it was beautiful and I didn’t understand why. Beauty to me had to do with pretty dresses I saw in fashion magazines. In it a boy asks his father what is on the other side of the mountains. “More mountains, I guess. Why?” “And on the other side of them?” “More mountains, why?” “More mountains on and on?” The dialogue goes back and forth with the young boy asking if anyone knows what is in-between the mountains. “Oh, a few people do, I guess. But there’s nothing there to get. And not much water. Just rocks and cliffs and greasewood. Why?” “It would be good to go.” “What for? There’s nothing there.”

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I always think of this passage when I hike. I find myself asking, “What’s on the other side?” as I move up and down the trails.

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It is good to go even when there is nothing to “get.” In fact, it is best to go with no intention of getting at all.

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I love the little boy’s inquisitiveness and insistence. I also love the strength and majesty of the mountains.

I look up and they are always there. They have not moved. They shape the confines of my life the same way a good parent’s presence stands gently in the backdrop or the way Spirit gently graces one’s experiences.

We humans are always looking outward curious about our surroundings – where we came from, where we are, and where we’re headed. I take to the hills to guide me through my journey the same way I grab a board to propel me through water’s motion, time, and space. What’s on the other side and in-between is the Mystery – so much grander and bigger than us and so much more miraculous.

 

Just Say No!

17 Apr

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When I was in middle school and high school I was expected to get up at 5:30 a.m. to water the plants and take care of our animals before going to school at 8:00 a.m. This was in Southern California where delicate potted plants needed to be watered in both the morning and late afternoon. Much of our shrubbery had automatic drip and spray sprinklers but the plants that didn’t would easily die within a few days without consistent care, particularly the fragile, moisture loving flowers such as orchids and fuschias. These varieties are tropical in nature and not meant for an arid dry climate.

This was also the era of Nancy Reagan’s, “Just say no!” campaign to help young people not sucuumb to drug use. I think of that phrase now. As direct as Nike’s, “Just do it!”, “Just say no!” is a great motto, if you can adhere to it.

I bring this up because these days many of us the minute we wake up log onto the computer or our phones to check text messages and emails. There is little division anymore between work and private life. It’s all mushed into one undifferintiated mass.

I’d rather water plants at 5:30 a.m. and walk and brush two magnificent large dogs like I did when I was young than look at a screen the minute I open my eyes. It’s a more humane way to wake up. It’s more embodied; more centered; more intimate. It’s a semi- equivalent of a toddler jumping on your bed or a lover kissing one awake. When outdoors at 5:30 a.m., you see the sunrise and the way the colors shift with an ever increasing degree of light. Even if engaged in a type of physical labor, there is something balanced in it because it involves the body fully vs. sitting sedentary at a screen.

I was raised with a Midwestern, farm mentality work ethnic and that ethic is in my DNA. However, that ethic can be brutal when it’s not mixed in with nature and natural rhythms and interpersonal relationships.

Sometimes we just have to say no to work and to technology and to get into our bodies and into nature. This actually feeds productivity because relaxation restores the mind and soul. It opens new vistas. As all farmers know, sometimes you have to let the fields lie fallow in order to create a better yield. If you demand the goose that lays a gold egg each day to produce more, she can stop producing all together.

Creativity always demands a tension between inner/outer, surrender/will, rest/activity. There is day and night, light and dark, life and death, order and chaos. There is a reason on the 7th day, the Lord took a break. We must take a moment to see, “That it was good.” Otherwise, we miss the show all together.

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Swimming Upstream: Lessons from the Salmon’s Magic

20 Oct

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I was teaching in Alaska a few weeks ago and as a gift to my colleague and I, we both received bracelets with animal totems specific to our personalities. Our host selected the “Double Salmon” totem for me. Delighted by the bracelet, I nodded when she told me that she had picked the fish as my spirit guide. “That fits,” I thought. “I can eat salmon for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” It was only when I was home that I looked up the symbology of the double salmon.

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Apparently, there is more entailed with this totem than a yummy tasting meal. One of the key traits is perseverance because salmon swim upstream, against the current. This isn’t the easiest way to journey, yet it is unique for the salmon. The fish transform from salt to fresh water conditions and then back again, if they manage to survive their arduous adventures. Although swimming against the current, they find a rhythm that enables them to do this with more ease than imagined.

I find this a lovely reminder to be faithful to our natures. When we embrace our paths, we fulfill our destinies. It’s not our job to tell salmon fish, “Hey, make things easier on yourself and swim downstream.” Instead, it’s our job to let salmon be salmon, allowing their unique encoding to unfold.

What if we were to fully embrace our natures instead of trying to fit into a mold of something else? What if swimming upstream is right for me and swimming downstream is right for you? What if we gave ourselves permission to simply be?

All my life I’ve wanted to be conventional. I suddenly realize there isn’t a conventional bone in my body. And that’s okay.

Double salmon also represent wealth and eternity. I like that.

Yet in Alaska, I was reminded of all the Great Spirits. While on a walk in the woods along the city, I actually saw a moose. Apparently, this isn’t so common. I was told I was lucky. Here was a huge male moose walking right across my path. Thankfully, he was somewhat calm. We watched in reverence, as the moose walked across the way and into the backyard of someone’s condominium with Denali as the backdrop. Moose are symbolic of many things: self esteem, mating, and a job well done and celebrated. I took note of this upon my return, when I did a bit of research on the moose spirit.

