Belonging In A Real World

Friend, if you do not know how to live in the world because it breaks your heart, sometimes daily, you are not alone.

This morning I woke with grief like a dark lion in my chest, some nameless fear, stalking me from the Dreamtime. And I felt the old weariness in sullen bones, the quiet gnawing hunger in my soul, wishing for a life other than this one I’ve created.

What folly. What foolishness, I think to myself. A dear Parisian scarf wrapped around my neck, a mug of steaming chaga & cacao cradled in my hands, I gaze through the front windows of the cottage, watching soft rain begin to fall like liquid silver, hearing ten thousand fingers drum gently upon the roof and skylight.

I count my blessings daily—or try to—and fail because they are simply too many in number. And when I occasionally succumb to self pity or longing, I have only to consider the homeless man on the street corner, shivering with the harsh bite of cold wind and rain, to reframe my situation and remember that grace abounds in my life.

And yet, still, some days this ache in the heart, a pain I seem to carry for the world itself; a sorrow for all those who struggle and suffer, for the great trees felled by murderous chainsaws of greed, our poisoned and polluted rivers, and all the ones—human and other—displaced from their homes. Politics of hate. Mankind’s existence seems mostly a hungry and angry one, while simultaneously millions are bound to their phones and mobile technology, heads bowed to machines and false gods.

I do not know how to live in that world, I tell you, for it wounds and offends something deep inside, leaving me empty and heartbroken. But there is another realm to which I retreat, finding solace and even inspiration, right outside my door and rain-streaked windows. Underfoot, it yields softly beneath bare soles and tender soul, welcoming me like a gentle, loving mother.

Nature, in her unrivaled glory and creativity, is ever the healing balm for my spirit, each bright blossom shamelessly reminding me of the miracle of life. And just like a flower I pause to admire, my heart unfurls, opening to a much larger story than the dark tangle of troubles and thorns my mind was lost in.

Step outdoors. Smell the perfume of new rain mingling with the resinous scent of cypress trees. Wriggle bare toes into cool, wet grass and feel the chill of soggy earth bringing you awake. Breathe into your belly and imagine roots from the bottoms of feet sinking down into the sweet, dark soil, so richly alive with microbes in a teeming conspiracy of life.

Frequently, I must surrender my grief that I don’t currently dwell in a place of untamed beauty, an environment where nature feels wild and undisturbed around me—like a shaman’s house on a sage-strewn mesa in the high desert—the sort of natural world where I feel most at home, alive and fully myself. Instead I will celebrate that tall trees grow along these streets, admire the first buds swelling on branches, praise the lanky shoots rising from the earth like gentlest green spears of goodness and life, counting each one as a blessing.

Alas that I cannot fix the clamorous daily world or heal it. I can only make conscious choices in how I live, offering thanks, while striving to bring at least some small measure of goodness and beauty in return. Sacred reciprocity, I call it.

Each day, rain or shine, I enact little ceremonies, like stepping out to greet the dawn with the “blessing bowl” of the heart—held aloft to sky and all that surrounds, reminding myself to always make the choice that opens and expands rather than constricts. Surely this is how we can best live our life, as a love prayer to the wild Beloved.

On days when the sky hangs grey and low, heavy with portent that weighs on my own soul, sitting with a cup of tea I sometimes have to remind myself to which world I really belong. Not the one that television news or Internet sites and articles tell me is real, but rather the one right outside my door, now jubilantly waking from winter dreaming. And if I somehow cannot find beauty or inspiration in my environment, then I must rally and go in search of it. Pull on my jacket, hat and gloves, and set out walking—whether in the neighborhood where I reside, some wild mountainside, or a lonely sea shore that sings me alive.

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This talk of another, better world is not escapism; it is reminding ourselves of the Larger Story. There is a pattern that connects, within and externally, a cosmic matrix of which each thing is a softly humming part, both in energy and form.

For those who can listen, see, and truly feel, there is another reality that exists, full of wild magic—a realm where everything is alive and speaks, even without words. Stones, even. But to find the golden key to that door, one’s heart must be open. Indeed, heart and senses must be the portal that allows you to cross the threshold between worlds.

Softening the gaze, stepping sideways through an invisible hedge, one can pass through the layers and slip into a sea of energy and interconnectedness—a realm of interwoven consciousness and Nature intelligences. Less rigid, less crystallized, everything is in motion, growing in a golden spiral, effortlessly embodying its divine blueprint.

