Nature’s Internet

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I leave for my walk hoping that it will help calm my mind and still the energy swirling inside me.  Following my usual route, I cross the pond and head into the woods.  The trail leads me upstream of our pond, and along what used to be the edge of the stream.  This area was recently invaded by beavers who dammed a culvert, then extended their dam to create a huge expanse of water.  One of my neighbors, impressed by its size, called it a beaver lake.

After walking along the banks of this now beaver lake, I head up a small hill, circle back along another trail, turn left and climb upward.  Arriving at a flat area, I walk to a large rock outcropping, where I stop to pray.

My prayer begins with gratitude; I give thanks for the many blessings in my life.  Digging deep into my heart, I express my sense of going round and around in circles, of feeling ungrounded.  I ask for help, for guidance on where to go next. 

Finishing my prayer, I bow my head, then amble toward a large oak tree growing in the middle of large rocky outcroppings.  After circling the tree, I stand and calmly look around, inhaling the view. 

My eyes suddenly zoom in on a bright yellow patch growing out of the trunk of a fallen oak tree.  Unable to suppress my excitement, I exclaim aloud, “Wow!  That looks like a chicken mushroom.”

I walk over for a closer look, and confirm my initial impression.  Yes, it’s unmistakably a chicken mushroom – one of my favorite mushrooms to eat.  Like most edible mushrooms, it also has medicinal benefits.

Staring at the beautiful mushroom, I think about the mycelium growing underground, for a mushroom is the fruiting body of this web-like network of cells.  Mycelia are our planet’s great recyclers, transforming “dead” trees and other matter (even toxic waste) into vibrant, nutrient rich soil. 

Mushroom guru Paul Stamets considers mycelium to be the neurological network of nature, for these membranes are in constant molecular communication with their environment. They not only sense what is going on around them, they respond accordingly. 

Mycelia comprise Earth’s underground communication system.  Vast mycelia networks enable trees and plants to communicate with one another.  They serve as nature’s internet. 

My recollection of Stamets’s teachings comes to a close.  Caressing Chicken Mushroom’s thick, velvety flesh, I admire her luminescent orange-yellow color while my nose moves closer to sniff her delicious aroma.  Inhaling her essence, I ask whether she would be willing to let us eat her for dinner.  Receiving what I take to be an affirmative response, I bid Chicken Mushroom a temporary farewell, for I intend to return later with a knife and basket for harvesting. 

Resuming my walk, I feel grateful for this reminder of interconnection.  As my feet make contact with the ground, I sense my roots descending into earth, connecting with the web-of-life immediately below.  Feeling deeply grounded, focused and calm, I tap into Gaia and send her my love. 

 

St. J’s

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After waiting for the dew to dry, I walk over to Harmony Center  where one of my two Hypericum perforatum plants continues to flower.  My friends and I refer to this plant as St. J’s, staying out of the herbal controversy over whether it should be known by its more common name, St. John’s Wort, or the feminist alternative St. Joan’s Wort.  

St. J’s has a reputation for helping to alleviate depression.  While looking at its bright, cheerful yellow flowers, would lift anyone’s spirits, St. J’s offers many other healing gifts to us humans.  In addition to having anti-viral properties, this beautiful plant is anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic and anti-bacterial.  I’ve given infused St. J’s oil to people with shingles to apply externally for alleviating the neuralgia and use it myself when my hip or muscles yell in pain.[1]

I was initially taught to gather the top flowering parts of St. J’s, including some leaves.  Like other herbs, I harvested no more than 1/3 of the top.  As St. J’s isn’t plentiful on my land, after harvesting the one or two plants growing here, I drove around scanning the landscape, searching for more. 

My relationship with St. J’s changed after I became friends with salve maker Gretchen Gould.  Her oil won an herbal competition for having the deepest, richest, reddest color, thereby being the most medicinal.  She shared her secret with me.  She only harvests the newly opened flowers.   

