Little Joys- Signs of Spring

Garden Gnome keeps watch

I am not the only one watching for signs of Spring.

Celebrating the Earth

This year’s Spring vacation was actually a “stay-cation” and I couldn’t be happier.  I spent a glorious week noticing the daily subtle changes in my own backyard.  Every day is Earth Day to me and every moment of every day has it’s own, never-to-be-replicated beauty.  From a gathering of bluejays to a spectacular sunrise, blink and I miss it.  Gaia calls us to be fully present to experience her rich bounty.

Daffodils in my Garden

The daffodils in my garden lift their joyful heads to the sun.

I celebrate the early spring color palette with each new blossom and blade of grass.  Blink and I miss the brilliant yellow daffodils in my garden lift their joyful heads to the sun.  The yellow forsythias wave their arms in greeting.  The white, delicate lace flowers of the serviceberry act as a veil between me and the clear blue sky.  “Everything is holy now,” Peter Mayer wisely wrote.

A veil of serviceberry blossoms against the bright blue sky

“Everything is Holy now” wrote Peter Mayer.

Blink and I miss the yellows and whites make way for the purple of lilac and hyacinth and the delicate pinks of cherry and dogwood.  Each has it’s own cycle within the greater cycle of transformation that forms the wheel of the year.

Blink and I miss the little place in my garden where a rabbit is preparing a nest for her young.  One day, I noticed the mulch in a flowerbed pushed aside.  Soon, dried grass and straw appeared in a neat little pile.  Then, this little nest materialized.  As I write and look out my window, the nest is completely hidden from view by a mother who instinctively knows what to do for her young ones.  How much wiser would we be if we were more attuned to Nature?  What do we know that we have forgotten?

Rabbit mother prepares for birth

Mulch and soil are pushed aside as a mother rabbit prepares a place for her babies.

Ok, confession time.  At the time of the Winter Solstice, I hung a wreath by my front door.  Amazingly, it stayed perfectly green through December, January, February, and most of March.  I should have taken it down but procrastinated.  By the time I thought about it again, I noticed a bird flitting back and forth from the wreath to wherever she needed to go for food and… you guessed it… building material for her nest.  Well, what could I do?  The wreath is brown and brittle but she loved the location and gave birth to three wee ones.  When they fly the nest, I’ll toss the wreath.  I promise.

Mother bird chooses a safe place for raising her young.

A winter wreath becomes the birthplace of three birds.

Honoring the Earth

I could sit in reverence all day every day, observing the beings in my yard live, grow, and eventually die.  The cycle of birth-death-rebirth is the natural way of things.  I know.  But Mother Earth calls me to action.  It’s not enough to take, I must give back to stay in right relationship with Her.

I honor Her by vowing to be a steward of the land entrusted to me for as long as I live here.  Ancestors of bloodline and ancestors of place are with me as I cut back dead raspberry canes and clear the space around my grapevines.  I hear my grandfather’s voice echo in my heart, gifting me with his wisdom of flora and fauna.  I see the rainbow of jars in my grandmother’s root cellar- her connection to the land made visible.  I sense the presence of those who tended this plot of land long before “my people” even set foot on the shore of North America as immigrants in the early 20th century.

So I garden without herbicides and pesticides.  I hang prayer flags and make offerings.  I grab a lawn chair and my watercolors for a quick plein air session with the tulips and squirrels.  I pick up every bit of trash that blows into my yard.  It’s heartbreaking to see a birdnest with trash woven in among the grass, straw, and twigs.  I plant native species and compost as much as possible.  I do what I can the best I can.

Most importantly, I sit in silence and listen to her many voices– the wind, the rain, the birdsong, and my own contented sighs of belonging.  Call it prayer, call it meditation,… I call it CONNECTION.

Being in Relationship with Mother Earth

I love them all… all of the beings on our beautiful planet.  My view of “beings” has greatly expanded with my awareness of indigenous cultures and earth-centered traditions.  Trees, streams, oceans, plains, mountains, polar bears, glaciers, bees, wolves, … do you get where I’m going with this?  We are all connected.  All life is one.