And it isn’t just my imagination, this realm, though surely it would be alright even if it was, for what a priceless gift that is—the ability to imagine a better, more magical world.

Unlock your heart. Again and again I say and write it. Unfasten those weathered shutters. What the mystics, lovers and poets have always known, science is beginning to discover: the heart is an organ of perception. It feels the world, and it is in this way—feeling—that Nature (embodied as plants, trees, rocks, rivers, even microbes) communicates with us. When we open the doors of perception, through our senses and heart, we step into a different sphere, another “room” in the garden, so to speak.

This is the Field of Possibility, where we touch into the enormous, inexhaustible power of creation to manifest “profoundly huge and wondrous things.”

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Yet amid the daily crush and humdrum, or the lonely and slow creeping dark hours of night, how easy to lose sight that life is a miracle—especially when it mostly seems like we are breaking open. The larger story continues to play out. Can we see that even in our shadows and despair that we are never truly alone, for we cannot ever be separate from the living, sentient web that enfolds and permeates us. Each of us is the universe, and the breath passing out of us is stardust and the songs of trees.

Yes, I belong to that conscious, magical and real world with each passing breath. And as a shaman sees existence, I am merely a lifestream of energy moving among many lifestreams of energy.

What a paradox this: to live fully, we choose for our hearts to be open, allowing pain that can feel like a shattering. Simultaneously, in an increasingly artificial world where magic, mystery and holiness have been largely banished, we must find ways to build a life that nourishes body and soul—courting the sacred, as it were, lest the heartache take up too much room.

Surely there is grace in the breaking, for only when we are split open does something new emerge—like the tender shoot pushing upward from a seed through dreaming earth, struggling upwards, heeding the surge of energy and magic, trusting in the force contained within its cells and drawn from the very soil that contains it. Or a chick that emerges from the snug shell, not knowing what waits beyond the small, dark world of its existence, only that it must break free. Tightly folded up, it hasn’t yet discovered its own wings. Yet it risks its entire existence, the only space that it has ever known, to struggle forth into what it is meant to become.

It is good and right to shed tears for the world, I think, but may we weep also for its staggering beauty. Everywhere. And if you cannot find beauty in what surrounds you, go in search of it—or create it with your hands and heart, and then give it away selflessly. Freely. Madly. Even if it’s just a song. A poem. A story. Perhaps a garden. Or a simple supper for your beloved.

Heal the heart by finding and offering beauty. And kindness. Gratitude, too. We are only here a short while, after all.”    (excerpted from “A Heart Open to the World,” The Soul Artist Journal, 2015)

This, then, is the struggle everyday: to choose something of value and goodness, even in the chronic pain (physical, mental, spiritual) or heartache, to rouse from inertia and go find nourishment and inspiration—choosing to frame it all with gratitude.

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The earth is softly clad in green, the color of winter’s garb on the central California coast, when the rains finally come to replenish. Restore. Elsewhere summer is the verdant season, but here the hills will be parched brown under the bright sun, with water precious. And despite the repeated storms and torrential downpours these past winter months, all still seems right and cyclical, a rhythm that can be trusted, stitching us back to that larger narrative.

As so often of late, rain has drummed through the night, a familiar cadence to the Dreamtime. Now in the bright morning sunshine and cool air, wearing a light jacket and a scarf wrapped around my neck, feet bare and feeling the slight chill underfoot, I am pulling “weeds”—a quietly riotous chorus of yellow wood sorrel that has blanketed the town and surrounding region.

Yellow wood sorrel

After the rain’s blessing, how easily come the pale roots in hand, surrendering with just a little tug. Slowly, crouched and bent, I make my way along the expanse of the front fence, senses cast wide to the morning, wondering if I will finish this clearing before the clouds, already gathering once more, let loose again.

Two nights ago, the forager in me gathered handfuls of this so-called weed and made a delicious sauce that I served atop a fillet of freshly caught, local Big Sur rock cod. Today, I have carefully set aside a large bucketful of the shamrock-like greens for later this evening when they will become a surprisingly fine soup—made with chopped yellow onions and homemade, organic chicken stock, a couple of egg yolks swirled in to thicken, and then garnished with a dollop of sour cream.