I now follow her example.  In doing so, I’ve experienced another St. J’s gift. 

St. J’s begins blooming around the Summer Solstice (June 20th this year).   More than two months later, she continues to offer newly opened blossoms each morning.  Perennials, like St. J’s, usually don’t behave this way.  In contrast to annuals, they have a short flowering season. 

Over these months, I’ve filled jar after jar with St. J’s flowers.  First I made the oil by adding olive oil to the jars and placing them in a sunny spot.  I watched the bright yellow flowers magically transform the yellowish oil into a brilliant red color.  As the plants kept producing, I made tincture by adding 100 proof vodka to a jar of flowers.  The initially clear vodka similarly transformed into a crimson red color.  Then I dried some flowers to use in teas. 

As I walk over to St. J’s this morning, my heart feels full of gratitude.  Arriving beside her, I pick her offerings of the day and place them in my basket saying, “Dear, dear St. J’s, thank you for all you have given me this summer.  You kept giving, and giving, and giving.  It’s time for you to rest and renew.  Though I’ll keep visiting, I’m going to stop picking.”

I stand back, wondering what I can give back to St. J’s.  Looking at her, I focus on my full heart, open wide, and send her my love.  Then I find the hose, and sprinkle her roots with water. 

No wonder St. J’s helps alleviate depression.   She fills our hearts with love. 


[1] St.  J’s oil is generally only applied externally

Summer Soul-stice

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Today, the summer solstice, is the longest day and shortest night of the year.  Summer blossoms forth from this day forward.  After today, daylight will shorten and night-time will lengthen until the winter solstice, when daylight will lengthen once again.

Thinking about celebrating the day, I wander over to Harmony Center. Sunlight filters through trees and dances along the ground, guiding me down the path. 

When I reach my destination, I stop … in awe of the sight before my eyes.

A sea of foxglove beckons me on.  Waves of white and hot pink spread before me, and envelop me.  Majestic spires of delight reach up and draw in. 

My heart expands – filled with wonder, full of love.

One spire calls me closer.  Pulled into her embrace, I reach out to touch.  My fingers explore her silky soft skin.

Enthralled, I move in for more.  A wide open blossom invites me to enter.  My eyes follow the dotted pathway, travel into her mouth and down her throat.  I enter her center, the core of her being. 

Her place of inner stillness resonates deep inside me.  For a timeless moment, we share this space, the inner sanctum of soul. 

Spring has Sprung

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Spring springs forth with great abandon and joy.  Each day brings new surprises as Earth’s creative energy finds expression everywhere I look.

The landscape grows greener day by day.  Green shoots break through the ground, then rapidly uncoil to rise further up, moving toward the sun.  Leaves sprout forth from trunk and stem, then expand outward.

A chicken sits on eggs in the barn.  Usually hens roost at night – which means that they perch on an above-ground structure.  When a hen “goes broody,” she first remains in the nest, sitting on her eggs, for longer and longer each day, and then starts spending the night there.  She patiently sits, day after day, only getting up now and again to take a few sips of water and eat a few morsels of food.  Beneath her warming body, baby chicks are forming. 

A ewe birthed a beautiful baby lamb last night.  She carefully licked it off, and immediately began nurturing it.  When I saw them together this morning, the lamb was standing on long scrawny legs sucking milk from her mother’s teat. 

I too feel Earth’s creative surge.  My fingers twitch with joy as I head out to plant a package of seeds.  Earth will nurture these seeds.  When the time is right, the seeds will germinate, and follow inner directives to send roots down deeper, push heads up higher, branch out in all directions, flower and bear fruit.

We similarly receive inner directives to grow.  Growth takes us in many directions: into the soil of our deeper selves, out toward other beings and all of Earth, also up toward the light.  Following inner directives helps us grow into wholeness. 

Web of Life

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We live in a web of inter-connection, inter-dependence, and inter-relatedness – the web of life.

