Our New Spiritual Earth

I’m thinking this pandemic has unleashed ‘our new spiritual earth,’ a theme found in this morning’s #spiritchat, a wonderful Sunday morning twitter chat. To me, a spiritual earth means we have to give our home and human family a break — for spring to blossom forth and new growth to emerge. We wait and welcome quiet before jets return to their booms across the sky and trucks rumble across the highways.

Let’s remember that every day belongs to the earth. Every day is Earth Day. Children seem to know this instinctively and are way smarter than adults; they are more enthusiastic about recycling and protecting the environment than we, older folks.

Among my favorite of the elements of earth, water, wind, fire, space, I am an Aries, a fire sign. I tingle with sparks of fire. I love a good campfire.

But also I love the water that puts out the fire. Gentle in its quiet or violent in its rush, tug, waves in the ocean.

Dogsitting this last month (or more? how long has it been? where has the time gone?) has forced me to walk on the earth every morning. So I feel the solid ground beneath me. I look and listen for nature as we walk. The calling, quacking, and homing of birds. The healing in the beauty of blossoms tightly furled.

I surrender to the forces of nature, powers far greater than myself.

Returning to the image of water: when we hiked yesterday, we got a little lost, we thought about following the water – because a stream or river always leads to civilization.

Water helps us find our way home. It is the primary element in Baptism. And blessings. And holy water.

I intend to create a positivity ripple to make impact of health, healing, hope. Love overcomes hatred.

My goals?

  1. Care
  2. Create
  3. Collaborate

I also am:

  1. walking 10K steps a day.
  2. thanking mother earth.
  3. celebrating every blossom and bud.
  4. pushing back against injustice and hatred and intolerance.
  5. choosing love and unconditional positive regard for everyone whom I meet.

The world doesn’t want to be saved. It wants to be loved. That is what will save it! – April Peerless

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. – Shakespeare, The Tempest

At any moment, you have a choice / that either leads you closer to your spirit or further away from it. – Thich Nhat Hanh

We are Earth people on a spiritual journey to the stars. Our quest, our Earth walk, is to look within, to know who we are,
to see that we are connected to all things,
that there is no separation, only in the mind. – Lakota Seer

The Spiritual Path

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I walked at the Stormont Estate in Belfast. Very pretty.

At the airport  gate, I chatted with an older woman who had just walked the Camino in Spain. I’m not really sure where the Camino is. I’m too jetlagged from my Ireland trip to google it. But I think it’s a pilgrimage following in the footsteps of some beloved saint.

The 70ish woman carried only a small backpack. Her feet were tired she said but her boots were sturdy. She lifted a boot to show me.

“Nice,” I said although they were just plain old hiking shoes, not attractive at all. I guess hiking boots are not supposed to be attractive. “They look functional.”

“Some people do hike the Camino in sneakers, but I think you need these.”

“I am going to do that – a spiritual journey,” I nodded.

“Any walk can be a spiritual walk,” she said. “Like you told me you’re from New York. You could walk the Hudson River?”

“Really?” I said. “What’s spiritual about the Hudson?”

“I don’t know. Maybe do Vermont then,” she said.

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This is a path Dan Wakefield and I walked at the Pendle Hill, a Quaker retreat in Pennsylvania.

I am attracted to the idea of long walks like the Camino, wherever that is, or the Appalachian Trail. Yes, the AT’s cool. You start in the spring in the south and end in the fall in New England. But do you sleep in a cozy bed? I don’t think so. I love a bed and breakfast where someone – not me – makes me coffee.

Maybe I should consider the wise woman’s advice and see the Hudson as a spiritual path. I could blog about it. I might call the new blog, Hiking the Hudson, A Spiritual Journey. Oh, I like the sound of that. The Hudson is beautiful in the fall. Maybe I’ll do the hike this fall when my darlings go back to school.

Wait. The Hudson is too ordinary. I want to do an extraordinary hike — Mount Kilimanjaro or K2 — a climb that will make me famous. Or at least make me feel alive. I might encounter rattlesnakes, freeze to death, stare down a wild boar. But will I sleep in a soft place? I don’t think so. Maybe I should stick with the Hudson and then I can head home every night to my cozy bed on the Upper West Side.

Maybe every walk can be a spiritual walk, just like the elder pilgrim said. Every journey can spark lofty thoughts, philosophical ponderings and celebrations of God.

I believe God is found in nature and in chance encounters on the daily  journey. Maybe God even resides in the ordinary river that I pass every day.

Maybe I don’t have to make a pilgrimage to some distant land and blog about it to find my spiritual path.

I wrote this post at the Ecumenical Library lunchtime writing group at the Interchurch Center led by Tracey Del Duca. The next God Box writing group meets on Aug. 10 and 24. 

Birding: What We Saw

I was in Central Park on a snowy Saturday morning with my friend Charles Chessler. He had rallied several of his friends to go birding and photographing birds through a Facebook invitation.

