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Archive for February, 2018


When you love what you have, you have everything you need.  Unknown

Love is an endless mystery, for it has nothing else to explain it.  Rabindranath Tagore

What you are seeking is seeking you.  Rumi

It began with a flock of pine grosbeaks in the bitter cold days of late December, this love story that I’m about to share with you.  As the arctic air blasted its way into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, our backyard became a haven for three bunnies, a vole, a doe and her teenage fawns, a family of fat gray squirrels, the chittery-chattery red squirrel cousins, and our winged friends, the woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches, along with the passer-throughs, like the grosbeaks.  It was my five-and-a-half year old grandson, Viren and I who first noticed her, a female grosbeak, perched there in the snow beside the feeder, all puffed up and still, on a gray blustery below-zero morning.  “I think she might be hurt,” I said to Viren, who was visiting over the holidays from Idaho.  “Let’s go see what we can do!”  So, Viren and I bundled up and trudged through the snow to the feeder where our grosbeak was still crouched, quivering a bit, perhaps from fear, perhaps from the cold.  “I’ll go get some sunflowers seeds and scatter them for her,” I said and made my way back to the garage.  And before I, with my container of seeds, had even rounded the corner to the backyard, Viren cried out, “Grandma, she’s flown away, up to the tree by the deck!”  We scattered the feed and returned to the warmth of home and hearth, relieved that our grosbeak could fly, assuming she had just been stunned by the cold.   And our thoughts turned elsewhere, as we made our own flight, Grandpa and I, and Viren, along with his baby sister and parents, out to the mountains of Idaho to join Viren’s cousins over the weekend before the new year.

It was a note that called us back to the grosbeak in early January when Grandpa and I returned to our home in Upper Michigan.  Our friends, Amber and Raja, who had been housesitting, left it on the table: “I think you have an injured bird,” the note said.  “She’s living under the deck with the bunnies.”  Oh my, they were right,  We watched her over the next few days as she made her way from her new home with the bunnies under the deck to the feeder by the pine.  With right wing held stiff, she hop-flew-hopped through the snow, leaving her unique-patternered prints, always somehow managing to take flight to the feeder.  And, as time passed, she began to fly farther, to the birch, and the maple, and then back again to eat and finally to her under-the-deck home.

Grandpa Cam and I became more vigilant during the frigid days of January, making sure the feeder was stuffed full each morning, with extra seeds scattered underneath for good measure.  And Grandpa gave our backyard grosbeak a name, Stiffwing.  We talked about her to each other in notes left on the table and in phone calls and face to face each evening: “Did you see Stiffwing at the feeder this morning?” “I think she’s pulling her wing a little closer to her body as she eats!”   “She flew so far I didn’t see where she landed!”  She became a favorite topic of conversation for the two of us.  And we began to notice other things as well.   The little black vole seemed to be first at the feeder at dawn each morning, the bunnies usually fed one at a time while the fat gray squirrels with the white-tipped ears pushed everyone else away and gorged as a family, and the chickadees always seemed patient, perching on the deck’s cedar poles, waiting their turn.  One gray day, a red squirrel and a bunny faced each other in a colorful under-the-feeder stand-off, the red squirrel chitter-chattering wildly and the bunny backing up a bit and hopping high into the air.  Because of our concern for a stiff-winged grosbeak, Grandpa Cam and I had slowed down enough to notice and appreciate our backyard menagerie.  And we thank Stiffwing for this.

And we thank Stiffwing for other things too.  From the get-go, she has been our wintertime warrior, her resilience astounding us, how she knew the under-deck-home would be a place of safety to recuperate, how she also knew she had to eat voraciously, several times a day, in order to heal, and how she patiently allowed this healing to take place.  We felt honored to witness this process, honored that it was our backyard that she had chosen.  By the end of the month, our grosbeak friend was pulling her wing tighter  to her body as she fed.  Although still a bit askew, the wing seemed to serve her well, as her flights took her farther away, perhaps to other feeders in the neighborhood or to the marsh behind the house.  And, on that last day of January, our flight took us farther away as well, Grandpa Cam and I, as we once again said good-bye to our backyard menagerie, along with our house and cat and two businesses, leaving it all in the tender and loving hands of our friends Amber and Raja.  During the wee hours of a super moon morning, we let the wings of a Delta airplane carry us southwest for a five-day hiking trip to Sedona, Arizona — and it is easy on such an adventure to let go of the cold and the snow and the ordinary everyday comings and goings of a life in the north woods, easy to become intoxicated with the new, with the red rock mountains and the clear blue sky, to become sun-smitten and loopy and head-over-heels in love with this southwestern place of high vibration vortexes.  And so we surrendered to this beauty and immersed ourselves in the experience, hiking from morning until sundown on trail after trail after trail.

