Where Do You Dwell?

I know it rarely ends well, so I try not to do it often, but sometimes I read the comments about articles on-line. I try to scan for ones that are free of hate and anger. I am not looking, I don’t think, (but probably am because most of us do..it’s in our nature) for confirmation bias. I just don’t want to read words of hate and anger. For goodness sake, I spend all day long teaching preschoolers how to use words that don’t hurt, even if they are angry, mad, sad or frustrated. Anyone can disagree with me, have differing thoughts or spiritual beliefs. Just please don’t label me, or call me names or insinuate I am not caring or intelligent.

But, I do read some of them. Sometimes I am dumbfounded by the frothing anger, the raging arrogance and the blatant racism and bigotry expressed. How can a soul hold so much anger, fear, hatred and not just explode? I cannot image knowing or having these people in my life. And we know there are others who may be just like these outspoken folks, but don’t seem to share their thoughts out in the open very often. What emotional and spiritual turmoil do they live in?

There were some articles circulating recently about studies on how the words we think and speak impact our impressions, interpretations and connections in life. Not really a surprise is it? It isn’t just about saying things out loud, it is also about the words we think but might not say out loud. If we are a closet anything, never admitting it out loud, the words and thoughts we keep to ourselves of course impact the kind of person we are. Our judgments, assumptions, worries, fears, anxieties and even our expectations, spoken or not, reflect in the person we are. The words that make up our thoughts (and emotions) determine our actions.

There is an article on Christopher Chase’s blog called Perpetual Curse of the Warrior Mindset. It begins with this quote from Albert Einstein,

“We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.”

I think it is time to take a look at where we dwell within our own thoughts and heart. Protected and private or blatant and assertive, where do we live when we are being honest with ourselves? Where do we retire to at the end of the day to process? Where do we step forth from in the morning to go out into the world?

Collectively, is it time for a new manner of thinking that is not born of fear, protection, possession, suppression, greed, materialism, war, militarism, distrust, racism, hate…? Not all of us harbor these things in our spirit, but in honesty, we do cling to some of these, or others. You know the words that come with these things: superiority, defend, collateral damage, mine, God-given, God-fearing, wealth, earned, deserve, what’s in it for me, undeserving, entitled, takers, thugs, scum, losers, socialist, not my problem, why should I care, go back where you came from, whore, sicko, psycho, homo, alien, migrant, Muslim, supremacy, foriegner, wetback, anchor baby…..add your own. It was difficult just to write some of these.

Is it time for a collective shift? Could we even do it if we wanted? What are we at risk of loosing, or never knowing, if we don’t try?

“In beauty I walk.
With beauty before me, I walk.
With beauty behind me, I walk.
With beauty below me, I walk.
With beauty above me, I walk.
With beauty all around me, I walk. ”
The Navajo

Most religious and spiritual practices have lessons on love and tolerance, as well as retribution and hate. We can choose whatever we want.

“Peace before me
Peace behind me
Peace at my left
Peace at my right
Peace above me
Peace below me
Peace unto me
Peace in my surroundings
Peace to all
Peace to the Universe”

We get lost in our fears. We are swayed by thoughts and fears of hurt and suffering, of things being taken away from us or denied to us. We forget: we do not have to dwell in fear.

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6:27-31

We each of us have the power to be a light to others. It is an image and belief we all know, “be a light unto others.”

Oh God Make Me A Light
O God illuminate our heart with Light,
our heart with Light,
our ears with Light
and Let there be Light on our right, and on our left.
Let there be Light above us and below us,
let Light be in front of us and Light behind us.
O God, make us a Light.
The Prophet’s Prayer

This Little Light of Mine

The words we say to ourselves or say out loud, the prayers we offer silently or out loud, the thoughts we think and express, create the person we are.

“As we recite the words ‘ose shalom‘ (make peace)
we bow to the right, left and center,
bringing Peace to the entire world.”
Center for Jewish Spirituality.

Bring Peace To The World performed by BB King.

In many places in Asia when greeting another person, hands are place together over the heart, a slight bow is made and the word “Namaste” is spoken. It means “I honor the light in you.”

What if the words we thought and spoke out loud to each person we met or thought about resonated with the meaning of “Namaste”?


Where do you dwell? In Light or in Fear? In Love or Hate? In empathy or apathy? In possibility or impossibility? In the status quo or in activism? In friendship or as enemies?



The Delectation of Childhood

Delectation: pleasure and delight.

I grew up with a small woods in my back yard. If you took a quick walk through these woods you might not notice much color. The blue of the sky above. The brown of the ground and tree trunks. The green of leaves and plants. But, when you were 6 and pretending to be a scout , moving slowly with deliberate steps so as to not make one sound, you paused automatically to look around. To listen. There wasn’t one shade of green but dozens: new green, dying green, bright green, dark green, leaf green, moss green, etc. The tree trunks were not brown. They were sable and black, taupe and gray. Ochre and ecru were colors I didn’t even know then. There was a hint of white or cream, and rust and doe brown and soil brown. Dry soil brown and damp soil brown. Little dollops of red from berries and the dots on mushrooms punctuated the greens and browns like exclamation points. The sky was blue, but the shades were infinite. The blue was different if you looked east or south. Even the brightness or drabness of the light in the woods was uncontrollable, unpredicatable. Some days brilliant sun rays jabbed at the ground. Other days it looked like a dull yellow veil had been draped over everything. Birds sang joy filled songs and cried out dire warnings. Chipmunks called to each other and repeated clicks and clucks in an endless alert to imminent danger. Leaves on trees danced and sang as the wind softly blew. Decaying leaves rustled as snakes slithered by.