Happy as I am to be connected to earth in such a tactile and tangible way, building jumbled pile after pile of uprooted greenery, occasionally stopping to carry them to the large black compost bin, or simply to stretch my body, I’m grateful that I don’t work in the fields ALL day. Pull of tight hamstrings, the moaning creak of low back, fresh dirt under my fingernails, these connect me to the thankless toil of those who grow and harvest our food without any recognition. Bless them all.

A cool gust of coastal breeze stirs my greying hair, tousling it with an invisible hand. The sacred and mundane are like alternating heartbeats, nearly indistinguishable, and I feel the glimmer of that other realm just at the edge of my senses, a whisper of some wordless music.

Briefly, I flash upon my life a year ago when I was so ill, suffering from extreme electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS), nearly disabled by the negative effects of WiFi and a “smart meter” on the house. Weakly I pulled wood sorrel on days just like this one, my feet bare upon the cold, muddy soil for much needed “earthing” as I struggled through a profound healing crisis. Ultimately, it was a gifted Qigong master, a powerful shamanic initiation, and the earth itself that restored my electrical field and brought me back to health.

The greatest source of healing is right beneath our feet.

Up close and personal with a grey snail, I hold it in my palm, contemplating his strange gastropod beauty and waving tentacle eyes, admiring the painted blue spiral of his delicate, cochlear shell—a visual reminder of nature’s preferred shape and pattern. Above me, a red-capped woodpecker hammers on the pockmarked telephone pole, while Crow laughs loudly from the gnarled branches of the neighbor’s oak, amused with his own jokes. Repeatedly, I tuck glistening, writhing earthworms back under their cover of wet earth to continue their subterranean work of transformation—like the bees, always in the dark as they build their sacred geometry for the alchemical magic of honey.

All of this heals my heart, gracefully stitching me to the real world… the timeless, enduring one. With each breath, I wake more fully from the collective trance of media addiction, materialism, and divisive politics, remembering that I am something beyond a “consumer.” Surrendering instead to the earthly spell of the sensuous, even without a pen or paintbrush in hand, I feel my creativity again stirring like a song in the soul.

Bare feet on the wet ground, pulling handfuls of green as I steadily clear a space, I am reminded of our one true imperative: Grow … and bloom. 

Here, now, I find myself once more at the Well of Blessings rather than the Well of Grief, considering that perhaps they are somehow the same—only that the light emerges from the clouds and illuminates the dark, clear water with a different, shimmering grace.

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Surely this is what is asked in return for the gift of being alive: some sort of sacred reciprocity, breathing in and out, with a soul full of gratitude for the tangled beauty of it all whilst striving to offer a measure of beauty and goodness in exchange.”   (excerpted from “Come Darkness, Come Light,” The Soul Artist Journal, 2016)

We each have our path to walk; mine is not another’s. And it has taken long years of climbing (struggle, exhaustion, giving up, and despair) to reach the vista point where this notion of sacred reciprocity feels relevant—essential, even—to the journey. Too, how important to be grateful for our challenges and struggles, even the losses, for they are often our greatest teachers—especially when we find the gift in them. Gratitude may be the most powerful spiritual path of all. 

In all this, as a season shifts and gracefully becomes the next while weaving me seamlessly into the enduring beauty of the real world, I feel a sense of wild blossoming—wild becoming—that mirrors the spring emerging all around.

What will I bring forth to offer?

If nothing else, may it be a heart that fearlessly embraces both the sorrow and beauty of this humble existence, daily singing its praises, and living my life as a love prayer to the wild Beloved.

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Recipe for Wood Sorrel Sauce

Tangy, delicious, and high in Vitamin C, try adding wood sorrel to dishes for a
lemony lift, make creamy sorrel soup, or pulverize it into pesto for a fresh sauce for fish. Blanching or cooking deletes its load of oxalic acid (which can deplete minerals and calcium), as will adding a bit of dairy.

Wood sorrel sauce, from start to finish

1 1/2 cups wood sorrel leaves, gently packed
2 tablespoons unsalted, organic butter
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
2 tablespoons organic heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon flaky Maldon or Celtic sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method:
Coarsely chop the wood sorrel. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat and briefly sauté the shallots. Stir in the sorrel (it will quickly wilt and turn a drab green). Add the cream and bring to a simmer, then remove from heat and stir in the salt and pepper. Spoon over fish or shellfish. Or dollop atop goat cheese crostini. Enjoy!

Serves 2