And it was on one of these trails, on a day when the air was as clear as clear could be and the landscape was crisp and vivid and Grandpa Cam and I were trekking the circumference of a mesa, that we spied the caves in the red rock and imagined the people who once had lived in such dwellings and wondered what it would be like to be so in sync with nature.  We breathed in deeply, the smell of juniper and cedar and sunlight, and we felt a happiness in our own bodies’ bones.  And I reached for my modern-day phone, to capture the moment in a photo, to remember it always, when I noticed the text message.  It was from Amber and Raja: “It is sunny today, and Stiffwing is sitting on the balsam in the light, and she is singing.”  Stiffwing was singing!  I felt it in that moment, how it is possible to be in two places at once, or maybe in all places, basking in the red rock glory of Sedona and back in Upper Michigan too where the morning light of winter was shining on a tiny balsam and a bird with a stiff wing, a bird who was singing her heart out, who was reminding us all that it is possible to open our hearts to the wild, to be in sync with nature, to feel the wonder of it all — in the every day comings and goings of our very own back yards.


Stiffwing: photo by Raja Howe, Winter 2018

Passing the Talking Stick

Wisdom has no beginning nor no end.  Wisdom is a circle that encompasses all that is, all that was, all that is to come. (Words on a poster.)

The circle has healing power.  In the circle, we are all equal.  That Sacred Circle is designed to create unity.  Dave Chief, Oglala Lakota

World forces always act in a circle.  The sky is round and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and stars as the wind when it blows forcefully swirls . . . Black Elk

It is to the center of the candlelit circle that we speak, one at a time, the seven of us who gather on Fridays.  We voice our truths of the moment, and we listen to each other, setting aside judgement and defensiveness, as these gems of insight and story, sometimes personal, sometimes theoretical, are hung on a metaphoric clothesline draped in the bowl of the circle for all to examine.  And, as we blow out the candle at hour’s end, I always am left feeling more expansive in my thinking and in my being than I felt before we began.  And when I say “always”, I mean it.  That’s why I remain committed to the process — it always works.  These wisdom circles are a deep breath in my week, a time to explore perspectives different than my own, a time to allow something new to arise within me.  And it’s not because we are exceptional listeners or problem-solvers, though, during the more than two decades that we have been meeting like this, we have honed our skills.  We are friends who also gather socially, who can be boisterous, and chatty, and can blurt while another is speaking.  But, on Fridays, during our Wisdom Circle, we are present in a deeper way, for each other and for ourselves.  We put aside the chatting and we speak, not to each other, but to the circle itself.  And it is the talking stick that keeps us focused, sometimes an actual stick, sometimes a stone or a shell or a feather or another convenient object.  It doesn’t matter.  What matters is that the person holding the object is the only one who is speaking.  It is her turn.

This isn’t the only group in which I’ve felt the power of the circle and the talking stick and the speaking of one person at a time.  Over thirty years ago, I read Natalie Goldberg’s groundbreaking bestseller, Writing Down the Bones, in which she describes a process of writing fast, without crossing out, allowing the mind its say, and then proceeds to describe to the reader that the sharing of this writing is as crucial as the writing itself, again speaking into the circle, with fellow writers simply listening without judgement, no cross-talk, no critique.  I have facilitated and written in groups using this technique ever since, again feeling the power of simply allowing us all our words, our stories, our perspectives, our unbridled minds.  I have participated in workshops, talking circles, and, for nearly ten years, have set up a monthly open mic night called Out Loud at Joy Center, an open mic night where all perspectives are welcome and one person at a time shares.  In all these forms, this is a powerful empowering process, this deep sharing and deep listening, a process dear to my heart.

