Your one wild and precious life

Tell me, what is it you plan to doWoolly mullein, a plant with healing properties, often grows on disturbed earth
with your one wild and precious life?
– Mary Oliver, 1992

Do you ever wonder what you’re doing with your life, and whether it is truly fulfilling your deepest joy, your purpose here, right now, on this earth, in this lifetime? Do you ever feel like maybe you’re not quite in alignment with your deepest values? Do you seek to find the right balance for yourself between obligations to your self, your people, your work, and your place?

It is a precious gift to have the chance to live in a body on this beautiful earth. I’d like to tell you about two events that celebrate both the earth and our connection to it.

Radical Joy for Hard Times is celebrating our love for the earth through an event called the Global Earth Exchange, on June 19. This is a do-it-yourself kind of event, where you find a place near where you live that has been wounded, perhaps by human activities or perhaps by a natural disaster. Go there on June 19, with a few friends or alone, and create something of beauty in that place. It could be a song, drumming, bringing flowers, planting a tree, picking up trash, or anything else you might like to do to bring beauty to the area. That’s it. Pretty simple. Just letting your heart express its love for the earth by caring for a place that could use a little attention. If you’d like to be a part of the event in a more formal way, there are resources on the Global Earth Exchange web site.

If you are wondering how to connect with the earth and bring your gifts into the world, I invite you to join me on a medicine walk on June 20. I’d love to share with you this ceremonial way of walking on the earth and seeking guidance from the more-than-human world. I’ve reduced the fee to $30, but heck, if money is an issue for you, you can participate for free. Just use the form on the Registration page to sign up, and I’ll contact you with the details about where to meet on the morning of the 20th. Then we’ll carpool to the Seymour River (about a 15-minute drive) and spend a day together in the woods.

Both of these events occur on the weekend of the summer solstice. Connecting with the earth in a conscious way is a wonderful way to mark the turning of the seasons. If neither of these events appeal to you, perhaps you will find your own way to mark the passage from spring into summer.

Rites of spring and a tramp through the woods

Last November I closed up the house at Monkey Valley for the winter, and Angela and Karen in the cattle chutecrossed my fingers that the place and plumbing would fare well. Last weekend my sister and I went to Monkey Valley to open up the house for the spring. I was delighted to discover that there were no plumbing problems after a winter of freezing temperatures in this high mountain place! Just one washer to replace in a tap, and a spill to clean up because the laundry detergent decided to fall off the shelf and spread over the floor. While this led to a minor bout of cursing (laundry soap is very foamy and hard to clean up!), it was such a relief to be able to turn on the water and use it right away, and not to need a plumber in to fix leaks. I think that after 8 years of winterizing the plumbing I’ve finally got it down!

As an added bonus, the house was still in immaculate shape, as I left it, with no disturbances from the little friends that nature often sends to visit me!

On the holiday Monday, my friend Angela of ChiRunning fame came to visit, along with her partner, Joe Charron, and the other member of their musical trio, Wahl. After a birthday lunch for Joe (which included an awesome chocolate cake that Angela just happened to bring along!), we all went for a tramp around the property. I took them over hill and dale, climbing fences and fording the creek twice as we circled the 160 acres of the property. It was a great afternoon, with Joe identifying some of the plants whose names I still don’t know, and Wahl making jokes and taking pix. We just may have convinced the two guys to lead some campfire sing-alongs at the retreat in July.

After seeing the lay of the land, Angela was able to plan the ChiRunning focuses to teach at our upcoming retreat. As well as the basic ChiRunning focuses, she will be teaching techniques for hill running and trail running. Here is a flyer for the ChiRunning & yoga retreat at Monkey valley that Angela created. Please feel free to print it out and give copies to your friends. We look forward to seeing you there!

The Vancouver half-marathon, irritation, and relief from suffering

TonglenFollowers of this blog might be wondering how the Vancouver half-marathon went, after my previous entries about the preparations and learnings along the way. The race itself occurred during a 4-day Diamond Approach Vancouver weekend that I was attending, which meant that I was in the “field of the teaching” while I was running the race. This meant that I was more open and sensitive than usual.

Does that mean I had a blissful race, wafting through the trees of Stanley Park, buoyed up by the nearby ocean waves? Hell no! It meant I was accutely aware of how my need for space and flow was constantly thwarted by the masses of people around and ahead of me. I experienced a continual sense of frustration for most of the race. Because I was in a heightened state of awareness, the frustration seemed even more painful than usual, and I noticed how my mind kept generating reactive comments about the people in front of me who were IN MY WAY!!

As I noticed this judgmental, hateful thought stream that my mind kept generating, I felt powerless and despairing of ever being able to cease this painful activity. It seemed to be totally beyond my control, and out of control. I don’t want to be having thoughts like “Get the fuck out of my way!” all the time. Yet I have been doing inner work for many years, and these types of thoughts still do occur all the time.

After noticing this go on for a while, I decided to try something new, which was to feel kindness towards myself each time I had a judgmental or hateful thought about another person. I have been reading Pema Chödrön’s book Tonglen: The Path of Transformation, which teaches how to breathe painful states such as anger and hate into the heart, and breathe out light, love, compassion, and so on. So each time I had a judgmental thought, as the kilometres went by, I felt into my heart, with a sense of curiosity and kindness, to see how it felt as this was all happening. It felt quite hard and tight, but the experience of touching my heart with the kind, curious awareness added a feeling of warm intimacy with myself. I suspect that this is what I was really longing for, as well as the feeling of running at my ease and flowing. When people are packed so tight around me I feel claustrophobic and on hyperalert, so I can’t relax into the ground of my being.

The opportunity to keep bringing my attention back into my heart, time after time, felt like a gift of this race. And coming towards the finish line, the crowd thinned out, for about the last 100 metres there was finally the sense of thoughtless, spacious pure flow I was longing for. My mind was still, and I felt like I was in a timeless moment of blissful movement. It was truly wonderful.

As soon as I crossed the finish line, there was a huge crowd in front of me and I had to wait about ten minutes before I could get free. It was extremely distressing, to have those few moments of pure blissful awareness and then be back into the panicky feeling being trapped and not being able to get out. But finally the crowd inched to the opening and I was free.

I ran from there to the place where I had parked my car, at Main and Hastings (about another 10 minutes). It felt great to know that my limit is now beyond the half marathon, due to the earlier training I had done when I intended to do the full marathon. When I got to my car I put the medal inside and then leaned against the car to do some calf stretches. I was looking down, not really thinking about anything, and another moment of grace descended upon me. I was perceiving the objects in my field of vision with no thought or evaluation. It was a moment of nonconceptual awareness, in which the usual automatic process of looking at things, labelling them, and evaluating whether they were good or bad stopped. I was just looking. It was a taste of the kind of freedom I long for, though in that moment I wasn’t longing or even feeling free. Everything just was. After a few moments, I realized I was looking at cigarette butts floating in the clear rainwater in the gutter. Can you imagine the freedom of looking at that and not having to think “Ew, cigarette butts, disgusting!” But instead to just feel pure, clear awareness? It is a delicious way to be, my friends, and I wish that for all of you.

This week I am at the Dan Brown meditation retreat I mentioned earlier, and he promises that the mahamudra techniques he is teaching us will bring just that type of freedom from reactivity. The teachings also promise a taste of awakened mind, which he says is a simultaneous experience of bliss, stillness, and clarity. This is our true nature. May we all know this through our direct, lived experience.