Waves Crashing Over

Rough Seas
Rough Seas
When things are feeling rocky, how do you maintain your balance?

You can feel the sensation of tension in your body. The stress is intense and your shoulders and your belly and your neck are all involved in trying to keep up, trying to not break down and trying to meet everyone’s expectations, not the least of which can be your own high expectations of how you want to present to the world, how you want people to see you: competent, strong, steady, on your game.

The tension leads to a headache, it leads to loss of appetite, or to comfort eating (ice cream, cookies and potato chips, please). Your body feels buzzy, like your blood vessels are filled with seltzer water. As long as you keep on moving, then it’s easy to keep a smile on your face, even if your patience is getting more and more frayed around the edges.

How familiar does this sound to you? Wouldn’t it be nice to know how to restore some sensation of balance and equilibrium?

Learning to Surrender

Over and over, I am struck by how images from nature can lend much insight into health and wellbeing. For example:

(This is Ireland, not Maine, but it lends a flavor to the scene, no?)

I remember sitting on the edge of a granite ledge on an island off the coast of Maine. I’m age 7, hanging with my big sister. We are out after a thunderstorm and the sky is still dark and a little eerie as the sun peeks out through the clouds on the horizon as it moves towards sunset. The Atlantic is stirred up, more choppy and stronger surf than I recall having seen before. There are many days where it is just gentle swells with the sun sparkling off a smooth surface.

As we sit on the edge of the granite outcropping, we are watching the surf crash up and over the granite ledges on the island across the channel. The crashing spray soars up and over the ledges and I can feel my fear settle in. This is a scarier sea than I am used to. I grew up in the midwest; I am not accustomed to the different faces of the sea.

As my sister tries to reassure me, a giant wave crashes into the ledge we are perched on – we are a good ten feet above the surface of the ocean. The spray soars over our heads, drenching us in its arc. I am so surprised by this moment, and the spray is so innocuous, I burst out laughing. What was so scary from afar is not really scary at all right here where we are. It’s not as if the entire wave was surging up over our ledge to pull us out into the current. We are just caught in the line of spray.

Decades later, I find myself in the gentle swells of surf in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida. Here I learn that as the wave comes towards you in a curl, you can be swept underneath it – hold your breath – you’ll be out of the water again in a moment, especially as your feet are still touching the sand. The curl of the surf can tug at you, make you lose your stability, can feel overwhelming and trigger the racing adrenaline of fear. If, however, you dive into the wave, you pop out the other side and you can swim further out beyond the surf line where the swells lift you up off the ground, carry you along, and then drop you back down, with your feet back on the sand. Out here it is calm. There is no curling wave, just these gentle swells that advance, hide the horizon from you, pick you up and then set you back down.

There is a surrender to letting the water carry your body like this.

Now, let it be noted, I grew up in the midwest. My ocean adventures continue to be very limited. I’ve never been out on a surfboard. There are many who may know all sorts of other dynamics about the ocean. I am not speaking of riptides or rogue waves, and other true dangers of the ocean. That being said, these experiences lend some beautiful insight to the emotional terrain within.

Passing through the Waves

I learn about deep emotion in my life; after heartbreak, during times of transition, during times of stress, conflict or worry. I want so badly to be seen as strong, confident, and capable that I am not able to make space within myself for any sign of weakness.

I can feel the tension build, and I do whatever I can to contain it, push it down, to not let it out. I don’t realize I am doing it at the time, but I do know that our society doesn’t approve of such expression and it is safer to ignore it and try to make it go away. My shoulders are tight, I cave my chest in, my diaphragm is tight.

I find great catharsis from reading Ring of Endless Light by Madeliene L’Engle, sobbing in my rocking chair in the kitchen in my Boston apartment one winter, letting the tears from her story release the tears unshed from within myself.

Years later, I learn to make peace with strong emotions like grief and anger and sorrow. As I let them course through me, I find they become less scary, less overwhelming. In fact, once the emotion passes, I come out the other side and there is sunshine and laughter and ease. This is so very different from trying to not feel these unfamiliar, scary emotions. I realize that in trying to not feel them, I create a pressure cooker environment – this intensifies and complicates the original emotions.

The emotional landscape becomes familiar, the waves of emotions wash over, pass through – they may feel big and unending, but in the surrender, you let them carry you towards greater peace and authenticity.  In these moments of passing through waves of emotion, the heart washes itself clean, becomes more vulnerable and open in the world.

