The light just changed. Did you see it?
I noticed the shift at 5:10pm on Thursday, August 23rd. The evening sun, no longer a red flush of summer, now sets in colors more akin to rose and gold. This oh-so-subtle alteration that comes in mid-August is accompanied by the potential for my mood to tank—which is why I pay such close attention. So when I stepped out of the office and looked up at the glint between the leaves, my first thought was, “Oh shit. Here we go again.”
This week has been difficult. The only consistent block of time I can carve to write is at 5am, which is tricky. My body does best when it sleeps until 6. So even though I’m adding in work that fulfills a part of my soul’s deep longing, my physical and spiritual reserves feel depleted. I’m skimming the surface of life.
Which has been true for awhile.
In response to my acute awareness of depletion, I made small adjustments. I requested dream wisdom and spirit animals started showing up, bringing along messages of trust. I noticed the trees again and their ripe summer foliage. I cut Friday’s run short because I was tired and wanted to walk, and savor a crisp morning. And I gifted myself with a luxurious asana practice—something that has also suffered as a result of trying to write at 5am.
I also noticed an insidious emotional habit that has nothing to do with depression and everything to do with grasping. Becoming aware of that, accepting that, and then miraculously having the trigger removed from my life has been terrifically freeing.
But here’s what I know. The trigger will return. It will come in a different package but it will come back. Like the cycle of seasons. Like the change in the light. Like the busyness that causes me to live on the surface of life.
And that’s ok because life is a labyrinth not a point to point race. The center remains and I move in and around it. One path tends to mirror another I’ve traveled before. If I’ve been paying attention I start to notice the helpful and not helpful tendencies I carry along the way. And if I’m really paying attention, I can let go of some of the less helpful tendencies not by forcing them out, but by loving them along the way.
When I remember that I am loved—by God, by my family, by my friends—no matter how many bad habits I am living, no matter how mercurial and painful my moods, no matter how many cycles I am repeating, I can step into the waning August light and say, “Here we go again. Now, let’s dive in.”
After a relaxing week in the mountains with my family I am home and readjusting to the rhythms of ordinary life. I’ve been back for two weeks but the difficult process of reentry continues. I find myself doing the same thing I do every year—looking at google maps and dreaming of faraway destinations. The late summer L.L. Bean and Prana catalogues arrive and I reinvent myself within their pages. Tailored plaid flannel shirts, performance pants, and eco-friendly sweaters attest to my new life as a homesteading adventurer in a wild landscape where the mountains meet the sea. I grow anxious for autumn.
Two things help with this: sunflowers and Anne of Green Gables.
Because sunflowers bloom from July – September (and sometimes early October) they remind me to treasure these summer days even as I anticipate the cool, clear weeks ahead. In Plant Spirit Totems: Connecting with the Wisdom of the Plant Kingdom, author and shaman Bloom Post writes that sunflowers are associated with key words like “devotion, light, guidance, strength, core, nurture.” They say, “Time to stand tall and be seen. Face the sun and receive what you need. Make time each day to be in devotion . . . Do not make yourself small in order to fit in with others.”
As a girl, when I was sick enough to stay home from school I would watch the 1980’s CBC version of Anne of Green Gables. Between the alluring landscape of Prince Edward Island and Anne’s unmatched enthusiasm for life, her story meant everything to me. It still does. She is the epitome of “young, scrappy, and hungry.”* She has a beautiful romance that reminds me that no one less than Gilbert Blythe** will do. She even becomes a writer. I sink back into the movies and books and now the deviating Netflix remake*** and find solace. Even with all its struggles, Anne’s world feels safe.
It feels like home.
In the opening chapter of book three, Anne of the Island, Lucy Maud Montgomery writes,
But everything in that landscape around them spoke of autumn . . . . the Lake of Shining Waters was blue — blue— blue; not the changeful blue of spring, nor the pale azure of summer, but a clear steadfast blue, as if the water were past all moods and tenses of emotion and had settled down to a tranquility unbroken by fickle dreams.
“Past all moods and tenses of emotion . . . settled down to a tranquility unbroken by fickle dreams.” I am rarely past all moods and tenses of emotions. This is why I keep sunflowers on my table and Anne in my heart. Both embody the tranquility of a moment, and the hope in dreams that are unchanging.
Well before I read Bloom’s words about sunflower medicine, I sat in journey meditation — a kind of lucid dreaming done while one is awake. In this journey I came upon a vast field of sunflowers— the variety that tower overhead. I knelt down in the wet earth and asked a question about my writing path. Hundreds of books flew up out of the petals, flapping their blank pages like butterfly wings.
“Do not make yourself small in order to fit in.” Anne never did. Why should we?
* To quote from Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Side note, Cole can sing this line.)
**”Match to my intellect; proponent of my happiness; friend of my heart. To be my life mate. Let us dance together as equal partners through the years.” This from the Netflix series. See below.
***So. Many. Thoughts. Let’s have tea and discuss.
“Sabbath is one of the profound gifts of a generous and abundant divine presence who says that work is good and rest is necessary.” ~ Christine Valters Paintner
Every summer, Christine Valters Paintner of Abbey of the Arts (you know the woman, I work for her and quote her often) takes time off from newsletters and blogs during the summer and gives herself time to rest, play, and dream. This year, I am following her lead and taking a little blog Sabbath during the month of July. I’ll return with a new post on August 7th.
