Autumn does, indeed, grace Northern California. Bushes, trees, squirrels, other creatures attest to that!
Everyone needs ways to return home, to oneself. For me, learning to come back to myself, to be present, has been a life long journey. Because it has not been an easy journey for me, I have had to learn and to re-learn, again and again, ways to return to myself. That doesn’t make me good. What it does make me is a resource for simple, practical ways to return to oneself.
Sometimes, we don’t want to return! When we are feeling pain, or anger, or frustration, when our emotions seem to be overwhelming, it is difficult to make the choice to return to ourselves. The deeper journey of life is not about ignoring or avoiding “negative” or “difficult” feelings. The deeper journey, the journey to a full, complete life, includes the willingness to enter and to accept all feelings, including those that are uncomfortable, and even frightening. Embracing, accepting those feelings is part of the journey of coming back to yourself.
How do you return to yourself? One of the simplest, most powerful ways to return is to be present in the body. For some of us, this is easier than others! I pride myself on being a “city girl,” comfortable on the pavement, navigating between soaring buildings, enjoying the lights and the people I pass. That source of pride is also a weakness for me. I have had to learn, in later years, to return to myself, my body.
Take a few moments to sniff the air today. See the colors around you. Look at the sky. Watch the movement of the soft wind in the trees. What color are the trees, now, this moment? Sit for a moment, and feel yourself sitting in the chair. Know the pressure of your feet, in your shoes, on the floor.
I love to sit in the grass sometimes, and I am grateful for our luxurious plot of grass in the city. On the earth, my senses seem to come back to life. I smell and see and even hear the world in a more present way. When I am present to my moments in the grass, I am present to the present moment. And that is all there is. The masters speak of this, again and again. Our prayers, our meditations, our sitting, return us to this place – this place of presence, the present moment.
The present moment is the greatest gift, the greatest grounding of all. When, for a minute or an hour or a day, you are present, you will discover this greatest gift. You will want more and more of this, this presence, this being-at-one with yourself, in your body, whole, complete, in this moment.
You are deeper, you are more than your anxieties, your fears, for all those things that possess you and keep you trapped – trapped outside yourself. You are here, now. Join in the return. Come back to yourself, now.
“…thinking how grateful I am for the moon’s
perfect beauty and also, oh! how rich
it is to love the world.” – “The Sweetness of Dogs,” by Mary Oliver
I’ve been thinking of how beautiful this world is, this world I see from my front window, the world I see as I walk under the branches of slender trees on city streets, this world of flowers that blow in the gentle summer wind as I pass, and as I acknowledge them, note their presence in my world.
This is a beautiful world. I note this fact with gratitude, joy and humility. I did not create this place, yet here it is, right before my eyes, these eyes that have seen many things, including death, and now, this singular beauty.
In my religious training, I did not hear much about beauty. Did I hear of beauty at all? Did beauty enter into the meanings of things, the value of things, the value of life, of my life, of all lives? I think not. And yet as I recall the words of the people of all faiths, I know there have been some among us, some ordinary human beings – like me, like you – who have searched, always, for the answers to life, and who have also witnessed to the beauty of the world.
A woman I admire greatly and I were speaking one day. I mentioned the beauty of things to her. She stopped short, reprimanded me, in a way, reminding me of the awful things that are present in the world. I agree. I know the suffering of this world, have known some small measure of it myself, have seen it in the eyes of those I love who were meeting death. I remember, often, the flow of refugees, people like me who have lost their homes to war that is not their own, people who set off into the night with a few belongings and those they love, to find a place where they will be welcomed. My heart grieves for them, also.
And so I witness to beauty on their behalf, and in my witness is a longing, also, for their time to witness this beauty.
My friend’s short response is a response we all know, very well. As soon as we grant ourselves the gift, the moment, the abundance to witness beauty, our mind clicks into gear: “how can you take this time, when there is so much important work to be done?” “Why notice beauty when others are suffering?” “And what will you do to make this a world where there is justice, where there is enough, for all?” My mind works that way. I’ll bet yours does, too. And so we set upon our important work, this work that will change the world. And we fail to see beauty, that ever-present gift that we are given, now, in this moment.
As I write, a single bird calls, frantically, outside my window. This, too, is beauty. I am grateful for this song. The voice of the bird brings me back, to this moment.
I am grateful for the poets, and for their trail of words that speak to beauty. I am so grateful for their words. Often in my life, their words have given me hope. And now, in my own witness to beauty, there is this hope.
Sometimes I think about the years I have lost, those years when beauty surrounded me, and I was too busy, too tired, too involved in matters of importance, to see that beauty, that gift, that creation, this creation. As for now, I have this beauty. I am grateful.
In the sweet dawn
I sit on the wet earth.
The Holy One comes.
She sniffs the grass, the lighting day,
lays languid at my feet.
turns toward me and all the galaxies.
lifts her head and laughs,
laughs into the sky, her eyes sparkling at the fading stars,
lifts her head and laughs into the whole day before us.
I breath, gentle.
Mary Elyn Bahlert, 6/1/16
I often wake these days with a song in my heart. I begin my day with my usual routines, and sometimes I don’t notice the song that is singing in me until later in the morning. Most days, I begin to hum the tune or sing the words of the song that is in my heart.
Through my life, I’ve taken to noticing the song in my heart. I listen to the words, singing them inside my head, or singing aloud into the house. The cat notices, and I think she smiles, a bit (who knows?). When I remember the words – I am known for the encyclopedia of words to songs I carry within me – I sing them out loud, enjoying my voice, enjoying the memory of the words, and calling to mind the memories and images that arise.
When I was a girl, my mother had a lovely china music box with a tune I cannot name. I can still sing the notes, and often do. When I stop and notice the tune, my mother comes to mind. I see her face, I remember her voice, I wonder about her and her life. What a wonderful bit of beauty that music box was, in our working class flat with its narrow windows and steep, dark stairway down to the street lined with wonderful maple trees that would disappear, killed by disease, in the years ahead.
That music box is gone, too. Sometimes my sister and I mention it. Where did it go? Which one of us ended its role in our lives? Where did it come from, an unusual player in the life of my mother?
And yet, that music box, with its unnamed melody, has not gone from our lives. We sing its song, its beautiful song, still.
We sing its holy song, the song that arrives from the depths, a gift to this day.
Sometimes the tune that plays in my head is from a later time in my life. I mimic Aretha Franklin, or John Lennon. My song takes on the cadence of some rock n’ roll song, and sometimes, I dance. I love to dance, and the song takes on movement, in my body, in my heart, in my house, in my life…
Every day has its theme, a theme decided in some deeper place within me, the place from which the melodies arise. I am grateful for these songs; in earlier years, when work and schedules and calendars and meeting the needs of others – and the anxiety of meeting those needs – was so important in my life, I awoke many days without a song in my heart. Did the songs go underground? Were the songs like plants and animals that disappear in the winter? Is this time of life a spring-time?
What is the melody for this time of life?