In this place, there is strength, there is compassion, there is a solid steadiness. To quote myself, “In my brokenness, I am more whole than when I am chasing okay-ness.”

And again, let it be noted, there are ways to be present to the depth of emotion on your own, with beloveds or with close friends (or friends who are not yet close, but in opening to the depths with them invites that closer connection), that are very different than falling to pieces publicly, crashing through boundaries in questionable ways. This is a finesse to tune into – when and how, yet celebrate the journey as the current carries you. 

To offer some fortune cookie wisdom of my own, “It is a gift to feel deeply. To know great joy is to also know great loss. They are two sides of the same coin. Do not fear feeling great joy in order to avoid feeling great loss. It is a gift simply to feel deeply.”

“I believe I’m in the right place at the right time. 
This wave is crashing down and it’s the one for me to ride. 
Crazy world, crazy time – 
Gonna let go of what oughta be and hang on for the ride. 
Ebb and Flow, Rising, Falling”

Samara Jade, songwriter

How is the surf in your life carrying you these days?

Welcoming the Darkness

sun-and-moonIn the dark of this longest night of winter, I take a moment to honor the presence of light. There are many who struggle with the cold and darkness during the winter months. In the past, I have found myself bogged down during these months, struggling with melancholy and a sort of darkness of the spirit within, holding my breath waiting for spring to come.

Taking time to honor the shift in light has become an important ritual for my winters in recent years. When I have made time for this, my spirits have flourished in a different kind of rhythm and energy through the winter, instead of shutting down in attempts to maintain a status quo.

What does it mean to welcome the darkness?

I honor and recognize the rhythms of the seasons,
the cycles of the sun,
the movement of the Earth around the sun.

I honor and recognize
the long nights
as part of our planet’s journey
in space and time.

I honor and recognize
the shift of the natural world.
I watch the animals as they prepare for winter
and enter in hibernation.

I invite space and time
for deep rest and hibernation
in my life in these upcoming months.

I honor and recognize the parts of myself that
shy away from touching the darkness
of the emotional being that I am.
To step away from the unknown,
that which cannot be seen.

I welcome that I am a whole being,
honoring the joy and the sorrow,
the ease and the struggle of
this journey called life.

I recognize that I find discomfort in being present with sorrow and struggle
and in this discomfort tend to seek comfort in other directions.
I turn to food, distraction, television, movies, books, fantasy.
I lose sight of center, inspiration, my creative being.

I ask myself to step into the discomfort
to learn to trust its gift
To feel the depth of what feels painful
To find space for the tears, for the extra hours
curled up in bed, numb, quiet, still.

For on the other side of this, I always find there is light.
There is beauty in this space.

In the words of Barbara McAfee from Minneapolis,

“Every time I step into the darkness, I return with fistfuls of jewels.
Midnight Velvet wraps all around me, Stars glitter brilliant above.
Dreaming Darkness, Dreaming Light.”

Yes. Yes. Yes.

“I return with fistfuls of jewels.”Healing Hope

I move forward with tenderness,
permission to be broken,
and in this brokenness, to be whole.

More whole than I had been as
I chased “okay-ness”
holding together with
distractions – the television, the Netflix binge,
even the long hours refusing to put down the novel.

In this tenderness,
I see the world with fresh eyes.
There are treasures all around.
The light glimmers off the trees, off the clothesline,
off the old iron pump above the empty birdbath.

I think back to times in my life when darkness was not a thing to hide from.

When I was 16, I spent my summer in the woods of Vermont. Every night we’d go from the main lodge down the twisting, root-filled path to the cabin. By the end of the summer, we’d know every root along the path, being able to anticipate each step with ease as we walked back in the full dark.

At 28, as an outdoor educator, I explored in the woods with 5th-8th graders every day teaching forest ecology, wetland ecology and more. Nighttime ecology included night hikes, walking a section of trail without the assistance of light. We taught students how to relax into their senses, trusting a different part of their awareness to be able to guide them along the trail in the dark.

We would quote Wendell Berry,

“To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.”

We got a lot of practice ourselves on how to follow even the trails with twists and turns in them. The ground along the trail was firmer, more compacted by frequent travel, than the soil alongside it. The leaf litter was broken down and scattered along the trail. As soon as we stepped just off the edge of the trail, the leaves and soil would let us know and send us back to the center. Our peripheral sensory awareness became much more heightened as we learned to trust the receptors in the periphery of the eye to bring in the low-level light.