I weep for the fact that we live in a time where we have to march to protect our planet.  In less than three centuries, we have littered the world with plastic, fossil fuel pollution, and chemicals.  We have killed more species than I can fathom- extinct, gone,…forever.  We continue to threaten all life with our choices and this breaks my heart but I’m hopeful that we are raising awareness and more of us are doing what we can to help the environment… for all of us…and I do mean ALL OF US.

I pray that we can educate and enlighten the ignorant.  I also pray that love, light, reverence, and stewardship quickly replace greed, hatred, destruction, and domination.  May we each do what we can to protect our home… our Mother.  I hope you take part in one of the marches around the world next Saturday.  Raise your voice for those who don’t have a voice.

Mother Earth, Mother Earth,

Take our seeds and give them birth.

Father Sun, gleam and glow,

‘Til the roots begin to grow.

Sister Rain, Sister Rain,

Shed your tears to swell the grain.

Brother Wind, breathe and blow,

Tell the blades so green to grow.

Earth and Sun, Wind and Rain

Bring to life the living grain.

Waldorf Song for Children (Writer Unknown)

 

 

 

Wisdom from My Garden: Meditation on a Blueberry Bush

Picking blueberries in my back garden in the coolness of the morning is both a meditation & a prayer of gratitude for me.  I planted the 8 bushes that line one side of my yard, nurturing them over the years so they can produce flavorful berries that nourish me, my loved ones, & the local wildlife (which I also consider my loved ones).  The act of gardening is a spiritual experience, connecting me to all that is.  It also allows me to quickly disconnect my overactive mind & fall into a gentle easiness that a familiar task can bring.

There is no need to analyze or worry for I know from a lifetime of experience that all I must do is pluck the plump berries that fall easily from the branch.  If I have to tug at the berry to get it to fall into my pail, it’s not ready& all I gain from forcing the situation is a hard, sour berry that is unpleasant to eat.  I’m finding life works in exactly the same way… if I have to force it, whatever “it” is, it’s most likely not going to work out the way I’d like it to.  Yes, I must show up & invest wholeheartedly in the moment, but it’s equally important that I willingly surrender to the natural flow of things.  We’ve all been there & we all know the difference between when something feels right & when something feels forced.

Blueberry Bounty

Blueberry Bounty

I have also learned that if I look at the bush from one perspective, I may think I’ve seen all there is to see, missing out on the bounty that may be tucked under some leaves or hidden around the back of the bush.  Shifting my perspective allows me to see  a treasure that wasn’t visible from my own narrow viewpoint.  I can carry this lesson into my daily life & relationships… acknowledging that my point of view is just that– one point of view– and that there are other perspectives I can consider, opening my soul to understanding, compassion, & empathy.

There is wisdom in books, gurus, & retreat centers but there is a simple yet profound wisdom gained by being still, being present, & being authentic.  This I can do in my own back garden, among the blueberry bushes.

Sacred Smudge Sticks

Like people, each plant has a purpose.  Some provide nourishment, while others offer shelter or have healing properties.  In addition to its use as a culinary herb, Sage is known for protecting one’s environment & healing the energetic field (aura) of the person who uses it.  Some even call it the “Spirit Caller”.   For early Egyptians it promoted fertility & for the Celts, it represented immortality.  At 47, I have no desire for either of those!  Instead, I focus on this aromatic plant’s ability to banish evil & unwanted influences, create sacred space, heal, & inspire wisdom.

I use smudge sticks of Sage (sometimes combined with juniper or cedar) for a variety of reasons, most often, to bless my home.  I light the stick & use an owl feather to direct the scented smoke to the corners of each room.  As I walk in awareness, I say a special blessing for this space to be full of light, laughter, love, & warmth.  I also pray that my family & friends feel welcomed, nurtured, & loved when they enter my home.  Other times, I use sage to prepare for meditation or to dispel the negativity that can follow me home at the end of the day.  I imagine the day’s stress floating on the smoke & eventually disappearing.