I love walking or riding my bike in Central Park.

Charlie has great charisma. People and birds just love to stop, chat, and pose for him.

I’d gone out birding with Charles a few times before. On this trip we were searching for some rare long-eared owl in the pine trees near the Angel of the Waters. But instead, on that branch, we spotted a fat and still-hungry hawk. We spotted a lot more than that too.

Here’s what we saw:

1/25/14

A couple of finches near the birdfeeder in Central Park
A couple of finches near the birdfeeder in Central Park. (Photo by Charles Chessler)

Baltimore Oriole (male and female)
Finch
Northern cardinal
Dark eyed junco
Downy woodpecker (male and female)
Brown creepers
Goldfinches
Carolina wren
Blue jay
Hawk
Yellow bellied sap sucker
Sparrow

9/7/13

Swan
Grackle
Robin
Northern cardinal (male and female)
House sparrow
Maybe yellow warbler
Mourning dove

4/26/13

amanda and bird
Charlie captures a bird perched on Amanda’s hand. (Photo by Charles Chessler)

Yellow rump warbler
White-breasted nuthatch
Swamp sparrow
Northern parula
Ruby-crown kinglet
Louisiana water thrush
Black and white warbler
Palm warbler
Cardinal
Blue jay
Starling
Red wing blackbird
Black birded green

We go birding in Central Park behind the cafe, across the Bow Bridge, by the Ramble.

For the record, I could not identify any of these birds (except maybe the cardinals and blue jays) without help from Charlie and fellow birders and photographers Dan Lane Williams and Amanda Bielskas. On previous birding jaunts, we met Birding Bob and friend Andy Gershon.

Although I don’t really know about birds, I know about the beauty of birds. As Emily Dickinson wrote:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

Going out for a walk with birders reminds me to slow down, take in the beauty, stop time with a photo, even if it’s cold and snowy — especially then! There’s beauty and hope all around. You just have to look for it.

If you like the beautiful photography of Charles Chessler, (and who doesn’t?) I have a request. Chessler is entered in a photo contest. If he wins, he gets a trip to a safari in Namibia. He is less than one thousand votes away. He needs 212 Votes to pop into 4th place!

Charlie and I are friends from the NYU Stella Adler acting school in the ’80s. He’s a fitness trainer with a specialty for keeping senior citizens active.

If Charlie won the trip, think about the great pics he’d share with us! Vote at BandH Photo Contest. He might even just even invite all of us along — at least on his Facebook stream! 😉

Charlie and I bumped into fellow birder Andy in the fall.
Charlie and I bumped into fellow birder Andy in the fall.

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Gone Fishing

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boys fishing

The boys were fishing and my creative writing students were supposed to be writing. It was a surprisingly gorgeous December Day, balmy.

We were discussing plot. This is tough to teach, especially for me. I like to meander in my writing. For guidance I consulted my trusty NaNoWriMo young writers’ curriculum guide. There, the teacher offered a suggestion to start the discussion of plot with a viewing of the final few minutes of an episode of SpongeBob Square Pants. Apparently, SpongeBob does plot well.

But instead of watching the cartoon, we went for our neighborhood walk to our secret spot in Central Park, a most beautiful little cul de sac where rock meets pond meets beauty.

This is where we met our young fisherman.

They waited.

They waited.

They hooked a big fish.

My eight Middle School writers stood in a circle around the two little fishers. They reeled a fish in. It was a mighty big carp.

I would not have known the kind of fish, but one of the boy’s babysitters told me.

“How old are the boys?”

“Eleven,” she said.

We watched the boys pose for camera phone photo shots with the fish. The fish seemed to be tiring.

One of my writers yelled, “Throw it back!”

“We will,” the boy said.

And he wrestled with the hook in the gaping mouth.

20121205-222243.jpg“I’ve never seen anyone fish before,” another of my writers said.

“Hurry! Throw it back!” the girl said.

“We will!” The boy was getting angry. The hook was not coming out of the downcast mouth.

Up to this point, students, you are witnessing, in literary parlance, “Rising Action.”

Now, we have reached the moment of “Climax.”

My creative writing kids yelled, “Throw it back!” I offered to help remove the hook. Thank God, the boys ignored me. But the boys could not ignore the yelling. And one boy, attempting to remove the hook from the carp’s mouth, looked up and spit out a load of curse words at my students, including a line about how my kids were making his life “a living hell.”

Then he went back to work, finally freeing the fish from the hook.

He set it free. The fish wagged itself back into the murky Central Park lake or pond.

The boy asked the nanny for a napkin to clean his dirty hands. She had none. I handed him a tissue from my pocket.

“Thank you,” he said, “And I’m sorry I called your kids so many names. I apologize.”

“It’s okay,” I said. (And I later told my kids that he’d apologized.)

