Tag Archives: Soul Tracking

NATURE PACKS A PUNCH

First Lilies

Near sunset, the Solstice sun blazes late in the day. Facing west, I am grateful to sit on my marble bench, a fireplace hearth from my former home secured on two cement blocks overlooking the garden pond. From this vantage point, three tall Japanese red-throated lilies rise above the budding green shoots of the lily bed. They are parade masters setting the pace for the vibrant blossoms ahead.

Over the last two decades, my soul tracking practice has demonstrated how gratitude comes with ease during the season of summer growth. Science is now proving the connection between nature and our well-being. Yesterday, John Douillard, a certified Ayurvedic practitioner, posted an article on The Life Changing Benefits of Forest Bathing. He cites 4 scientific articles, which attest to how our conscious immersion in nature can make a positive difference in our mood, state of mind and relationships to others. He writes,

The Science is Convincing

Four studies were done measuring the psychological effects of nature immersion. They found that those who regularly “bathed” in nature were more pro-social, focused on supporting others, and those who did not spend time in nature were more self-focused and self-centered. The group that spent more time in nature were also found to be more generous in their decision-making. These studies suggest that nature immersion supports a more community-focused, giving mindset.

In another study, after just a 4-day nature immersion and a disconnection from any type of technology, creativity and problem-solving skills were enhanced by a whopping 50%.

In other studies that were part of the Attention Restoration Theory (ART), nature immersion was shown to boost executive processing and cognitive functions such as selective attention, problem-solving, inhibition, and multi-tasking.

The effects of forest bathing were measured by comparing the inflammatory markers of 2 groups of ten healthy adults. One group was immersed in a city and the other group immersed in nature – both for four days. The nature-immersed group saw reduced oxidative stress, lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels and less inflammatory markers along with greater signs of energy and vigor compared to the city-immersed group.

Day lilies provide excellent practice in mindful immersion. After coffee, I arrive at the lily bed early when the petals first open to feed on light. I steady my gaze and relax my breath as I focus with deliberate intention on the shape, color, smell, and overall aesthetic of the blossom before me.

A peach and striped lemon lily appetizer, a prelude to the main course, appeared two days ago. I photographed it, to savor deep in winter when the season of white pervades. Douillard reports that in another study, many of these nature immersion benefits were mimicked by exposing a group to a virtual reality nature experience. This suggests that if you cannot regularly expose yourself to nature, having pictures and murals of nature in your living environment may deliver some of the nature immersion benefits. I have found that pictures from nature, especially those evoking contentment, can buoy the spirit.

If I were a flower, I would be a day lily. Swelling until I burst, petals splayed with color— yellow edged, pink center, black stamen—I raise my face to the sun, quenching my thirst for light through the long day until the chill of dusk causes me to shrivel and wane.

 

About Sustainability

Listening Frog
photo by Faye

The June 3rd front page headline, Trump Risking the Planet for Own Gain, Kerry Fears, resonated with my own sense of the effect of Trump’s ill thought out decision to withdraw from the historic Paris climate agreement. The article leads with how Kerry, just one year ago, his 2-year-old granddaughter Isabelle, in his lap, signed the historic climate accord. And now, only 13 months later, at first pretending to have listened to all sides of the evidence, Trump has discounted and misrepresented the scientific evidence, which mandates the necessity of attention to climate change.

All during May, from dawn to dusk, and sometimes during the night, these erratic-in-weather spring days seem to match President Trump’s fitful tweets and irrepressible amoral edicts.

As a gardener, I live close to the earth and its seasons. Every day, I am wedded to checking the weather and scanning the garden to see how my plants, trees or shrubs are faring. Rain causes wilt, rot, and satisfying plant growth, excluding the intrusive weeds. The absence of sun is frustrating and challenges my planting and weeding schedule.