Human beings co-evolved with nature, and in nature.  Everything in nature is genetically and molecularly linked.  This isn’t just a fanciful notion, for scientific sequencing of the human genome reveals that we share more than we might have imagined with other animals.  Over 90% of our human genome is identical to that of the lion. 

Deep inside, we know that every aspect of our lives intertwines with nature.  We depend on nature for the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water that quenches our thirst.  Nature exists inside, as well as outside, us. Nature forms the connecting link. 

We share Earth with the rest of our family.  In addition to kindred human beings, our family includes brother and sister animals, plants, birds, fungi – all life on Earth.  We are the human animal.  And Earth is our home.

Our deepest essence is rooted in nature, intertwined with all beings everywhere, with Earth our home, and with all of creation. 

Practicing

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Travelling home from the hospital, I worry, “How will I finish preparing to go away?”  “How will I pack if I’m hopping around on crutches?”   I wonder, “Will I be able to enjoy my vacation?”  Taking a positive approach, I decide to release expectations and learn to relax. 

The following day I assiduously ice my sprained ankle and send it healing energy.  As the day progresses, it gradually responds to my ministrations.  My ankle starts allowing me to put some weight on it without screaming in pain.  I graduate myself to using a cane, and manage to pack. Then, thanks to airline wheel chair arrangements, and my husband’s assistance, we’re able to fly to Salt Lake City the very next day. 

By the time I arrive in southern Utah, I’m able to walk unassisted by either the cane or the air cast.  Having looked forward to hiking in the area’s red rock desert landscape, I excitedly decide to give one a try.  Wanting to honor my ankle’s limitations, I review the three morning hikes being offered and sign up for the easiest, beginner level one. 

Our “Explorer” hike goes at an easy pace, with a guide ahead and a shepherd in the rear.  We frequently stop to admire the scenery – red and white rock formations contrasting against black lava areas.  The guide fills us in on geological history and points out interesting plants along the way.  I feel deeply grateful to be able to hike amidst these wonders of nature.  

After two such hikes, I feel increasingly confident in my ankle’s ability to negotiate the terrain.  My mind toys with the idea of signing up for a more challenging hike.  I yearn to ascend to higher heights and wonder whether to take the risk.

Observing my thoughts, I remind myself – “learn to relax.”   I sign up for the easiest hike. 

I religiously continue applying ice to my ankle.  And though tempted to take tai chi, or another class in the afternoons, I focus on relaxing.  I position myself outside, facing Red Rock Mountain with my leg propped up on a chair.  As I absorb the beautiful panorama, I count my blessings, feeling grateful for the experience. 

Now and again, though, the old thoughts pop up, I start debating about trying to do more.  I treat these thoughts like meditation.  Each time my mind wanders to thoughts of doing, I let go of the thought and focus my attention on being, on learning to relax. 

On my last day there I briefly feel tempted to take a more challenging hike.  Attuned now to my pattern, I immediately release the thought and open my heart to the pleasures of a slower paced hike. 

After a truly relaxing vacation, I return home to piles of mail and a to-do list filled with organizational details. 

Now the real challenge begins – continuing the practice at home. 

Letting Go

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I begin my walk marveling at the glorious spring day – sunshine, blue sky, warm weather.  “What more could I want.”

Passing the pond, I note 2 pairs of ducks gracefully gliding through the calm water, and think “the joys of mating season.”  My ears pick up some sounds, not really quacks, more squeaky than that, floating through air.  Soon two more ducks descend upon the pond, their arrival signaled by a very small splash.  The two additional lovers begin their graceful swim, trailed by two small wakes.  

As I continue down the trail, my mind travels to the future, looking ahead to my forthcoming trip.  In two days I’ll be with one son and his family, including three of my seven grandchildren.  And then further ahead, anticipating the short vacation hiking amid red rock formations.  “What more could I want.”

