While media images of women these days seem to be startlingly and aggressively belittling, I have been delighted to watch the growing backlash, the awareness-raising which reminds girls and women not to pay attention, to step outside the story that the media tells us we are and should be.  Even after years of working with body image and railing against the media storm, I still find myself nodding or agreeing in those conversations where people are talking about weight-loss, “Yes, I should lose a few more pounds.  Oh, I know, my body is shamefully unwilling to be thin and svelte. . .” It’s constant work to step out of that cultural narrative, to question the underlying assumption.  Stop and breathe.  Ask, “Am I really too fat?”  No?  No.  Okay.  Move right along.

Yesterday as I was trying to keep myself calm in the face of all the things that I have to accomplish, it hit me that I have been buying into another culture and media-generated story, totally without questioning the underlying assumptions.  It goes something like this: “You are too busy.  You have too many things to do.  You will not be truly happy until you buy this product that makes your work seem easier, or until you take this pill that relaxes you, or until you take this vacation or buy this wine.”  It hit me that while I have constantly questioned the advertising response to this, I don’t know if I have ever truly questioned the underlying assumption.  Am I really too busy?

For years in my life, I couldn’t answer that “Am I too fat?” question with a comfortable No.  There have been a few times when I really was heavier than was healthy for me, but for years I was answering the question wrong, following the script the media offered, and hating the way my body looked, despising my soft squishiness instead of being satisfied and even happy with how I look.

Now, I ask, “Am I really too busy?” and a little piece of liberating intuition is on the cusp of saying a hesitant little no, but I’m still pretty steeped in it.  If I say No to that question, then I have lots of other questions to unpack.  Why is my house cluttered?  Why haven’t I yet painted over that spackled mess on the wall?  Why is the faucet still leaking?  Why is the hillside back there covered with vines and pokeweed?  I can keep going on here for a few more hours.  The fact is, I do feel too busy.  I think I am too busy.

But what if that’s a state of mind, too, instead of a state of fact?  As I step into this next stage of my life, with all the many new demands it holds, perhaps I can try to go into it challenging the assumption that I will be overwhelmed and tapped to the limits.  There seems to be an underside to the “Am I too busy?” question, and that is the assumption that if you aren’t feeling completely stressed out and overwhelmed, perhaps you aren’t actually working hard enough.  I think that’s a dangerous assumption.  When I am feeling my most overwhelmed, I am a much less productive and effective person.  I am thinking that one of the gifts that I can give my students (if I can remain conscious and aware enough to manage it) is to model a healthier answer to the question.  “Am I too busy?”  Umm, no?  No.  Okay then.  Move right along.


Gratitude List:
1. That fascinating dream, just now, in which I was reading a poem about examining a screech owl’s pellet to a very attentive black bird with bright eyes and yellow wings and yellow wattles that hung down low over each side of its face.  (After a night of difficult dreams, it is lovely to be left with this image as the final story.)
2. Listening to the boys giggle and guffaw while Jon reads them Winnie the Pooh stories.  These days they’re so quick to reject so many things as “Baby stuff!”  I was afraid that Pooh Bear might be relegated to that category.  I am grateful that they can style shift between Lord of the Rings and Winnie the Pooh.
3.  The way ideas build upon ideas when you let them.  Sometimes I feel so dry, like I’m afraid to try to put new ideas for writing or projects together.  What if this is my last good idea?  I want to hoard it, hold onto it.  The more you let them flow, the more they flow.
4.  Deciding not to be too busy.
5.  Being a strand in the web.  Sometimes I don’t know what else I have to offer but my place in the web.  And sometimes, perhaps, that is enough.  It seems like an odd thing to be grateful for, for grief, to grieve the heart-wrenching loss that a friend is experiencing.  But that’s part of being part of that web that connects us.  I am intensely grateful for that connection, even when the web is shaken by grief.

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitude List:
1.  Feeling better.  Maybe sometimes it takes feeling sick for a day to remind me how good normal feels.  I can get whiny and fussy about how tired and achy I am these days, but a day of being sick makes the default me feel pretty energetic and happy.  Also, if you’re going to feel really sick, having a crazy storm blowing cool winds in the window is a nice environment to be sick in.
2.  Another new addition to the family.  I think Afil Hamster will be with us a little longer than the baby mouse was.
3.  Feeling the work take shape.  It’s like watching a small creature emerge from an egg.
4.  Is it the weather?  Is it simply the time of year?  I am feeling the transition beginning within me, in these weeks before I start school.  I was worried that I would come to August and feel cheated of my summer, or like it had gone so quickly that I didn’t have time to get it all together.  But the internal transition is happening.  I feel ready, and I am grateful for that.
5.  Hope.  I know I have written about this before.  I know and appreciate Pema Chodron’s definition.  Maybe I am actually identifying something else when I write of hope–but there’s a kernel of something in there that makes me strive, makes me move beyond simple resignation toward something better.  Even in my prayer and meditative life, I feel like a ray of hope renews the energy for that internal work.