 (photo by me)

The side yard held a swamp. Here there were different colors and light. The sounds were muddled by peat moss and water. Insects chirped and twittered. With wings whirling and buzzing, they landed, kerplunk, on over sized swamp leaves. In the swamp the wetness galumphed and gurgled.  Summer heat felt different here. The swamp smelled of life that was both in fullness and in decay.


 (Photo by me)

My sandbox didn’t interest me so I pulled wild plants up and planted them, turning the sandbox into a garden. Wild roses opened their pale pink petals that smelled like spice. Somehow wild forget-me-nots found the sand hospitable. Violets reappeared each spring. A scraggly maple sapling sent roots deep through the sand and gravel to find the nourishment it needed. I tried everything. The things that grew were incorrigible, totally disinterested in planting guide recommendations. (Now, I am not so lucky with my gardening!!)

These were my favorite places as a child. I saw, smelled, heard, tasted and felt things that mattered to me. Things that moved something deep inside of me. The comfort of Nature enveloped me and nurtured me. There was nothing ordinary or mundane in these environments. Everything was extraordinary and worthy of notice and appreciation, of understanding and protection.

In my woods there were five particular trees that formed an almost square.  I would, at age 6 or 7, traipse to the edge of the swamp and collect cattail leaves. Long, sharp, dark green sword shaped leaves and carry them to “my trees”. I would wander the woods collecting slender branches and sticks. Sometimes my dad would come out and help as I somehow tied or rested the branches around the perimeter of the five trees and bent the cattail leaves over them, making walls to what would become my “fort”. At least one of these trees was a pine tree. It’s broken and living branches provided the perfect spacing of  ladder rungs for me to climb and survey my surroundings, watching for friend or foe. Pine needles carpeted the floor. I can close my eyes and smell the pungent pine scent.

My dad showed me what the wintergreen plant looked like and how to chew the leaves for a refreshing uplift when the summer heat became tiring. I think perhaps that led me to discover identification books…for plants, trees, flowers, animals, mushroom, insects….whatever I could get my hands on. I don’t know how I came by these books: if we had them in the house (my memory is that we had a least a million books) or if somehow I asked for them.

I learned where the animals lived. Some underground, some in trees. After a rain or a light snow, using field guides, I learned how to identify their tracks….and discovered their trails to food and water sources.

I learned how to identify the swamp and forest plants. Marsh marigolds and stinky skunk cabbage. Spongy peat moss fascinated me with it’s drippiness and damp, musty scent. Forest moss was my favorite with its tiny forest of sporophytes holding up seed capsules. I wondered if fairies lived in these miniature forests.

Mushrooms seemed like cartoons. Someone was very careful in teaching me about mushrooms…I never touched or picked any. But I loved the frills and spots, the pores and the musty smell. Mysterious fairy rings would sometimes grow in our yard, supporting the notion that fairies lived in the moss forests.

I learned about popping jewel weed buds and that often it grew near poison ivy. Poison ivy just so happened to grow at the edge of the woods by my yard. I also discovered, much to my mother’s dismay, that I was not allergic to poison ivy….but she was. I learned why Milkweed was called Milkweed.

Yet, the most vivid memories are of finding Indian Pipes, Monotropa uniflora and Jack-in-the-Pulpits. Arisaema triphyllum. These two plants were not always easily found. Finding either one was like receiving a gift from the woods….something special.

The Indian Pipes were devoid of color, a ghostly, translucent white. Even with the gentle curve of it’s Shepard’s hook stalk , fragile bell shaped flower and delicate frills and ruffles, they looked sickly. They grew at the base of trees and lived symbiotically with the tree roots, feeding on a fungi that grew on them. They did not need sunlight. If you touched one it was possible to believe it would just dissolve into slime on your hand. Jack-in–the Pulpits were shy, hiding in darker corners behind tree trunks. The mysterious little Jack (spadix) was always hiding under cover of a slightly striped hood (spathe). In the fall “Jack” sent up a spike filled with plump red berries.


 (photo by me)

These two plants in particular represent childhood and the wonder of nature to me. They signify finding awe, miracles and mystery in nature. And as I grew older, they became increasingly more difficult to find and see….

When my kids were little I remember walking with them through a wildflower preserve here in town. The bulletin board at the entrance mentioned that Jack-in-the Pulpits were in bloom. A pang of excitement surged through me! I could show my young children these special little gifts from Nature, memories from my childhood. We walked and walked. I looked and looked. Nothing. I couldn’t find them. I felt heart broken. Disappointed. Worried…why couldn’t I find them? We left.

I returned. I couldn’t stand it. Where were they? Other people had seen them, why couldn’t I? I felt a little silly, but this was bothering me. I walked through the garden again, looking and looking. Nothing. Finally I stopped. Stopped moving. Stopped thinking. Stopped worrying. Just like that 6 year old child pretending to be s a scout. I had the conscious thought that when I opened my eyes, everything would be special; miraculous…nothing would be mundane, ordinary or average. I would stop looking for something I thought was special and allow everything to be special. I open my eyes and walked. Seeing, hearing, smelling, sensing. Everything sang of beauty, wonder. And there, at the base of a slender tree was a Jack-in-the-pulpit. Right there next to the path.

When I allowed myself to see and experience everything as unique and wondrous, everything appeared….A reminder that everything is miraculous. A reminder to see things as such. Nothing is ordinary. It is all a miracle.

“There are only two ways to live your life. 
One is as though nothing is a miracle,
the other is as though everything is a miracle.”
-Albert Einstein

**Photographs by me.