Sage 2

As the chance of frost threatens my herb garden, I decided to harvest the varieties of sage to make smudge sticks for my friends. Before I cut the silver green leaves from their woody stems, I said a prayer of gratitude.  Once my basket was full, I brought the sage inside & selected 7 different colors of embroidery floss, representing the chakras, to wrap my sage into bundles.  I grasped a handful of sage, cut the stems evenly across the bottom, & secured them with the floss.   I set the intention that each smudge stick will bring healing & wisdom to the person who uses it.  There is exactly enough sage for the 7 major chakras.  Perfect!  I hope they enjoy the smudge sticks as much as I enjoyed making them.

Autumn Feeds My Soul

Perhaps it’s because I’m an October baby.

Perhaps it’s the sight of skinny scarecrows in their denim & flannel, standing watch over dried cornfields.

Perhaps it’s the growing darkness & thinning of the veil that lets us receive messages more clearly from those who have passed.

For all those reasons, and more, October feeds my soul.  I feel a greater connection to all that is across time & space, a humble sense of awe for the beauty around me, & a quieting of my spirit.

My sister called with a very simple wish to fulfill… “We need a traditional fall experience.  Fi and I will be there Friday night.”  She need not say any more.  I knew exactly the kind of experience they would love– a crisp, cool day on a farm.

Farm 6

The next morning, we parked near the farmhouse surrounded by orchards dotted with bright red apples & fields dotted with bold orange pumpkins of all sizes.  A John Deere tractor, pulling a wagon, stopped so we could climb aboard & sit on hay bales as the driver took us up to the orchard.

Farm 2

Armed with empty bags, we jumped down & wandered among the trees, looking for apples to pick.  Not all of them made it into our bags… one apple the size of a grapefruit tempted us too much.  Like three Eves, we took enormous bites, letting the juice run down our wrists & soak our sleeves.

We munched leisurely & made our way to the pumpkin patch.  Men & women of my generation will understand the reason why I immediately pictured Linus hugging a blue blanket, waiting patiently for the Great Pumpkin to arrive.  (Secretly, I want to see him, too.)  Choosing a pumpkin was difficult, for how do you choose the perfect pumpkin when they are all perfect?  A young man with pruning sheers clipped the stems of our chosen pumpkins & we rolled the orbs into our arms, trying hard not to spill the bags of apples.  Now we were both sticky & a bit dirty but isn’t that what it’s all about?… enjoying the moment to the fullest?

Farm 4

By now, our cheeks & noses were as red as our apples & it was time to go but not before my sister & niece posed for one last photo.

Farm 5

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”  LM Montgomery

After the Quest

I hesitate writing about my Vision Quest so soon after the experience, knowing that my initial response to it will resemble spaghetti sauce right after combining the ingredients– good but not nearly as good as it will be if I let it simmer for a while.  My view of my Vision Quest hasn’t gotten the richness, depth, or complexity it will have after it “simmers in me” for a few weeks or months, but I want to share it with you anyway, for these early realizations have merit of their own.

At the campsite, our spiritual guide prepared five of us for our quests by quoting Ralph Blum’s “Druid’s Vow”.

I honor your gods.

I drink at your well.

I bring an unprotected heart to our meeting place.

I hold no cherished outcome.

I will not navigate by withholding.

I am not subject to disappointment.

Intellectually, I got it– no expectations, no disappointment.  What is meant to be will be.  Spiritually, on the other hand, I was to find out that the message hadn’t made it into my heart.  (More on that later.)

Our guide suggested that we take a few things with us- a rattle, objects for an altar, writing materials, & art supplies.  I felt very uncomfortable taking a journal because I wanted to “turn up the volume” on my intuition without the critic in my consciousness interrupting.  She explained that we aren’t to analyze what we experience, merely record it so we don’t forget details that may be of importance to us later.  I questioned the wisdom of that for me, “Can I record without judgment?”  Eventually, I made peace with the idea.  She’s right.  There are so many subtle signs & messages in nature that I may want to jot them down so I can reflect on them later.  My journal & pen went into the backpack.