Yet, each day, I am grateful to arrive at a space of quiet, soft moist smells and beauty. During this past two weeks, the purple arrivals— iris, lilacs, and columbine have given way to mounds of white rhododendron blossoms trailing above the pond. The effect is inviting and calming.

Just yesterday, as I began my daily soul tracking near the small pond, a lean and muscled green and brown frog leapt from the water and jumped to the far side where it sat at the edge, as if in listening mode.

“Good morning, Mr. or Ms.” I said. “Nice day.”

The frog did not flinch, unafraid.

“Lovely day, I’m glad for your presence,” I continued.

That statement, said aloud, bore the truth. This rainy spring, in particular, whenever I have approached the pond area, I’ve been greeted by a shrill “eep” sound followed by a flash and a splash.

But this silent, still listener was different, seemingly curious. I felt comforted by his calming presence, a sign from the universe, I was certain, that taking note of the small things in our environment best feeds and forms our sense of connection and meaning.

I am grateful for mayors and governors who are stepping up to counter the effects of shifting environmental challenges on their citizenry every day. I appreciate organizations such as 350.org, The Sierra Club, Green Peace and Union of Concerned Scientists.

I am especially grateful to Governor Jerry Brown for his passionate engagement and willingness to explore sustainability options with China, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s willingness to pledge $15 million to support the United Nations agency that helps implement the Climate Accord agreement.

There is something to be said for the groundswell of concern, worry and love for Mother Earth. Perhaps, the full effect of Trump’s egregious decision to abandon responsibility for Earth’s well-being will fuel and feed our considerable will and creative energy to find more useful and usable solutions to sustainability. One can only hope.

 

 

Mindful Attention: Cloud Watching

Cloud watching
on a sky blue day

The plan to slow down, to allow more time for reflection and writing, as the world around me speeds up, is no easy task. Given the historical events of Comey’s firing & Mueller’s appointment, the experience of my ability to turn inward, to focus and write, seemed miraculous. I am grateful for the habit of mindfulness, which I learned through the practice of soul tracking.

Last night, as I began to consider the focus of this blog, I recalled how I was drawn to the book see your way to mindfulness on the literature shelf at the Newton Library. On the cover, David Schiller promises Ideas and Inspiration to Open Your I. Cute and meaningful, yes—the intertwining of “eye” and “I” which resonated with my intention of finding a meaningful book.

I was expectant as I scanned the library’s New offerings. The title of the book caught my attention; its size, 6 by 6, and the rosy cover picture of clouds and tree branches resonated with the “I” and my wish to slow. On page 1, Schiller sets his intention—“And once we’re off the meditation cushion…Forget about it. It’s as if society has fashioned a world whose sole purpose is to distract us from the here and now.”

He cites all the inventive technological gismos which have lead us down the rabbit hole of screen watching, texting messages, selfie photo-shooting, tweeting and snap chatting.

He follows with a century-old story of a man who asked the eccentric Japanese teacher and poet Ikkyu to define the highest wisdom. Ikkyu wrote one word: “attention.” When the man didn’t quite understand, Ikkyu repeated, “attention means attention.”

I could not agree more. During my first year of training in social work graduate school, I wrote down and processed, word by word, the nuances, and affect of every client I interviewed. My supervisor reviewed my transcript and taught me how to attend. Questions such as “What did you notice, how did you feel at that moment,” were common. She was rigorous in her mindset training, to stay in the moment and avoid assumptions and distraction.

The practice of attentive noticing is basic to a mindfulness practice. In Schiller’s words, “Seeing isn’t really looking and it’s not watching.” Seeing is active. To my mind, seeing is about engagement. Through conscious action to pause followed by deep breaths and specific effort to slow down, one aspires to shift attention away from automatic thoughts to that which is in focus— a tree, a flower, the waves of the surf, the quest to articulate a mindful experience as I attempt to do right now.