I muse about how much I love living here, on Harmony Farm.  No wonder I rarely travel.  Yet twice a year I pull up my roots and travel to places where I hike.  “What more could I want.”

I see green pushing her shoots above ground and swelling buds on trees.  I smell the vibrancy of earth beneath my feet.  And then … suddenly … my right foot encounters a rock and loses its grip.  My ankle rotates to the side.  I fall.  My hands automatically reach out to cushion my fall. 

Encountering the ground, I evaluate my situation.  No broken arms.  Gingerly rising, I test out my legs.  “Whew,” I think, “I seem to be O.K.”

Resuming my walk, everything feels fine and I feel deep gratitude.  Then, almost halfway home, my ankle begins to protest.  Soon I can barely walk.  Passing by the pond, I think, “Almost home.”  The last rise toward the house my ankle screams “No!”  I crawl the last few feet, hop into the kitchen, make a bee-line for the freezer, retrieve two ice packs and manage to wrap them around my poor ankle. 

After maneuvering my way to the basement, I retrieve a pair of crutches, swing my way to the phone, and begin a series of calls to locate my husband.  To my relief, he comes to my rescue.

Though the emergency room appears empty, we learn that they are dealing with two ambulance cases.   During our long wait, the loudspeaker announces, “Code Blue in Room One, Code Blue in Room One.”  I remind myself of how lucky I am. 

Many hours later, the verdict is in.  No broken bones, but a badly sprained ankle.  They wrap my ankle in an air cast, teach me now to use crutches, and send me on my way with instructions to keep my leg elevated and apply frequent ice. 

Driving home we evaluate our situation.  No we won’t cancel our trip.  I release my anticipation of hiking, and open to what else might happen. 

Letting go of expectations, I think “Perhaps I’ll learn to relax.” 

 

Signs of Spring

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I awaken to a sign of spring.

Looking into the day through the bathroom window, my eyes get drawn to a fiery red area highlighted against an otherwise drab landscape.  Focusing on the color, which sits on a barren branch nearby, I identify the outline of a bird, its crimson chest blazing out into the early light.

At first I think, “ah a robin red breast.” But as my morning eyes focus, I see that the crimson color covers more of the bird’s body than just its chest.  And as I continue staring at what feels like a mirage, I recognize the bird — a cardinal. 

After making the bed, dressing, and completing a few kitchen chores, I go outside and begin walking toward Harmony Center. A bird’s clear “tweet, tweet … tweet,tweet … tweet,tweet” floats atop the morning’s stillness.  I reply, “tweet, tweet … tweet, tweet … tweet, tweet.”

Arriving in the building, I move toward a large expanse of glass.  Facing east, I see brilliant sunlight streaming through trees and realize how much the angle of the sun has changed.  No longer low on the horizon, the sun’s position is now higher and further east – moving toward spring.

Finishing my morning ritual that includes giving thanks for the day, some chi gong, a little yoga, and additional stretching, I feel hunger stirring in my belly.  Ready for breakfast, I head toward the barn, and then wander into the chicken coup.  Reaching into a nest, my hand encounters a warm oval gift — a freshly laid egg.  Thanks to longer daylight, the hens are laying again. 

As I continue down the driveway to retrieve the newspaper, my ears pick up sounds of birds chirping their welcome to the day.  Looking towards the stream bed, my eyes recognize skunk cabbage shoots beginning to poke above ground.

Arriving at the mailbox by the side of the road, I watch cars whizzing by, their drivers seemingly oblivious to the signs of spring all around them.

Appreciating my good fortune, I count this morning’s blessings – cardinal, sunlight, birdsong, skunk cabbage, and a freshly laid egg.  Ah, signs of Spring!

Oak

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On a recent walk in woods behind Harmony Center, I feel drawn to stop and commune with a beautiful oak tree.  I admire its strong trunk and look up into its branches.  Noticing some broken limbs, I wonder what trauma could have caused such damage. 