After what was a sleepless night for some of us, we rose to begin our Quests with a profoundly sublime purification ritual that connected us to one another, our inner selves, nature, & the benevolent spirits around us.  Following the ritual, I practically ran to my place in the meadow, eager to get the logistics of setting up the site over with so I could begin the spiritual aspect of the Quest.  Almost immediately, I heard something greater than myself correct me, “There is no separation of logistics & spirituality; it’s all part of the Quest.”  Chastised, I changed my attitude, walking into the meadow with humble reverence.

I created a sacred space by fastening prayer ties in the north, south, east, & west, invoking the spirits of the directions, then set up my tent & lay out an altar of objects that are deeply meaningful to me.  I raised my voice in prayer, “I’m vulnerable & open to accepting & acting on any message of love you send me for my greatest & highest good.”

There I sat on the mountainside overlooking trees, wildflowers, & the vast expanse of sky I needed to establish a serene sense of connection with all that is.  The nearby brook, babbling noisily over the rocks, was a comforting companion.   “I’m part of this & this is part of me”, I sighed, taking notice of the ground literally vibrating with ants, beetles, dragonflies, butterflies, & other creatures whose entire world is this mountaintop.  “This is all that matters to them– being in this place at this time”, I thought.

While countless species of insects accompanied me both day & night, it was the grasshoppers who stood out from the rest.  At any given moment while I was awake, at least 6 were simply hanging out on my altar.  Sure, butterflies landing on my knee & ants crawling on my skirt are to be expected when I sit in a meadow,  but 6 or more grasshoppers sitting silently on an altar seem a bit out of the ordinary!  I got out my sketchpad & drew each one, noting how different they were.  No two looked alike.  Every creature is unique… it’s not a quality reserved just for the human race.

(Once home, I referenced Ted Andrews book Animal Speak to find out the symbolic meaning of grasshopper.  He wrote, “When grasshopper shows up, there is about to be a new leap forward…  Grasshopper can show up if we are not listening or if we are afraid to make the leap off our mound… Remember, a grasshopper always leaps up or forward.  It doesn’t leap backward… Trust your inner voice.“)

My Vision Quest had both peaks of joy & contentment & valleys of doubt & fear.  At times, I felt at one with all around me & other times I felt like a fraud for even attempting this highly spiritual experience that stretched me far beyond my comfort zone.

Remember what I wrote about having no expectations & not subjecting myself to disappointment?  I have to confess that I did both… I expected a spiritual epiphany in the form of a burning bush or some spiritual being hovering in blindingly white light before my eyes.  After all, I fasted, drove hours from home, & slept in the dark among the deer flies & mosquitoes… didn’t I deserve a spiritual epiphany?  When that didn’t happen, I was disappointed, accusing myself of being a bad Vision Quester.  Really?!  I’m going to beat myself up because I didn’t get a miracle?  That sounds ridiculous but that’s what happened.

I was human.

At that moment, I realized a purpose of my quest… to face my Shadow, the Perfectionist.  I didn’t get a lesson from an angel, Native American spirit guide, or even my power animal; instead, my teachers were the insects all around me, for they knew better than I to live with no expectations & hold no disappointments.  Simply be your authentic self.  That’s all that is asked of any of us.

I knew that… I just needed a reminder.

A Vision Quest… for Me?

I generally recognize the moments in my life when I’m simply to say “Yes!!” without hesitation.  Whether I actually do it or not is another matter entirely.  Sometimes fear makes me second-guess myself, paralyzing me when I most want to act & filling me with regret if I submit to it.  When I find the courage to release the apprehension that grips me, instead confidently seizing life’s opportunities when they appear, I act from an authentic place- a place of intuition & deep knowing.  Then, there can be no regrets for at least I had the courage to try.