Now, students, this part of my story is, “Falling Action.”

20121205-222414.jpgThe boy set to baiting another hook.

“He’s very polite,” I told the nanny.

“Yes, he has some anger issues, adopted from Russia and all, but he’s a good kid.”

“Yes,” I said. And I was thinking, he’s a good teacher too. He has taught me and the kids about rising action, climax, and falling action.

And he did it far better than even SpongeBob could.

Need for Speed

Am writing this while watching the Olympic hopefuls sail along rainy London streets on their bikes. The women are so fast. I love sports where you go fast, like skiing and biking.

The other day I was riding my bike to work and there was a woman running faster than I was riding on my bike. That was one fast runner.

There’s used to be a myth that only men liked the adrenaline rush of the high-speed chase. But women (and kids) do too. It’s a human instinct to push our physical limits and thrill with the ride. We were born to run.

And now that I’ve admitted my own need for speed, let me post a couple of pictures from my long walk in the Adirondacks.

While I love to run and ride and go fast, it’s easier to snap a pic when you walk and amble and go slow. It’s easier to savor the moment when you slow it all down.

To catch a good photo, you have to pause to frame it. To enjoy a moment, you have to stop and savor it. And any sport that you do outdoors, reminds you to love nature.

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Get Outside

My mother raised me following Dr. Spock’s advice that every child must spend at least two hours outdoors, no matter the weather. When my kids were babies, I tried to do this. I tried to “air them out,” as Mom would say, for at least one hour a day. Now that they’re preteens, it’s hard to pull them away from their computers and push them out the door.

“Direct sunshine contains ultraviolet rays, which create vitamin D right in the skin… Changes of air temperature are beneficial in toning up the body’s system for adapting to cold or heat. A bank clerk is much more likely to become chilled staying outdoors in winter than a lumberjack, who is used to such weather. Cool or cold air improves appetite, puts color in the cheeks, and gives more pep to humans of all ages. It’s good for a baby (like anyone else) to get outdoors for 2 to 3 hours a day (!), particularly during the season when the house is heated. … in the northeastern part of the United States, most conscientious parents take it for granted that babies and children should be outdoors 2 or 3 hours a day when it isn’t raining and the temperature isn’t far below freezing.” – Dr.  Spock.

A few months ago at the top of an Adirondack mountain.

I like that the outdoors “gives more pep.” Who doesn’t want more pep?

I must remember Dr. Spock’s admonishment on the occasional Saturday or Sunday when one of my darlings hangs out at home in front of the TV all fricken day.

I will ask her, “Have you gotten outside at all today?”

“No.” I will remind her of the scientific truth, Newton’s Law, that says a body at rest tends to stay at rest and a body in motion tends to stay in motion.

The National Wildlife Federation is bolstering my argument with their new campaign Be Out There. And there’s a ton of research that shows that a child who is connected to the wild is a healthier and happier child.

Hiking, family time, living an active life? This is What We Value. I would like to write more about this, but I have to wake the girls. It’s time for their basketball league, which interferes with church, but that’s a different story! Just for today in the battle between caring for the body and caring for the spirit, the body wins! (We may still get to church, but late!)

an upturned tree

Up in the Adirondacks, Sunday morning, I was sipping coffee before my family woke up. I was crabby because I’d have to rally the troops, pack up, leave the country, return to the city, get ready for the week ahead. Even writing in my journal didn’t work the usual magic of lifting my mood.

So I went for a run. I watched the fitness app on my phone, noticing that I was still unable to run faster than a 13-minute mile. Yes, I was in the slow lane; my feet hurt. And I couldn’t get enough breath. I tired easily.

I ran for five minutes, then walked for a minute. Then did that again. The first part of the run was easy. I passed the school house. Then it was wet so I looped around the Cold Spring Road instead of going down to the Stable Inn. I began the walk up the rough-hewn stone steps to the Big House. That’s when I saw this upturned tree.

Hard to capture in a dark, rainy forest, but this wide swath of trees and roots were upturned by Hurricane Irene.

Un-be-liev-able! It took my breath away.

If some special effects geek tried to recreate this 10-foot circumference of a sideways forest floor, it would cost millions of dollars and people would never believe it. But nature did this outstanding damage free of charge. Nature is whack, doing crazy shit. Hurricane Irene must’ve tore up this part of the woods as she tore through Vermont and the Adirondacks a month ago.

I gave up running, walked up the steps back to the house, packed and woke the darlings. I wasn’t crabby any more.

For some reason the extraordinary sight of the upturned tree calmed me down.

Today people are contemplating Steve Jobs’ death. And I’m remembering the upturned tree.

We all will die. I will die. I am small. Whether my death comes by cancer like Steven Jobs, by hurricane like the forest floor, or my personal preference, by old age, I will die. Running away from my troubles on a dreary Sunday morning made me remember that. And it humbled me and made me less crabby.