Hello, dear human being, reading these words, wherever you might be…
Are you comfortable in your skin? Before you read, can I invite you to take 30 seconds to feel your whole self, notice any tiny shifts you could make that might increase pleasure and decrease tension? Toes, neck, face, hands, shoulders, belly, posture? How about savoring 3 breaths just being here, in this body, on this spot, in this moment. Breathing is a temporary gig. Let’s enjoy it, shan’t we? Go ahead, take your time. I’ll wait. Just 3 breaths.
Ahh. Nice, right? Embodied presence seems to be a key ingredient in every state we think we want. Why not give it to ourselves regardless of circumstance?
Today, I’m sending our annual missive from lovely Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where we are visiting family this week. How I love it here… Vacation, true vacation is so sweet! It seems rare for us to do travel that is not teaching or attending training and hey, it’s so gooood! Sea breezes and fresh oysters and clams and the best grilled fish and spectacular sunsets and sunrises and the delight of getting lost in old family photos and sipping an IPA in the outdoor shower while daydreaming about my new tattoo and long walks on the beach and skipping stones and swimming in ponds and kayaking and laughing and all the shorebirds and sealife and beautiful shells and stones and a hundred dreams every night and light on water and sleeping in and croquet with old friends in their new home and when local poetry = Mary Oliver and so many beautiful plants and our happy fishing boy and the refusal to hate my aging body for even one minute even when in a bathing suit and old bookstores and sandy toes and reading and writing and donuts for breakfast in his jammies and sweat on a glass of ice cold sauvignon blanc and old and new traditions in this beautiful place, Wampanoag land, the beautiful spit of land that is Cape Cod. What a gift to be surrounded by such beauty!
When I was a teen I fell in love with Buddhist practice and philosophy. One practice that was radically new for me in the early years was the regular contemplation of death and impermanence. At first, I found it a bit shocking. I grew up in a family where when a child asked about death, the adult said, “Oh, that’s not going to happen. Don’t worry about it.” Now, it is a favorite contemplation and one I can’t imagine living without.
Everything that is born is impermanent and bound to die. Everything and everyone we love we will lose. Death is real and comes without warning. Fierce truths. When I hold them like an ember in my heart, my interactions become almost painfully precious. Miraculous gifts. Another day which I’m not entitled to, but blessed by. Wow. It’s passing. Pay attention. Everything is a gift and nothing lasts.
Something I say frequently to my own son is this: We never know when death might happen and I am so very happy I get to be alive with you right now! What a gift!! Earlier this month I had the privilege of leading a Root & Rise retreat working with the brilliant body of practices originated by Joanna Macy. In a community of kind-hearted others, we explored our deep love and care for the world. We named our pain and what’s breaking our hearts in the world right now. We tried on new visions – rooted in deep time and really seeing how recent the industrial growth revolution was (just 300ish years ago!) We explored how we’re each being called to respond to these times in our own unique ways. It was so enlivening and nourishing that I seriously felt high for days. I at least have a pretty good inkling how to proceed. I keep thinking of this line from the Hamilton musical, “Look around, look around, how lucky we are to be alive right now!” Truly.
In recent years, I’ve felt my ancestors tapping me on the shoulder, asking me to pay attention. I’ve been learning more and deepening my relationship with my own blood ancestors and the ancestors of the land where I live (Ute and Shoshone land.) This year, when we arrived at the Rabke family home on the Cape, I immediately greeted the ancestors of this old house, the ancestors of the people who live here now, and the ancestors of the land (Wampanoag people.) How have I not been doing that all my life? I’ve been delighting in digging through my mother-in-law’s old family photos, staring into the faces of my son’s great great great grandparents and wondering what of their essence lives in him and in Carl. Contemplating the history of this land, where a local beac h is named “First Encounter” after the first interaction between the pilgrims the native peoples – wow. To feel ourselves not just on vacation, but in a context that is so rich in history. It helps my mind in a similar way to contemplating death. I feel my self with more “no big deal mind” and experience myself more as one drop in a flowing stream. What beauty and relief. And then of course, I forget. That’s why practice is so important. :)
This morning as I was standing in the outdoor shower, staring up at the lovely oak tree and swift clouds cruising overhead, I was contemplating the unknown future we’re all facing. The truth is that we’re always facing an unknown future, but lately, it’s so amplified with the unknowns of climate change. And not just the scary unknowns, but the beauty of the Great Mystery we live in. We just. don’t. know…
Learning to rest in that ambiguous, groundless mindstate, while simultaneously feeling intimately the support of this ground, this sandy, green, Wampanoag land right beneath my feet – this sense of “I’m right here” – I feel so very alive and inspired it’s almost painful.
a short poem by Stephen Levine
When I was a teen I worked at an alternative bookstore and I fell in love with the writings of Stephen Levine. A favorite question which I loved because it was like a beautiful slap across the face – woke me right up! – was this: If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, who would you call? What would you say? And why are you waiting???
I am holding this in my heart these days not just about my own life, but about capital L Life.
What if it’s all going?
How do I want to live?
What is mine to do?
How do I want to be here in the time we have left?
What is worth doing whether “it works” or not?
When I ask these questions rather than just circling the drain of the news, I feel less scared and more sacred.
What comes to me is this:
I want to fall even more deeply into an unprecedented, fully embodied love affair with the world.
I want to praise. I want to die having done my best to master the art of praising. I want to fully live into Rilke’s line: “Let us disappear into praising. Nothing belongs to us.”
I want to bring forth as much beauty as possible. I want to appreciate as much beauty as possible.
I want to be kind, and generous, and love so fully it knocks my ego right out of the ballpark. Oh, I really want that.
I want to bring forth my unique version of this embodiment and somatic and awakening and mindfulness work as fully and wholeheartedly as possible.
I want to court the rememberance of ancient beauty ways by listening to my bones, listening to the whispers of my ancestors, the whispers of this living land.
I want to spend less time staring at a screen. More time savoring.
Less time freaking myself out about the unknown future, more time planting trees and seeds and dreams with hopes for their long lives.
How about you?
Stephen Levine wrote a beautiful book some years ago called A Year to Live, the premise of which is the invitation to do an experiment where you imagine it’s your last year to be alive. Your last autumn, your last birthday, your last chance to do and see and be so many things. How would you live? He invites us to do the experiment again and again because one of these years, it will be true. And we may not get to know it in advance.
It’s passing. Pay attention. Everything is a gift and nothing lasts.
And so, how wonderful when the uncertainty in the world wakes me up to remember this truth. It can water the seeds of belonging just as well as watering the seeds of anxiety.
This embodiment is a temporary gig. What a crazy beautiful gift.
This perspective really heightens my sense of purpose. Carl and I have so many good things coming down the pike. Please click here to see our updated schedule of offerings, both in-person and online.
This is Your Time
This is your time.
Your time to say what you have kept silent.
Your time to ask your big questions without apology.
Your time to shine like a blazing comet,
whether they like it or not.
Your time to believe what your heart tells you:
that this world could be very different.
Your time to live by your rhythms,
and teach them to the world.
Your time to nurture your village back to health.
Your time to show the world what it has been missing.
Your time to show the world the other side of itself.
– Tara Mohr
As Paul Hawken says, “You are brilliant. And Earth is hiring.”
What is yours to do?
Please know that:
I care deeply about your happiness.
I care deeply about your suffering.
I wish you well in every way.
With love and a thrill at all the possibilities we’ve barely begun to acknowledge,