One of my spiritual teachers & dear friends offered me the chance to go on a Vision Quest…but wait a minute… aren’t Vision Quests for adolescent boys & girls of Native American descent or other indigenous people desiring a connection with all that is?  Yes.  Can Vision Quests be a way for any of us to connect with all that is, respectfully crying out for a vision for our lives, too?  Absolutely YES.

The Vision Quest is a way to seek clarity during life’s transitions & move forward from a place of greater awareness.  For example, we may need redirection or illumination at stages of our lives such as adolescence, graduation, marriage, divorce, empty-nest syndrome, menopause or retirement.  Any time we feel apprehension, restlessness, self-doubt, or a gnawing eagerness for transformation is a perfect time for a Vision Quest.

Diverse groups of people around the world have participated in Vision Quests for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.  There are just as many ways to prepare for a Vision Quest, from purification rituals to fasting, as there are ways to experience the quest itself.  Some believe a Vision Quest should be taken without food & water while others believe water is acceptable.  Some believe it should last several days while others believe a shorter time is just as relevant.  There doesn’t seem to be a right or wrong here.  It’s all about intent.

Can a Vision Quest be a meaningful experience for a middle class, European-American woman,  like me, in the 21st century?  Again, YES.  I approached the concept of Vision Quests carefully for I never want to be disrespectful of someone’s beliefs by arrogantly sticking in my flag, claiming their tradition for my own.  (There’s already been too much of that.)  Yet I continue to consider the value in the quest for I view my spirituality globally, believing wholeheartedly that everything is connected & that truth can be found in a variety of places if viewed with open eyes & open hearts.  I researched & meditated on this topic for weeks to ensure that I was doing this for the right reasons, taking time to consider my motives & expectations.

So why do I want to do this?  Time alone with the Divine speaks to my spirit (my soul) so I’m going to go on the quest, staying open to what will be.

As I prepare,  I realize the need for a physical, mental, emotional, & spiritual commitment on my part… obvious proof that my intentions are pure so I follow my instincts & do what feels right to get ready for this experience.  While some people set a specific purpose for their quest, I choose instead to humbly say, “Communicate with me in a way that I can understand.  Tell me what I need to know for my greatest & highest good.”

The quest itself will be a significant amount of time alone in the wilderness, where I will designate a patch of ground as “sacred space” for my quest.  It is on that patch of ground that I will simply BE… open & aware.  My quest will be like no other for each Vision Quest is as unique as those who quest.

Mini Landscape Collages- Part 2

Photos of local farms & rolling countryside inspired me to complete the last 3 mini collages in my series of 6.  While the photos act as reminders of the idyllic rural places I’ve been, these 4-inch square collages express how much I treasure the world around me.  Some of these honor Mother Nature & others honor the farmers who work continuously to provide for the rest of us.  We can no more do without them than we can the earth Herself.

mini landscape 4

mini photo 4

mini landscape 5

mini photo 4

mini landscape 6

mini photo 6

When I see a stately sycamore  or majestic maple solidly rooted with limbs uplifted, like congregants in Nature’s great cathedral, I stop to ground myself & raise my arms in humble gratitude as well.  When I see rolling hills & broad patches of plowed farmland stretching out under the sun, I feel my spirit stretch across the earth connected to the earth below, the canopy of sky above, & the vast mystery beyond what I know or can possibly understand.  I’m just glad it’s part of me & I’m part of it.

Take a look at my Art Gallery page to see all my recent work. 

                                        Check out the pieces for sale at www.etsy.com/shop/PureSusan

Summer Solstice 2013

Where I sit is Holy,

Holy is the ground.

Forest, mountain, river,

Listen to the sound.

Great Spirit circle,

All around me.

                                                           Anonymous

Let the Sun Shine In

Let the Sun Shine In

There are two expectations I have for anyone participating in my workshops on the Divine Feminine, earth-centered spiritual beliefs, or self-awareness through intuitive arts–

1)  Approach everything with an open heart & an open mind

2)  Take what resonates with you & leave the rest.