So, it caught my attention when I read the headline on my phone a month ago  It almost didn’t seem like it could be possible, not in our country, not now, not in politics where people seem to be more polarized, more tightly bound in the little box of their “right” and another’s “wrong”, where no one seems to be listening to one another.  But there it was, in article after article after article.  They used a talking stick — during the weekend of the first government shut-down.  It was Senator Susan Collins of Maine’s idea, using the talking stick that had reportedly been a gift of Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.  Collins invited her fellow senators, the twenty-five Democrat and Republican members of the Common Sense Coalition to her office for a weekend of bipartisan meetings in hopes of reaching a compromise that would break the stalemate and open the government.  And her rule was that one member at a time would speak, the person with the stick.  Albeit, sometime during the heated sharing, someone threw the stick across the room when a fellow senator interrupted, but laughter erupted — and how often does laughter erupt at such a government meeting?!?   And it worked, the group switched to a softer rubber ball “talking stick” and they proceeded with their sharing and the government did open — and, maybe most importantly, the senators on either side of the aisle listened to one another and something new emerged from the process.  One GOP lawmaker told CNN that it was the most entertaining sessions he had ever attended.

I don’t know what it is like to participate in such a weekend of meetings, government meetings where the stakes are high and the topics polarizing and the participants holding beliefs on opposite ends of the talking stick.  But, I do know what it is like to be married for over forty years.  Fortunately, Cam and I are not usually on opposites ends of the stick when it comes to our beliefs and our perspectives, but their have been times when we have felt as polarized as the Democrats and the Republicans.  And like Susan Collins, we have a process that works.  Usually our talking stick is metaphoric.  We speak, one at a time, while the other simply listens, passing our invisible stick back and forth.  We do this most Friday evenings, often as we walk on the bike path by Lake Superior, and generally it is simply a catch-up, a way to connect.  But sometimes the topic is heated, and I admit, it can be harder to keep my mouth shut when I’m taking it personally.  But that’s the miracle.  We do keep our mouths shut.  We do listen.  And like the members of the Common Sense Coalition, we break the stalemate and arrive in a new more expansive place.

Isn’t that what we really want, to speak our truth, and to be listened to, and also to listen deeply to another’s, to feel it inside, the heart connection, the common humanity, that another’s story and perspective also matters, that when we hang it all in the middle of the circle on that metaphoric clothesline something new, something expansive, something we hadn’t considered before has room to grow and to rise up and to take root into our consciousness?!?  Isn’t that what we are hungry for underneath it all?



Women’s March, Washington DC:  January 21, 2017


Women’s March, Marquette, Michigan: January 21, 2018


You were born with wings.  You are not meant for crawling, so don’t.  You have wings.  Learn to use them and fly.  Rumi

Aging is not lost youth, but a new stage of opportunity and strength.  Betty Frieden

Open windows in your consciousness.

The red rock sings in Sedona, an ancient flute-filled song of invitation.  At dawn, the sun casts shadows against its pillars and cliffs and dome-like faces, and, at dusk, the rock is ablaze with color.  And the air is pure and clear and the sky seems to go on forever and ever.  It is easy to get pulled in, to follow this song deeper and deeper into the wilds, onto canyon trails lined with juniper and cedar and prickly pear, up red rock paths to mesas and mountain tops, over the next ridge to another vista and another, to get pulled in to a rhythm that is both as old as the rock itself and as fresh and new as this teeming-with-expansive-possibility present moment.  It is said that Sedona sits on land alive with high vibration vortexes of energy.  It is said that Sedona is a place where it is easy for a person to soak in this energy, easy to find alignment not only with the land and the sky and the hawk flying high, but also to find a high-flying inner alignment, a connection with the whirling swirling energy available to us all.