I’d like to leave you with some yummy travel tips adapted from a post written during the height of my Ayurvedic studies. My relationship with Ayurveda has mellowed a little but I still find its wisdom deep and energizing. Here is my current travel perspective.
Ease of travel is one of the great joys of the modern age but the changes of food, activity, sleep, altitude and sometimes company can wreak havoc on your system, leaving you feeling ungrounded, unsupported and irritable. This summer, bring along key bits of your daily routine to help you stay steady and nourished so you can enjoy the adventure.
This is oh so tricky when in a new bed, or hotel. Bring along any comforts that might help such as an audiobook (my go to), a sleeping mask, calming essential oils, and low expectations. That’s right, if you know you don’t sleep well the first night or so away don’t expect to. Give yourself a little grace and plan accordingly.
Traveling can be very drying. Pack a thermos and/or water bottle. (Be sure it’s empty before going through airport security or you’ll have to become the proud owner of something new you didn’t need.) Drink hot water in cooler weather and on airplanes; room temperature water in warmer climates. Drink up to a quart of hot water first thing in the am… before any coffee or tea… This will wake up your body, stimulate digestion and help stave off constipation. You know I feel about hot water!
Start Your Day with Silent Inspiration
Take a few quiet minutes to yourself to breath in and out. Read a passage from scripture, your inspiring daily reader, or bit of poetry. You can do this anywhere, your hotel room, a bathroom, a back porch. Notice how this leaves you feeling more centered supported and able to go with the flow.
Get in a few hip openers (pigeon etc), thigh stretches, down dogs, and backbends to ease the tension of traveling. Or, if you have 20 – 30 minutes, enjoy the yoga routine on the right.
Oil to Avoid Getting Sick
Ever notice how your nose gets crusty and dry during travel, especially on the plane? Dryness makes you more susceptible to infection from germs and other nasties. Put a small dab of olive oil on your finger tip, rub it into your nostrils, maybe even your ears. While you’re at it, rub the oil all over your body. Let it soak in then rinse off.
Travel can be hard on the tummy. Take ginger capsules for motion sickness. Try two prior to starting travel, then as often as needed. Digestive issues? Mix equal parts cumin/coriander/fennel in a small jar and pack in your travel bag. Take up to a tsp full with water prior to meals. Or just try Trikatu.*
Save Your Skin
Commercial sunscreen is loaded with chemicals we don’t metabolize well. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s Sunscreen guide for an extensive list of alternatives (including Walmart Brand). I like Garden Goddess.
Relax, let go of rigid agendas and enjoy the flow of whatever comes along! (That’s right, Melinda, let go your vacation “to-do list!”)
*Not intended to diagnose or treat illness. Use at your own best discretion. I’m not responsible for the results. 🙂
I have the itch. The longing to be in the mountains at Kanuga, embraced by Rhododendron and hugged by my family. What a gift to have such love in my life.
The eight or so weeks before Kanuga are a season of preparation. I change the wallpaper on my phone to pictures from that holy place. I create a packing list first in my head and then on paper. I look at the events and to-dos on my calendar for the weeks ahead and count my way through what is special and what is mundane.
The Liturgical Year of the Episcopal Church has a term for the mundane days – Ordinary Time. Ordinary Time is made up of the weeks between Epiphany and Lent, and the months between Pentecost and Advent. In general, Ordinary Time, sometimes referred to as “Green and Growing Time,” is a chance to dive deep into the teachings and message of Jesus while the seasons of Advent, Lent, Christmas and Easter are dedicated to the preparation for and celebration of the watershed moments in the life of Christ.
Now that my personal Ordinary Time is slipping into a season of preparation I am presented with the opportunity to practice the delicate balance of living in the present while planning for the future. And when the vacation feast arrives, I am challenged to stay present to the experience without anticipating its end; to relax into a less expectant rhythm.
I don’t want to be so caught up in preparation that I miss the summer. I don’t want to hold so tightly to the experience of the mountain that I miss its Grace. And I don’t want to be so focused on the day that I disallow the excitement of anticipation. This is perhaps the great wisdom of the seasons, the pearl of the Liturgical Calendar – that the Ordinary permeates the Sacred and the Sacred is alive in the ordinary. All I have to do is adjust my focus.
This summer in the cycle of before, during, and after Kanuga, I am practicing this presence by: leaving the floor un-mopped and going to the pool with Cole; setting aside a day for kayaking on Jordan Lake; making fried green tomatoes and peach pie and sharing them with friends; buying blueberries and sunflowers; going to work, writing, practicing asana, and continuing all the little things I do each day. When I finally arrive at Kanuga I will take a deep breath, savor the air, and try to content myself with the shortness of a week. I will return with pictures on my phone, memories in my bones, and an eagerness to eat less oily food.
If this sounds too much like a to-do list, it is. Which is ok because I know that soon August will arrive, the light will change, and a new longing will set in – for Autumn days and crisp skies. Some summer to-dos will be checked off the list, some will be left undone. All the while the Ordinary and the Sacred continue dancing in the rhythm of presence and preparation.
What are you present to? What are you preparing for?