(Within the next month, I’ll share how those two desires have formed my new venture called “Pure You- Awakening Your Authentic Self”.)

Summer is typically a time to celebrate our achievements both individually & as a culture (graduations, June weddings, Father’s Day, etc…).  We come together to recognize a lifetime of study through high school & college graduations, join in the joy of a new union represented in marriage, & pay respect to the fathers who have helped raise us, making us the people we are today.  In that way, we aren’t so different from people of ancient history who also saw this as a time to give thanks for their blessings & humbly acknowledge their failures in order to learn & move forward.  Summer Solstice is officially the beginning of the astronomical summer but it’s traditionally celebrated as midsummer because it’s the mid-point of the growing season & the pinnacle of daylight.

How did we honor Summer Solstice in days long ago?

Sacred, ancient sites around the world use the solstices as markers.  Stonehedge in England, the Angkor Wat temple/observatory in Cambodia, Mayan ruins, & what may be a sun temple in Israel where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered have stones or openings where the sun perfectly aligns during the Summer Solstice.  Taoists in China recognize the Summer Solstice as the birth of yin (the Divine Feminine), a time of bounty as the literal & figurative seeds we’ve planted come to fruition.

So how do we honor Summer Solstice now?

Contemporary cultures tend to replace ancient bonfire rituals with campfires & fireworks.  Feasts of food ripening in June have been replaced with picnics overflowing with hotdogs, potato chips, soda, & beer.  Is this our 21st century bounty?    Forgive me if I sound cynical but I’m tired of the commercialism & shallowness of what have become “typical” American rituals (consider what we do for our graduates, brides-to-be, & new mothers to name a few).

I regrettably understand how we tend to “honor” Summer Solstice so a new question emerges in my consciousness… “How can I make it more meaningful?”

This year, I’ve designed a ceremony for women who want to reconnect to nature & one another.  We’ll dress boldly to honor the height of daylight, meditate while lying on the earth to feel the living energy housed within, connect with each other through a non-traditional ribbon cutting ceremony, share our  achievements & failures from the past year so we can learn from one another, & partake of sunflower seeds & orange juice- symbols of the sun.  Any leftover seeds will be scattered for the birds so wildlife can join our celebration.

Do I expect everyone to honor Summer Solstice this way?  Of course not.  You’d be missing the point if you simply adopted yet another ritual without personalizing it.  Here’s what I wish for you…

1)  Approach everything with an open heart & mind.

2)  Take what resonates with you & leave the rest.

Blessings & happy Summer Solstice!!

Shades of Green

The grey of a coming storm brings an electric sizzle to the air & an unrivaled brilliance to colors in my back garden, especially the greens.  Like a photographer arranging a neutral backdrop to enhance the colors in her subject, Mother Earth enhances the hues in nature by rolling grey clouds across the skyscape.

rainy day 1

As the most recent storm approaches, I stare out the window of my sunporch, marveling at the greens & laughing at my inability to name them all, despite growing up with the world-famous box of 64 Crayola crayons with the sharpener in the back.  Let’s see, there was green-blue, blue-green, yellow-green, green-yellow, olive green, sea green, forest green (like that’s one color!!), & just plain “green”. 

rainy day 2

I run outside in the first fat raindrops, absorbing the countless greens of the entire garden at their most vibrant.   I get closer to my viburnum shrub, still countless shades of green on one plant.  Zooming in, closer still, I see countless greens in just one leaf.   

rainy day 3

Grey days are anything but dreary!     Grabbing my camera, I make a vain attempt to capture the many shades of green in my garden before the clouds shift & take some of the brilliance with them. One hot, summer day in the not too distant future, the attention-seeking sun will bleach many of the greens, turning them to dry browns.  Rather than lament the loss, I’ll cheerfully count the reds of berries & blossoms or the yellows of peppers & squash.  There’s always something wonderful to experience in the garden, every second of every day of the year.