And even in Sedona, surrounded by all this red rock magic, that is the challenge, to not get swept away by this intoxicating high vibration smorgasbord of possibility — because the possibilities are endless and they are enticing and the golden retriever in you might be tempted to flit from thing to thing while losing a sense of what really feels good on the inside.  That was the lesson for me.  Sometimes it is easy to check in, to know that one choice feels better than another, that one carries a higher vibration.  But what about a place filled with choices that all seem exciting and alive to you, that all seem to match the energy of your own inner whirling swirling vortex ?  It was like that from the beginning of our five-day stay at Sedona last week; I could feel the metaphoric golden retriever inside me going wild.  She wanted to do it all, to sniff out every corner boutique and gallery filled with southwestern art, to bound along every single one of the more than one hundred trail options within a short drive, to race along side the runners at the Sedona 5k/marathon that just happened to be held during that same weekend, to leap into the rental car and drive the mere two-and-a-half hours to the Grand Canyon because everyone should see the Grand Canyon at least once in their life.  My metaphoric golden retriever’s tail already was thrashing about when she learned that Carolyn Myss, medical intuitive, author and world-renowned teacher was holding a workshop at the resort sitting just below a favorite canyon hiking trail.  What does a gal do when she’s on vacation with her husband and the choices are boundless and her metaphoric golden retriever has given up on any semblance of control?!?

She sits still, that’s what she does.  That’s what I did.  I sat still and I listened, just for a little while, a minute or two; that’s all that it took to settle down into a place deeper than the inner juniper bushes where my golden retriever was sniffing, to a place of clarity and knowing.  Never mind the Grand Canyon and the running race and the boutiques and the workshop — all good choices, for sure, but what I  really wanted to do was hike, to hike my heart out, to soak in the sun and the warmth and the beauty of rock formations dancing with color.  After two months of bitter cold in the snowy north of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I wanted to move my body freely with no fear of slipping on ice, to breathe in deeply the scent of juniper and cedar, to hear the sound of my own heart beating, to sweat and pant and explore as many trails as possible on our five-day adventure.  I wanted to feel the energy firsthand as my guy and I walked across the red rocks together.  So, we hiked, on canyon trails, up mountain paths, around the rims of mesas.  From morning until sundown, just stopping briefly for lunch and snack breaks, we explored this magical landscape on our own two feet with our eyes wide open.

And, as we hiked, with feet firmly grounded on that red rock base and eyes open to the world around us, the gifts were many.  There was the hummingbird flitting among the bushes that lined the canyon trail and the hawk flying high above as we climbed to a mesa.  There were the javelina pig-like creatures, a whole clan of them, that crossed the trail so close to us and took off into the thicket.  There were the ancient cliff dwellings that once housed a people who lived among these mountains and canyons, and then  there were the people alive now, the ones we met along the trails — the middle-aged man perched like a god atop a red rock pillar with flute to his lips, playing a song for the sky and the wind and the rock and for each of us, too, and the couple in their thirties, parents of four, collecting heart-shaped stones and replenishing their relationship and creating you-tube videos that delight us all, and there was Michael, a guy our age, in his early sixties, who lived a motorhome existence and had a peace about him that was palpable and contagious.  And almost everyone we met wanted to bottle it up and carry it home with them, what Michael had found in his simple yet abundant life, the feeling of expansiveness, of freedom and happiness that danced among us on those trails.  And this is what I want to tell you, that I sense that it is ours for the taking, that we don’t need to scoop it into a jar and close the lid tightly for fear of losing our meager take-home portion of this Sedona expansiveness, that it is not Sedona’s alone, that it can be found anywhere, this feeling of freedom and happiness, that it is an inside job, and starts with our breath and our own heartbeat and the recognition that we are a landscape as magnificent as any we find on a five-day adventure.

Although I didn’t make it to the Grand Canyon on this particular trip, we hiked in canyons that made my heart sing.  And on a car ride to one of those canyons, we rolled down the windows and shouted our cheers to the marathon runners, and we became a part of their race after all.  And in the canyon, the one above the resort where Carolyn Myss facilitated the workshop, we met attendees, blissed-out and beaming after their afternoon sessions and we beamed along with them.  When we go inward and listen to what is calling us, we are led into the vortex of abundance where all is possible.










Cam and Helen in Sedona, Arizona: February 2018


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