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Archive for July, 2014

That “thing” at the bottom of your heart

What is that thing that lies at the bottom of your heart?  Sue Monk Kidd

A valuable secret that you once knew but then lost is on the verge of resurfacing.  Be alert for it.  Robert Brezsny

The storyteller was Sue Monk Kidd, best-selling author of The Secret Life of Bees, and she was being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey on an episode of Super Soul Sunday that aired this past April.   The two of them were sitting in wicker chairs in Oprah’s backyard under a grove of big sprawling trees and the atmosphere seemed fresh and springtime sweet and I was mesmerized by the story that unfolded.  I don’t remember what Oprah had asked, something about living a soulful life.  And the question, whatever it was, transported Sue Monk Kidd back in time to a trip she had taken several years ago with a group of women to sacred sites in Greece.  As the women gathered around an oracle deep in a rock cave, their guide, a nun whose English was shaky asked them a question and told them to pause and listen for the answer: “What is that thing that lies at the bottom of your heart?”

When sharing the story with Oprah and with all of us who were watching the interview on television, Sue Monk Kidd added that she thought the nun simply had meant to ask “What is it that you want, deep down in your heart?, but Sue had been enamored with the wording of the question, which had caused her to wonder what it was that was lying at the bottom of her own heart waiting to be discovered.  And, while standing on sacred ground with these women as her witnesses, when she asked herself the question, the answer immediately rose up from her heart’s depth in a voice she heard loud and clear.  “I want to write a novel!”  This “thing”, a novel, that had been lying at the bottom of her heart was a complete surprise.  She had been writing non-fiction for years but it hadn’t occurred to her that, at a soul level, she was longing to write a fictional story.  And shortly after this trip to Greece, she began the soul-satisfying process that eventually led her to write the novel, The Secret Life of Bees, which has sold over three million copies.  And sitting there with Oprah, under the sprawling trees, she proceeded to tell Oprah that she thinks this is an important question for all of us, that, if we would pause and travel inward, we’d be surprised by the “things”, the gifts that lie deep down at the bottom of our hearts waiting for us to unwrap them.

The week after watching this episode of Super Soul Sunday, I brought Sue Monk Kidd’s question to the yoga sessions that I guide at Joy Center, asked it to myself and to the rest of the yoginis as we lay on our backs with our hands on our hearts.  I thought maybe an answer would rise up for me in the same way it had sprung into consciousness for Sue Monk Kidd on that long-ago retreat in Greece.  When I ask myself questions like: “What brings you most alive, Helen?!?” or “What is it you that you really love at this time in your life, in this very moment?!?, the answers bob to the surface with the force of something that simply can’t be suppressed.  I’m good at asking these questions and I’m good at listening.  But this was different.  Nothing sprung up for me that night, no clear “thing”.  And yet, it didn’t feel empty down there at the bottom of my heart or distressing that whatever it was that was lying on my heart’s floor didn’t immediately unwrap itself for me.

It has been a busy three months since that evening that I watched Oprah and Sue Monk Kidd mulling the  question of what constitutes soulful living.  My husband and I have traveled to Istanbul for a week that was cloaked in the richness of east mingling with west, of the ancient ways dancing with the present days, of gift-moment after gift-moment offering itself up for our pleasure.  And we returned state-bound from this amazing trip to attend the wedding of our son to his beloved under a huge tree on a lush humid mid-May afternoon in Knoxville, Tennessee’s arboretum.  And soon after, for six weeks, we delighted in the company of our other son and daughter-in-law and two-year-old grandson visiting us from Moscow, Idaho where they are setting down roots.  And just a few days after they left to go home, we flew west to join them, to lend our helping hands as they gained possession of their first home — and, at the same time, to welcome newlywed other son and daughter-in-law to the same Idaho town where they too will plant their roots.

And isn’t all of this soulful living?!?  To feel your feet dancing down the cobblestone alley-streets of Istanbul, Turkey, to bear witness to a son’s wedding, to welcome a new daughter-in-law into the family, to play for hours on end along Superior’s shores and in playground after playground with your kindred- spirit grandson, to be present to celebrate with your grown children as they reunite in the same western town in the Panhandle of Idaho.  It has all been so good.  And the question — “What is that thing that lies at the bottom of your heart?” — I remembered it now and again and it was a pleasure remembering it, envisioning it, that “something” that is lying there waiting to be discovered.  It was a delicious secret — even to myself — that I carried with me through all of the busy-ness of the past three months, that I still carry with me into mid-summer.  And this is what I suspect, that this “thing”, this next passion, this next project, this next desire, it is waiting for me to claim a quiet moment, the perfect moment, and then it will rise to the surface, all unwrapped and crystal-clear and ready for me to take action.


Lavender in downtown Moscow, Idaho, July 2014

Lavender in downtown Moscow, Idaho, July 2014

Early morning on Moscow Mountain: Moscow, Idaho, July 2014

Early morning on Moscow Mountain: Moscow, Idaho, July 2014


Not too much for me!!!

