A reflection…

After sheltering indoors for a week, protecting our lungs from suffocating wildfire smoke and highly toxic air, a fierce and cleansing weather system brought lightening, thunder, rain and wind. I sat in my garden this morning feeling astonished gratitude for simple pleasures–for home; for a lush garden; for fresh air to breathe; for damp earth beneath my feet; for the pleasure of sunlight warming my skin; for the caress of wind; the sight of trees bending and swaying; the rustling sound of leaves and branches; the ability to see the blue of sky; the luminosity of white clouds; for the wide range of aromas filling the air—rosemary and basil leaves, rain-soaked soil, the neighbor’s freshly-cut grass, the sweet-dankness of decaying compost. A week long sensory-deprivation from these basic elements pushed me to a new edge, physically, psychologically and spiritually.

All morning neighbors have come out of their homes to clean up storm debris, to tend their gardens, to return their space to some sense or image of normal. I see their actions as acts of love, of renewal, of habit. I wondered about my reluctance to engage in this behavior today. I surveyed the damage and neglect, minimal compared to the vast destruction across the pacific northwest. I wondered at the contrast between the desolation I felt inside and the resilient vibrance of the plants and birds in my vicinity. I attributed my reluctance to fatigue, to loneliness, to laziness, to grief. I was in need of restoration after all. I could still feel the waves of toxic-exposure coursing through my body, mind and spirit. My heart was heavy with grief for the destruction of forests and ecosystems I have known for a lifetime, for the loss of habitats, homes and lives. Instead of tidying up, I wept. I wept until I didn’t know what I was weeping for. And then I wept until I knew I was weeping for lifetimes of violence, disconnection, for countless losses, personal and collective. My cat lay beside me, offering a comforting, silent presence. Thinking back, I realize the felines in my life have often been my companions in grief, bearing witness to tears my fellow humans rarely see.

Upon reflection, I acknowledged my innate need to process, to reflect, to be with my sensory experience, to be with my emotions and my thoughts. After a week of living in survival-mode, and after the loss of so many beloved places, I needed time to pause. I needed time to reflect on my awareness of the unsustainability of this way of life, of the futility I often feel in my small acts of subversion, of the impatience and longing I feel for another world, and the longing I feel to live in a community of mutual care and reciprocity. I needed to reflect on my feelings of anger at the centuries spent stealing from generations of youth. I needed time to hold my children in my heart even if I couldn’t be with them in the moment. My daughter is, among other things, a dreamer. From a young age her nightmares have centered around her home or her loved ones burning in fires. My son, among other things, is a seer of truth. His early artistic expressions through drawings and paintings were all of smoke and fire, labeled so by him. Perhaps part of them has always known what was ahead. And now, as teenagers coming of age on the brink of a paradigm shift, in the midst of mass-extinctions, in a world bound for transformation, I observe their fear and doubt of the future, their rage and disbelief at the willful ignorance and cruelty of uninitiated adults, and their resilient determination to love and laugh anyway. I commit daily to doing my part in service of their future.

Sometimes I make meaning through movement, other times I make meaning by sitting with my experience, however painful and messy, by attempting to learn and grow from it. I am my mother’s daughter. She taught me that whenever I am curious, confused, or lost, to ask questions. In the asking, I have learned answers do not abide our constructs of time. I have learned responses come from unexpected sources. In the asking, I have become a lifelong student of attentiveness, of listening, of patience, of non-thinking, of not-knowing. I am questioning everything. I am questioning myself. I am questioning the systems that I am part of, assigned and chosen. When layers of familiar constructions of reality and identity are stripped away, when who I have been before may no longer be relevant, who am I? What parts of me are dying, already dead? What parts are still living, breathing, germinating, or even blossoming despite toxic conditions? What can be resurrected? What must be buried, mourned, transformed? What emergent realities are waiting to be named, to be summoned forth?

A Beseeching Call

Death knows no season, or rather, it knows all seasons. For those of us living where there are four seasons, and for those of us connected to the rhythms of nature, autumn is a season of dying. We witness the death of spawned out salmon, of annual plants. We see deciduous and perennial plants shedding their outer layers in order to draw resources inwards, for the survival of winter. In the plant world, this season of death is a brilliant display of color and a dramatic dropping of biomass. What sheds and dies serves both as a protective layer for soil and root systems, and also as nourishment for the new life to come when the growth cycle begins anew in late winter and early spring. I pray that I may find nourishment in my losses. I pray that all of my little deaths, and one day my physical death, may be so colorful, may nourish the cycle of life.