May we walk in Beauty!

I cast a line from me to you,
to you, to you.
Catch and weave,
catch and weave.

And I receive
the lines you cast my way.
Catch and weave,
catch and weave.

Until we have a bowl,
until we have a net, a nest,
a net of hearts for one we love
to rest in, to be held.

Spiders in the corners,
we watch and listen,
we hold the lines
and tell the story
as it unfolds.

Gratitude List:
1.  Net, web, nest
2.  Dyeing–watching the new color emerge
3.  The blue eye of cornflower
4.  The way my children enter literature.  I thought The Hobbit was perhaps too much for them, but they listen and ask questions.  Now they want to venture in to The Lord of the Rings, and who am I to tell them not to.  Here we go: A Long-Expected Party.
5.  The way Jon WK keeps me laughing.  Sometime I’ll tell you the pumpernickel story.

May we walk in Beauty!

This morning as I woke up, a remnant of dream was just wandering out the back door of my brain, too quickly for me to even catch it by the tail, but its words continued to echo through the halls of my head: “Keep dreaming.  Keep feeling.  Keep talking.”

I certainly don’t think of myself as someone who is in need of an admonition to keep talking, but perhaps there’s an honest and deep-wrought speech attached to the dreaming and feeling that I would do well to hone and refine.

Even without a fragment of a dream remaining to pin it to, I have a strong intuition that this is a social admonition.  In all the personality tests I have ever taken, I sit pretty firmly in the center of the introvert/extrovert scale.  Sometimes, perhaps, this is a comfortable balance where I can pick up the best qualities of both, but there are also times when I feel like I live through the most artless aspects of them instead, the light and chatty self-absorbed extrovert and the socially awkward and uncomfortable introvert.  One part of me has no patience for the “small talk,” and the other part of me is anxious about moving past the friendly surface of conversation.  Then I find myself using the breezy chattiness to cover up the feelings of gracelessness.

It is when I can keep myself in touch with my truest dreaming, feeling self that my speech–both the ritual greetings and the deep conversation–is most honest and real.  That feels like a good spiritual practice.

Keep Dreaming.  Keep Feeling.  Keep Talking.

Gratitude List:
1.  My heart is heavy this morning with the story of a vigil that a friend is keeping.  I ache for the pain and the terror, and feel no gratitude for what she is facing.  But I am grateful to be included in the watchers and listeners who hold her in the light, grateful to have that, at least–prayer, energy, hope, loving hearts–to offer.
2.  We made it through harvest and set-up yesterday with Farmer Jon flat on his back in bed, sick.  What an amazing farm crew!  I get by with much more than a little help from my friends.
3.  Crows calling in the wood.  They sound like adventure is at hand on this still, hushed morning.  Isn’t that odd?  The cat is hollering his head off, and the crows are squalling, but the air feels like silence, like impendingness, like waiting.  Adventure is at hand.  That excites me.  What will the day bring?
4.  Dream messages
5.  Long sleep.  Sleep is such a cure.

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitude List:

1.  The people who are doing the work.  You know them–they don’t wait to be told what to do in a crisis, they don’t sit around and shake their heads when something needs to be done.  They get up and do something.  They create the world they want.
2.  Summer suppers: corn on the cob and tomatoes, watermelon and blueberries, zucchini fritters and fresh salsa.
3.  The light hitting the tops of the trees in the bosque.  I know it’s sunny morning already up on the ridge, but down here, we’re still in shadow.
4.  Help.  When there is a long day of work ahead, it’s nice to know that there are so many good-hearted, friendly folks to help with the tasks.
5.  The raucous wren welcoming the coming sun.  Time to be up and doing!

May we walk in Beauty!

Alas, but the wee mousekin has died.  A small boy is learning that terrible and beautiful lesson that we all must learn throughout our lives, again and again and again: that when you open your heart to great love, you open your heart to great grief.  But oh, his heart broke so.  And so did ours, as we tried to be present, to help him be present, to witness that small death.  And of course, he is fine, and chattering on about the hamster that a wee mouse made space for in our idea for our life.

Amid all the sadness of that loss, and the excitement of making a new small friend, I hope he will never forget that day of tender care for one of the tiniest creatures.  I hope he will always remember how, when he would put his long slender fingers into the bin where it lived, the big eyes would turn eagerly toward him, and wee Shiver would scurry eagerly onto his hand and burrow her tiny face into his palm.


Gratitude List:
1.  For the big-hearted boy, for the chance–no matter how painful–to learn of grief early and gently, to name the feeling and mark it in his heart.  For his readiness to open his heart again.
2.  For the man who sat with the boy and wept with him silently, not asking him to process or discuss–only to witness and experience his emotions.
3.  For being recognized in the lists of poets from the Poem-A-Day challenge last April.  It’s not like winning a contest, really, but just having some of my poems noticed amidst the many that were posted feels kind of good inside.  I feel like I’ve joined a community of poets.
4.  Change.  Just enough.  Not too much.  Not too little.  In that place between too quiet a routine and too unbalanced a life.
5.  Camp.  I know I put this one up here just a few days ago, but that was gratitude for how well camp went for my boys.  Today I put it on the list for how it gives me a little breathing space in the clamor of summer demands.  Quiet.