It is safe to let your light shine!  on an affirmation card

It was every young-mother-who-was-trying-to-look-like-a-good-parent’s nightmare, that Sunday morning over thirty years ago when the four of us — my husband Cam, our two wee boys and I — stuffed ourselves into a pew in a packed-to-the-max neighborhood church.  I’m not sure what we were thinking in this pre-nursery era of churchgoing.  Our youngest wasn’t yet two and the older was under four and both boys were filled with vim and vigor and an amazing radar for sensing when their parents were on the verge of losing it.  The more uptight we became and the more restrictive they sensed the setting, the the wilder the boys’ energy grew.  I’m sure we brought with us a bag filled with favorite books and toys, sure we held our pre-schoolers tight and whispered in their ears that that this was not the place for their outbursts of glee, that they, too, needed to whisper.  We were trying to be good parents, sincerely trying, and that’s what makes what happened next so mortifying.

I’m not even sure how it happened.  Were we lulled in by a false sense of momentary calm or were we just plain tired of holding them so tightly?  For whatever reason, my husband and I both loosened our grips at the same time, and that’s when they made a break for it, a wild and obviously-out-of-our-control break for it, a speedy and giggling beeline race right up that neighborhood church’s center aisle, to the pulpit and the minister who was in the midst of his Sunday morning sermon.  I didn’t know what to do next and my young husband sitting next to me looked even more dumbfounded.  I think we sat there a moment in shock, then one of us — or maybe both of us — must have slunk up that aisle and grabbed our feral children.  And maybe we grabbed our books and toys, too, and made our own speedy beeline right out of that neighborhood church.

I thought of this incident almost two weeks ago now, on Day Four of our grandparent-alone-time with the older of these speedy church racers’ just-barely-turning-two-year-old son.  It had been a fabulous weekend.  Really it had.  I’m not having to sugar-coat the sweetness of this precious experience.  We picnicked more than once on the shores of Lake Superior, tossed rocks into the water, splashed in the waves and buried our feet in the sand.  We waved at gulls and sometimes chased them.  We swung on the swings of at least five different play areas in Marquette County.  And we had delicious quiet times cuddling on our cozy couches and wild pot-banging parades through our now-toddler-friendly-home.  I had a blast and I’d venture to say that toddler Viren and Grandpa Cam had a blast too.  Viren’s enthusiasm is boundless as was his father’s and his uncle’s, and like his father and his uncle before him, his energy often matches this enthusiasm.  And why would I ever want to dampen it?

I know a part of me felt like a terrible parent that day in church over thirty years ago, and, I admit it — I also might have felt, during those horrendous-for-me-in-front-of-the-church-moments, that my kids were also terrible.  Except I didn’t really think either of these things.  Deep down, I knew it even then, that their wild spirits were awesome and I also knew that I didn’t want to squelch this spirit.  What I hadn’t yet grasped, however, is that a whole hour of church-sitting for two wildly-in-love-with-moving young fellows was just too much.  A week ago, after years of learning to sense energy in myself and others, I can’t claim a young mother’s ignorance.  I knew I was headed for a challenge as Viren and I walked through the door of  Maquette’s Food Co-op.

Viren and I already had packed a multitude of errands into this Monday morning, culminating with an hour of rousing climbs and slides and swings and scampers at Marquette’s Lower Harbor Castle-themed playground, and it was now past noon, time to wind down, time for a Viren nap and a Grandma pause.  I knew this, and, yet, we were out of Wet Ones and a two-year-old’s bottom needs environmentally-toddler-friendly Wet Ones, so there was the one more stop, the stop that pushed Viren over the edge.  And he toppled over the edge in the way that his father and his uncle used to take the plunge — he transformed himself into something wild and unwieldily.  It started out okay, with him holding my hand as we walked together, adorable grandson and doting grandmother, through the  produce aisle on our mission to find Wet Ones.  But then, in that blink of an eye as I reached for some grapes, he broke free, and he zipped away, and just like that, I lost him, down the pasta aisle, up the aisle that holds the juices, around the corner, to the deli where I caught up again and he threw himself down, on purpose in a deadweight right in front of the case of string cheese, refusing to budge, until he caught his breath and hopped back up, zipping away like a Nascar racer intoxicated with his own sense of speed.  At some point, I found the Wet Ones, along with a package of Annie’s alphabet-shaped macaroni and cheese, and, clumsily clutching my groceries, grabbed my vim-filled and flailing grandson.  And somehow, I, the now haggard-and-no-longer-doting-grandmother managed to get myself in the check-out line.

I held him fast, my writhing-and-hooting-and-hollering-and-laughing-and-almost-crying-and-definitely-needing-a-nap-grandson, as a dear friend of mine from behind the counter rang up those Wet Ones.  And I’m not sure if it was her compassionate presence, her obvious love and delight as witness to this barely-hanging-in-there check-out scene, but I felt my strength grow, felt a confidence in my ability to hold this grandson of mine.  And I said it out loud, said it to Viren and to my cashier friend and I said it to myself, too: “I can handle my Viren boy’s energy!”  I said it with my own vim and vigor, and I meant it.  And my friend, who knows me well, replied, “He’s not too much for you!”  And he’s not too much for me.  And there’s nothing more enlivening than feeling a two-year-old moving with pure unbridled force.  There’s nothing more enlivening than feeling yourself a container for such force.  So this time, thirty years later, I held my head high, as I, holding tight to my bag of groceries and this wild bundle of unbridled energy,  walked out into the brilliant and sunny day.


Viren at Lakenin Land: Harvey, Michigan, summer 2014

Viren at Lakenin Land:
Harvey, Michigan, summer 2014


The brothers at Glacier: Summer, 1984

The brothers at Glacier: Summer, 1984

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