When I moved to Vermont in 2004, I joined a group of friends for a hike up Mt. Monadnock, a heavily traveled mountain. We chose to hike a side trail off the main track in order to steer clear of the crowds. We had a lovely time meandering our way up the mountain, stopping to identify mushrooms, to admire a wasp’s nest, to enjoy the stream in the fall sunlight. We got to the top in the late afternoon, and joined the crowds of others looking out over the vistas. Two falcons circled and danced in the air currents above our heads. We enjoyed the peace of the summit.

And then we realized we were starting to enjoy the sunset and most of the crowd had dispersed already. Not anticipating being out after dark, none of us had flashlights, but three out of the four of us in the group had experience hiking in the dark. We made it 2/3 of the way down the mountain before darkness fell. By this time we were well off the main track again, approaching the section of trail that ran in the dry stream bed filled with rocks and boulders. Moving slowly, trusting the sensation of the ground and rocks under our feet and our awareness of the space around us, we made it back to the road through the shadows cast by the glimmering light of the moon.

None of these experiences have ever held
any aspect of fear, worry, or struggle.
They have all been magical and safe.

I call on this knowledge of the darkness to keep me company
in these long winter nights to come.
I invite it’s gift to know the light more intimately
with my willingness to step into the unknown,
to welcome the darkness within.

A haiku for this season, a part of the spiritual practice of the daily haiku:

Standing in Darkness
I Wait. I Breathe. I Feel.
Opening Into Trust

Haiku for this season

Once upon a time, I had a practice of writing a daily haiku. It was a form of returning to the present, capturing a snapshot of moment, and cultivating mindfulness.

These days, I’ve been writing seasonal haikus. Here’s one dedicated to the fall equinox.

sap rise & sap fall
as sap returns deep within
I drink sun, rain, wind



Spring Renewal – Bursting Forth in Spring

With the arrival of sun and warmth, flowers and trees are bursting into bloom, leaves are starting to unfold, and migratory birds are returning to the neighborhood. All around us, we can see the energy of Spring: rapid growth, movement, and change.

One of my assignments in acupuncture school was to sit outside for 15 minutes every day for a week. During that time, I honed my observational skills, while watching the changes in the season on a more subtle level. Watching how our health is a) affected by the change in seasons, and b) what the change in season is like inside each of us has always fascinated me.

As the leaves on the maples and the other trees start to unfold this week, the world is looking brighter, cleaner, and softer. The rain and warmth from the sun helps to wash the

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Winds of Spring

The yoyo days of spring are here. Temperatures are fluctuating madly – one day in the 70s, another day in the 20s. These dramatic changes in weather bring along powerful, cleansing winds that pick up the remaining dregs and collected debris of winter and blow it away. The drastic temperature fluctuations influence the rising sap of the trees. Sap for syrup flows most strongly when, on a cold night, the sap sinks back down into the roots, preparing to flow more strongly the next day as the temperatures rise again. The more fluctuation in temperature, the more sap flows and the more sweetness can be gathered.

How does the sap flow in you during this season? Is it flowing well, bringing energy, vision, and creative growth? Or are you feeling stagnant and stuck? Frustration,

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Dreaming for Groundhog’s Day

The beginning of February is the turning of the corner between Winter & Spring. We are exactly midway between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox this week. From here on out, it may still feel like we are in the grips of deep winter, but the return of light starts to speed up, as we gain a couple extra minutes of sunlight each day. Check out this chart for time of sunrise and sunset and change in day length for your region.

So what does this have to do with our health? Our bodies respond to the sunlight and promise of warming days just as the plants do outside. As our own sap starts to run and circulate, we become aware of the sludge that has accumulated through the winter months.

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Have You Been Hibernating?

It was a cold day – below zero first thing in the morning and in the single digits later in the day. The sun was stubbornly hiding behind a dense layer of low hanging, steely-grey clouds. I painfully pulled myself out of bed and made it out of the house to each of my commitments that day, but not without a struggle and a grumble all day long.

“What am I doing out and about?!” my body screamed at me – “This is the time for hibernation! Go back to bed already!” I laughed it off and continued on with my day with a light hearted grumpiness.

But that part of me had a point.

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