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitude List:
1. The newest member of our family: Shiver McNibble the Mouse-babe.  Sweetness and tenderness it brings us.  I am in awe of the natural tenderness and careful care that my children offer this tiny, vulnerable creature.
2.  Farmer Jon’s Tomato Steak sandwiches: A little cream cheese and mayo on a toasted whole wheat English muffin, and then a thick slab of a Cosmonaut Volkov tomato, sprinkled with chunky sea salt.  Cosmic.
3.  A good beginning to farm camp for the boys.  Friends and kind adults, new chickens to play with, feeding the donkeys, playing in the Enchanted Bamboo Forest.  What more could a kid want?
4.  Yoga balance poses–feeling my body, even at this near-half-century, learn new confidence and balance and strength.
5.  Naming the feelings.

May we walk in Beauty!

Recently, my pattern is to write these lists in the mornings, before the children wake up, as a way to reflect on the previous day before I start the new one.  So each day I catalog the possibilities for gratitude before I go to bed, so I have something to work with in the mornings while my brain is beginning to emerge from sleep.

Sometimes that stew of anxiety-producing news and political analysis that mixes with the personal anxieties of the daily can stir up to a rather potent brew.  This week, in particular, I have felt how the practice of gratitude has helped to ground me in the midst of anxiety, how it keeps bringing my mind to a solid perch amidst the what-ifs that want to shake me loose.

Does it seem to be against the point to say that a daily gratitude practice has helped me understand my challenging emotions more fully?  Why do something that gets me in touch with anxiety or fear or fury or despair?  But this has truly been part of the grace of this practice for me.  Particularly in this past year, I feel as though I have owned some of these strong emotions.  Throughout an anxious day yesterday, each time I picked up a thread of gratitude, that brought me to a quiet and grounded place.  When I went back to the emotional tasks of the day, I found myself saying, “Oh, that thing I was feeling was fear.  I was afraid I would not be equal to this task before us.”  Because I could hold on to this grounded gratitude piece, I could be more present in the moment during anxious times, and name the challenging feelings I was feeling.  I think.  I hope.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be gratitude that does it.  I have been trying to live in a more mindful and conscious way for years.  Mindfulness is a powerful practice.  For me, in these recent years, practicing gratitude has helped me move to a deeper level of mindfulness.  I have a long way to go, but it’s nice to be able to look around and notice a little bit of a forward shift on the journey.


Gratitude List:
1.  Voices that encourage me/us to be listening for the Wind of change, to keep loving hearts open
2.  Fireflies rising in the dusk
3.  In the middle of the Old Bridge, several of the new lights are veiled in cobwebs that shiver and glimmer in the river breeezes
4.  Working together to find solutions to challenges
5.  Circles upon circles of community.  I love my people, all of you, in all these many circles.

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitude List:
1. Graceful, soul-satisfying calligraphy
2. East African jazz and benga music
3. Peach cobbler
4. The Susquehanna River
5. Illumination, which is perhaps the same as #1, and perhaps a different thing, and perhaps being different, it is yet the same.

May we walk in Beauty!

Here is an exercise that I haven’t done in a while, one that helps me to put myself in the perspective of the world.  It helps me to remember how small I am in such a vast world, but it also makes me feel special, here in my own particular spot in that vast world.  Anyone can do it.  Just start where you are, and work outward, including anything you think is important.  Sometimes I sort of backtrack, in order to make sure I have all the geographical features that are important to me.  Most of these places do actually have unofficial names, but you can name things whatever you like, eh?

Here I am, in Grandma’s recliner, in the living room of Arbor House, under the poplar and sycamore trees, on Goldfinch Farm, by Cabin Creek, on Schmuck Road, in Skunk Hollow, between two wings of Mount Pisgah, in Lower Windsor Township, along the Susquehanna River, in York County, in southeastern Pennsylvania, in the northeastern United States, in North America, in the western hemisphere, on Planet Earth, Terra, in the system of the star Sol, in the Milky Way Galaxy, in a small corner of the Universe, of the Multiverse.

There.  Now I know where I am.  Whew.

Gratitude List:
1.  Even more of the Tiny Bright Folk: praying mantis, katydid
2.  Thermal delight.  Sometimes it feels as though I could always find something to complain about regarding the weather.  Not this week.  This is weather that makes me feel alive and crisp and wakeful.
3.  Fred the Cat is much better now.  He was looking pretty miserable, and I wasn’t sure I could handle losing two cats in a season.  Changing flea control methods has worked wonders.
4.  The glowy golden orange color of the Orange Blossom tomatoes
5.  Getting projects completed before I open up the new world of my new job in less than a month

May we walk in Beauty!


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