For many cultures, autumn has been, and still is, a time to honor and connect with our beloved dead. A time to tend the heart of our grief, both collective and individual. Death has many faces. It shows up in loss, in absence–of lovers, marriages, friends, mothers, fathers, jobs, dreams, livelihood, homes, safety, sense of self, access to clean air and water, unrequited love, miscarriage, and on and on. I have come to know that the cultural loss, the perversion, and/or the rejection of ceremonial and meaningful ways to honor and grieve the many faces of death has contributed to the existence of a deep well of unprocessed grief, some of which has grown toxic. Anyone who has tapped into this well knows it is full of pain, though it is not to be feared. It is not unchangeable, and it is also full of wisdom. Our grief can be medicine. Every time we take the time and space to lovingly tend our losses, our deaths, our grief–both small and large–here in this earthly life, we relieve the grief of our ancestors. We unburden our children and our children’s children. We heal ourselves. We cleanse and clarify the waters of our collective well waters. May you take time this season to open your heart to your grief, to tend to it as you would tend an overgrown garden–with patience, with love, with care, with imagination, and with the help of trusted and knowledgeable support. May your resilient heart weather the breaking. May you allow anger and fear to exit through the cracks created by the breakage. May you listen for the messages that come calling to you through the journey. May you welcome the tears and the laughter, equally. May you invite love, healing, and courage to settle into your tender heart.

Mother’s Death

DoeB&W

1

The week my mother’s body began rapidly declining towards death, a doe and her fawn were frequenting my parents’ land. I saw them several times on restorative walks that I took to feel the comfort of the elements. The doe and her fawn would stop and look at me for a moment that felt eternal, then bound away to a safe distance before turning to look back again, as deer do. I was comforted by their presence. My mother’s face became emaciated and her eyes seemed to grow larger. I always admired her green eyes. I find myself now wishing I had spent more time gazing into those green eyes. Her gaze was a present, sometimes piercing one. In her last days, it had a startled quality, a doe-like look. Her gaze seemed to simultaneously see into me and beyond me. She saw visitors invisible to me and acknowledged them with the wave of her hand or the blink of her eyes. There was a luminescence emanating from her shrinking human form. Her soul and spirit and body were in conflict, torn in different directions. She did not want to leave this beloved human body and life, not just yet.

2

My grief is a richly colored, deeply textured landscape, with mountains that cast tall shadows, that feature treacherous and breathtaking cliffs. With dense forests that extend over rolling hills and through valleys. With winding rivers, salty seas, dark damp caves, sunlit meadows of flowers, muddy bogs and pits of quicksand. I wander through all of it daily, willingly. I don’t want the edges softened for me. I don’t want it made better. I want to experience all of it. I am hungry for the journey. My pain brings insight. I am curious about the depths of my soul. I hold deep gratitude for the love that helps carry me through, that prevents me from getting mired down, from getting too lost for too long. I have been an escort to the threshold and back of both birth and death. I am transformed with new understandings, new appreciations, new awe for the multi-dimensional nature of life and death.

I feel a strong sense of urgency. If I might not be here in this body tomorrow, what am I doing waiting on anything? But then, there are things in life that require my patience and nurturing to grow. How do I know the difference? When to act, when to wait? This liminal space is testing my trust. It is asking me to hold on and to let go at the same time. It is teaching me about the subtleties of separation and loneliness, of solitude and companionship–these may be profound realities of this physical human existence and also tricks of the human mind, for I have felt utterly alone in the midst of company, and yet, I also know that even when I am alone, I am never truly alone.

3

Spreading her ashes,

in my garden,

along wildlife refuge bluff,

under western red cedar,

into softly burbling creek,

I came upon bone fragments.

 

Bone and ash of the body,

bone and ash of her body,

bone and ash of your body, Mother.

bone and ash of your body, Mother

your body that formed my body.

Bone of my bone,

flesh of my flesh,

blood of my blood.

Bone and body that no longer belong, to you,

no longer attached to soul and spirit.

now ash,

now returning.

 

I once asked,

Where do we begin and end?

We are a continuous, circular flow

of beginnings and endings–

with no beginning and never ending.

I wonder now,

How do soul and spirit unhook from the body beloved?