It’s the day after Earth Day. Snow ⎼ big, slow-moving white flakes are falling onto red-winged blackbirds, blue jays, goldfinches, robins and cardinals. And the snow weighs down the flowers in the yard breaking some of the stalks ⎼ yellow daffodils, blue squill, lavender crocus, hellebores ⎼ and it buries the new grass.
The bird calls grow stronger. Are they telling each other the location of seeds, warning of other birds or animals, or calling for a mate? Or maybe proclaiming “this branch is mine,” or the joy of eating and flying between snowflakes? They probably don’t yearn for any moment other than this one.
The trees, apple, cherry, and oak, seem unmoved, unbent by the cold or the snow load or even by the wind.
My wife and two of our cats sit with me on the bed inside the second-floor bedroom. The cats, not my wife and I, clean each other. Then they sleep. They wrap themselves so softly around each other, one’s head resting on the other’s belly, you could hardly tell where one ends and the other begins. Even after almost twelve years, I feel amazed by how these semi-wild creatures are so comfortable with each other and want to be with me.
And I am amazed, no, in awe maybe, joyous, that my wife is here with me. Despite all the craziness in much of the human world these days, we can create moments like this one. In between caring for our families, concern for the future or for our health, or shortages of supplies, we can sit with our cats, watch the snow fall, and listen for bird calls. We can cuddle, even without physically touching, just by giving to each other what the other most needs, giving support, acceptance, and warmth. It’s clear that she feels this moment strongly, like I do, but in her own unique way. She does a puzzle; I puzzle with these words.
In her book Evidence, Mary Oliver says:
This world is not just a little thrill for the eyes.
…It’s giving until the giving feels like receiving
Maybe that’s the key. To see that the world is not just something we observe at a distance but is as close as our own pulse. It includes so much more than the pandemic and political chaos. It includes not only the birds and flowers, cats and all of us people, not just the snow and the cold, but more than we know and all that we imagine. It shows us that giving deeply can be the most meaningful gift we give ourselves.
Especially in this time of crisis, we can simply take a breath, observe and listen to the natural world. And if we do this deeply enough, and maybe, for example, learn to distinguish and name the birds and their songs when we see or hear them, the world will come more alive to us. We will not feel as isolated in our homes and minds but discover a new sense of freedom, a new sense of being present in the world.
Likewise, by distinguishing and naming repeating thoughts that fly through our minds, or the sensations and feelings that subtly or demandingly inhabit our bodies, we have an opportunity to free ourselves from them and choose new ways to act. Instead of feeling enclosed or defined by thoughts, we are informed by them. The quality of our mind and our focus changes from habitually reacting to openly observing. And by discerning what’s true in our inner voices and feelings, we also learn to better identify the truth in what others say.
If you’d like, try this practice: Sit up comfortably wherever you can be undisturbed for a few minutes. Let your eyes rest, and partly or fully close. And feel the air as you breathe in ⎼ and out. Simply feel it as it passes over your upper lip. Notice the temperature, cold or warm, and how rapid or slow the breaths. Notice your shoulders as you inhale. Do they get more expansive, reach up and out as you inhale? And as you exhale, what happens? Simply notice. Do your shoulders settle down and relax?
Then shift your attention to your belly. As you inhale, does it reach up and out? And as you exhale, notice if your belly settles down, relaxes, and lets go.
Notice if your breath is calming as it comes and goes. Have you ever felt a calm wind on your face? Maybe a warm sun? Where was it that you felt calm? Relaxed? In the presence of beauty? Did you hear bird calls when you were there, or the sea? If you want, allow images from a calming place to come to you and visit with your mind. And simply sit there for a moment noticing the calm and warmth. Noticing what you feel like when you’re in a welcoming place.
Simply sit for a few more moments with the sense of calm and warmth. Then, when you’re ready, take a slow, deep breath, open your eyes, and look around you. Notice how you feel.
In order to speak, we must create in our minds a sense of the world and people around us. We create not only a listener but their character, someone or something real or imagined to talk with. All speech, even without a person to hear it, is two-sided. We speak with a lover differently than an enemy, an open-minded teacher differently than a closed-minded one. I shudder each time I think of the audience DT imagines when he speaks. So each time we speak, we must carefully and mindfully choose the type of person ⎼ and work to create the type of world ⎼ that will hear us.
What kind of world are we creating with our words and imagination?