A snowstorm?  A Nor’easter?  And when might that have happened? 

Observing one branch, I note its position about half way up the trunk.  Judging by the size of the tree, I suspect that this damage occurred about 50 or so years ago.  

Sitting on the ground, I reflect on the relationship between growing and healing.  Despite being hurt, the tree continued to grow.  It first sealed off its wound, and then resumed growing. 

I stand and approach the tree.  Wrapping my arms around its trunk, I sense its deep rootedness, its inner strength, its tenacity and fortitude.  After absorbing these sensations, I step back, clasp my hands against my heart, and bow my head in gratitude for Oak’s important lesson.

Despite its shorn limb, Oak continued to grow.  

Prayer

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Prayer, to me, means opening your heart, listening to its yearnings, putting those wishes into words, and sending them out to the universe with the hope that they will be “heard.”  

I used to think that prayer was self-serving, that we need to embrace what we have in life and move on from there.  Prayer assumes that some aspect of the universe is “listening,” and I didn’t believe in a parental, anthropocentric universe. 

Over the years, though, I’ve come to think differently about prayer and incorporate prayer into my life.  Prayer always begins, for me anyway, with an expression of gratitude for all that I have. 

Duncan Sings-Alone, a Native American medicine man and Zen Buddhist priest, taught about two aspects of prayer in one of his workshops at Harmony Center.  He explained that masculine prayer involves expressing what one needs, asking for help with a dilemma or difficulty.  The feminine aspect of prayer is more receptive.  It involves sitting, opening, and waiting for an “answer.” 

Like other Native American teachings, the masculine and feminine aspects of prayer complement each other, and neither is more important than the other.  Prayer involves a dialogue with the spirit world, the unseen dimension.  It requires that we go inside ourselves to identify where we are at the moment and what it is that we need as a human being.  Once we ask for help, then we need to let go of any expectation, open to what might be offered, and listen with the ears of our hearts.   

Both aspects of prayer are necessary, the active asking and the receptive receiving.  Together they create a whole – prayer.

Walking in Woods

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Sitting at the computer, my mind whirs. Busy with thoughts, ideas for a class, I organize and plan for the future. My fingers tap rapidly at the keyboard, trying to keep apace with thoughts flying through my mind. Yet nothing falls into place.

As my mind goes round and round in circles, my breathing becomes shallow, my body tight. Though my fingers temporarily slow in response to the thought, “might as well check e-mail,” my mind continues to race.

Suddenly becoming conscious of what’s happening, I take a deep breath and ask my body to release, to let go. My breath slows, yet tension remains. Dispensing with the e-mail, I glance at the clock, and realize “it’s time for my walk.”

After donning a jacket and boots, I step outside, close the door, and inhale deeply. Crispness enters my body. I sense air dispersing stagnation, enlivening cells.

Trail in WoodsMy legs find their rhythm as they guide me down a well-known trail. My feet make contact with the leaf littered path, sensing the earth’s undulations and adjusting accordingly. My arms swing beside me, counterbalancing the movements of each leg.

And as my body finds its rhythm, my mind shifts gears. I notice clouds floating across the blue sky above, the soft smell in the air, the rustle of leaves under foot intermingling with the hum of a distant jet. I open to each experience and connect.

I connect with the earth beneath my feet, with the trees along the way, and with the barren branches that have released their leaves to the ground. Touching a white pine frond, I sense green energy prickling my finger- tips and entering my body. My heart expands with gratitude.

Returning to my house, I reflect on the experience and note that my perspective had shifted. Frantic mind evaporated along the trail, replaced by feelings of interconnection – with nature, with life itself.

Nature and Culture

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I live on Harmony Farm where we’ve been gardening organically, raising chickens and sheep, and connecting with nature for over 30 years.  In my early years of living on this land, I became enamored with living a natural life-style.