I’m reminded that there is magic everywhere in the air. All we have to do is dial into it and let it assist us. What a wonderful world it is, indeed!

Nature’s Wisdom

2 Jul

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I sometimes work with people who provide health care in rural environments. They often mention that individuals in their regions struggle with substance dependence and depression because they are so removed from the stimulation and opportunities of a big city. While part of me understands this phenomenon, part of me is always a little bewildered and saddened by it, for I always feel a profound sense of peace in nature.

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What are we missing in our lives that causes us to feel despair or emptiness? What creates a void in our hearts and souls? And how can we fill it? I find that if I but listen to the wind in the trees and feel the sun or rain on my face, I am not alone. I am in fact very much a part of things. How do we stay connected to the now and the mystery? This is after all, all we have and within it is magic. Deep, profound magic.

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I am no more sage than anyone else. I stumble and fall; suffer and cause others to suffer. Yet I know that when I stop trying to interfere with life and instead simply start embracing it, life is much more generous and gracious.

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There is deep beauty in the moment and the moment is all there is. In this moment is life and it contains all that came before and all that is to evolve. My deepest life lesson is to be here now. To not play God. And instead to enjoy what God has placed before me. I must take nothing for granted for it is all a gift.

At the end of the day, no man or woman is an island. We are all part of this beautiful world. Even in life’s most trying or tragic moments, there is healing and there is grace.

 

 

Momentum: When The Tide Quickly Changes

23 Jun

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The other morning I went surfing. As is typical of summer, the waves weren’t doing much. The sets were coming slow and when a wave did break, it had little gusto. I had to paddle hard to catch it and when I did, the wave’s momentum often just petered out, leaving me standing on my board like a gymnast on a balance-beam poised for dismount.

Summer surfing can be frustrating when you have too many mornings like this. After all, the whole point of surfing is to catch a wave and feel the rush as you ride it all the way to shore. There is nothing on the planet like it.

Sometimes, I don’t mind the slowness. It’s nice to be out in the water and have days where I can simply sit on my board and think (or not think) while the gentle lull of the sea rocks me back and forth. It’s nice to feel like a baby in the cradle with God looking down from above. However, sometimes this lack of action irritates. I don’t want to sit around waiting, or to feel the initial thrill of catching a wave, only to have it take me absolutely nowhere. Then I think, “Why didn’t I go to Pilates this morning? It would have been better for my back.”

Yet yesterday morning took me by surprise. As I positioned myself for a wave I felt certain wouldn’t break well, I found myself shocked into awareness that the tide had changed. This wave had speed. Its momentum took me by surprise and ended up knocking me off my board after I caught a bit of its buzz. As I tumbled in the surf, I could feel its foam rage above me. This wave was going forward whether I was prepared or not.

Surfing is a crapshoot. So is life. You never know what you’re going to get. You can get a mushy, little wimpy wave that does nothing for you or one that almost drowns you. Sometimes you get one that is perfect and takes you all the way in. The best are the ones that excite you without throwing off your balance and that have no one else riding it. Then there is just the right degree of safety, comfort, delight, and edge. Those are the cowabunga days where you thank your lucky stars you got off your lazy ass and put on that damn seal suit.

Surfing reminds me that there is nothing more important than suiting up and getting in the water. If you stay on the shore, you will never catch a wave. Yes, surfing can kill you, but I’d rather die playing than never playing at all.

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

14 Jun

I’m not a fan of cacti but I find them a phenomenal metaphor for life. As with roses, where there are thorns, there can also be great beauty. How we preserve and protect ourselves can be a part of God’s design. It’s funny that even in the most prickly places of our being, we can blossom. We must learn to love the good, bad, and the ugly because it’s all a part of the same DNA.

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I’m also intrigued at how things that are beautiful can wither, die, and then bloom again. If we are but patient with the cycles of life and our own growth.

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Living Water

13 Jun

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I’ve loved water from the minute I floated in the amniotic sac inside my mother.

Water is the womb on this earthly planet. It’s the place to cleanse, to purify, to rest, and to play.

I will always be drawn to water. I need to be in it like I need to breathe. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the ocean, a lake, a pool, or the bathtub.

Apparently, when I was a toddler and my parents were hiking in the Big Sur, I was told to not play in the stream because the water was cold and fast moving. I of course was enchanted and apparently “fell” in. I also drove my tricycle straight into a swimming pool. Anything to be in water.

Thank you, Lord for being Living Water. For helping me discover You in it.

Perhaps this is why I am most drawn to water. It’s where I wash away debris and aches and pain. It’s where the energy I’ve absorbed all day from crowds and traffic and people can be flushed down the drain. It’s where I can be child again, splashing and smiling and happy. And perhaps, on some subconscious level, water is where I feel cared for by the Mother.

Lessons On The Path

8 Jun

In Hebrew the word “derek” stands for the path or the way.

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Sometimes it’s hard to stay on the path, but if we stay the course, the better the journey.

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When we feel lost and alone on the path, we can remember that the universe opens its arms to meet us. Why not sojourn with God when He invites us in? The path we want for ourselves often isn’t nearly as Divine as the one He would have us take.

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