We aimed to grow as much of our food as possible.  Our chickens produced eggs.  The gardens blessed us with garlic, greens, herbs, strawberries, tomatoes, squash, and many other gifts.  I learned to freeze vegetables and make jams without using sugar.  During winter months, we also ate potatoes and carrots from our cold storage room in the cellar. 

Gardening organically and living in tune with the seasons became my personal mantra.  During the heat of summer months we ate more cooling raw foods (salads and fruit), and in winter turned to heavier stews and soups.  I also listened to my body as it cycled through the seasons, sleeping more during winter and less during summer. 

While our dream of living in harmony with nature was becoming a reality, we were also part of another world, society – living in it, working in it, enjoying it.  In some ways we kept our two worlds separate, leaving one to enter the other, but they also overlapped, and I felt torn between them. 

As much as I loved nature, I felt unfaithful and disloyal, for I also appreciated the comforts and conveniences of modern life.  My food processor was a blessing in the kitchen, along with the blender, grain mill and juicer.  And while I savored taking peaceful walks, I also fancied the feel of driving a high performance car, one that enabled me to feel my way along the road, sensing each turn.  As much as I enjoyed gardening, it hadn’t replaced going to movies, plays, symphonies, and eating out.

I felt torn, fragmented, pulled in two directions.  One of my feet was firmly planted in the earth, feeling her cycles and rhythms.  My other foot was speeding along America’s highways, which favored the straight, narrow path of logical, mechanistic thinking.  I wasn’t comfortable with these disparities and kept thinking that I had to choose between different worlds – that truly valuing nature meant renouncing culture and its technological advances. 

I was suffering from our society’s disease of either / or thinking.  Though nature had been showing me how she weaves parts into wholes, I’d been seeing the parts and overlooking the whole.  Either / or thinking was the culprit to banish from my life, not the machines that made it easier, enriched it. 

After coming to this realization 25 years ago, my learning from nature intensified.  I began looking toward living a whole life, not subtracting from it, and experiencing how interconnecting creates wholeness. 

Intentions

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People often begin the New Year with a resolution about something they intend to do, or intend to have happen.  Intentions direct psycho-spiritual energy in a specific direction.

Setting an intention is similar to entering an address into a GPS navigational system.  The system processes the address and determines how to get to that destination.  It may take you down circuitous routes, or make “corrections” along the way, but it guides you to where you want to go.

As a counseling psychologist and organic grower, I help people heal inner wounds and grow into whole human beings.  When I begin working with someone, it’s useful for us to set an intention, to decide together where they want their growing to take them.  Setting an intention helps us have a shared vision, a sense of where our journey together will take us.

On this New Year’s Day, I set my intention for this blog.  May it nourish the soil of your deeper self and help you grow into wholeness.

And as we begin this journey together, I invite you to set an intention for yourself.  Close your eyes, take a few slow, deep breaths, and ask: “Where do I want my growing to take me?”  Sit with this question quietly for a while, allowing the answer to come from deep within.  Then put that image into words using positive language.  Perhaps write the words down in a journal, or share them with the rest of us in a post.

Winter Solstice

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The seasons change, life moves on, cycling from dark to light and light to dark.  Today, the Winter Solstice, marks the longest, and thereby the darkest, night of the year.  It invites us to appreciate the dark, to explore the mystery of darkness.

Living in our light-loving culture, we’re raised to fear the dark, to shy away from potential evil lurking inside the dark.  I too love the light of summer, yet know that darkness brings gifts of its own.  It beckons us to turn inward, to move into that still place deep inside.  It encourages us to explore mystery, to dream, to meditate, and to appreciate both sides of polarity — the dark as well as the light.

Winter Solstice marks the beginning of our winter — a time to embrace the dark, to wrap a blanket around our bodies and curl up inside the “cave.”  During winter our energies slow down.  We hibernate and rest, allowing our energy to replenish in readiness for the rebirth of spring.