Schiller uses pictures and quotations to prime the consciousness with everyday inspirations from nature and thus offers a way to learn to fully attend. For those in search of a primer, a small, easy to read book with prompts and pictures, I can recommend see your way to mindfulness. For those ready to practice, check out my Soul Tracking blogs dated 10/24/16 and 10/31/16.

Yesterday, I trimmed the top 4-or-5 inches of foliage off several bloom-spent daffodil plantings. Afterwards, I lay back in full sun to watch frilly-laced cloud puffs cross the blue sky. I was grateful for the sense of peaceful calm. As a result of this writing, I am grateful to experience it twice fold.

 

 

 

 

Post Election: The Search for Gratitude

Sun-splayed tree, 2016

Sun-splashed tree, 2016

There are times, like this past week, when the subject of gratitude comes hard, sticks in my throat. Hillary, her face gray and drawn, her hair lacking its coiffured fluff and luster, spoke out. “It’s up to each and every one of us to keep working to make America better and stronger and fairer,” she implored. Obama, overseas, in Germany, gathered crowds, put his best face forward, gave the message that our democracy will carry on and survive.

Yet, as I listen to Hillary and Obama, I mourn, feel regret. I am fearful and believe it is essential to adhere to values and action to assure civility and safety for all. But in the meanwhile, I must answer my own questions.

Who is Trump? How will he lead? Does he have perspective beyond the immediacy of his own lens or is he easily led, swayed by men such as Steve Bannon with his uncanny ability to pinpoint language, switch Trump’s moderate considerations into rhetoric of power with impunity.

Eleven days out, how do I live? How do I make sense of the onslaught of bad news— men who have spoken out against diversity, my core beliefs— being chosen to lead? What day-to-day action do I take? How will I use my time and resources to manage what is now becoming a stream of alien options difficult to digest?

My gratitude blog is my window to the world, a once a week deadline where I show up, rain or shine, to explore what has become the challenge to find and experience gratitude. I began this blog a year ago. Post election, I considered shifting to an every other week schedule. Now, I feel the imperative to continue, to write, to stay the course.

Yesterday, as my neighborhood mechanic was sealing a slow leak in my tire, I took a walk. The sky was energetic with dark clouds swirling, the air brisk with erratic winds as I combed a familiar street on foot to explore a major bridge, shut down, in repair, straight ahead. For weeks, this route has been re-routed, adding up to over a 20-minute encircling to what had been a 10-minute trip. On the ground, close to the site, I understood— they were rebuilding the bridge from the bottom up; rebuilding takes devoted attention and time.

In the afternoon, grateful and refreshed at the image of the bridge, I continued to meander and found another— smaller, simpler in its wooden structure, across from the Wellesley public library. I was in soul-tracking mode, the low sun highlighting tree after tree, some a century and a half old, their limbs stretched, each one perfect in its way. Beyond the trees, I found the bridge, weathered, a flexible, wooden arch, sheltering a spring, grey and gritty from lack of rain, but still running.

With gratitude, I felt the sun on my back as I clicked away on trees. Sometimes, what we need is pause, the time to dig deep, to grasp what is essential before we can find the image, the words to move back into the stream.

 

 

 

Soul Tracking 2: American Beech Tree

American Beech, 2016

American Beech, 2016

In September, 2004, I laid eyes on the gray lady American Beech for the first time. Truly, it was her single-eyed, plump mouth, her roots threading and dangling down the back hillside, her quietude that beckoned me to this piece of earth I have since called home.

She sits, queen-like, front and center in a grove of grey American Beech trees. Her leafy crown is wide and high. Joined with her siblings and kin, I feel sheltered under their verdant canopy.

All these years later, the gray lady still calls out to me— in winter, when the winds whirl about, her soft gray bark darkens and gleams; in spring, when her shallow roots swell with new shoots, and all during summer, when her leaves billow forward to offer pastoral shade, a sense of the sacred.

At the base of this hill filled with decades-old, low branching trees, a hidden cache across from the Charles River, I feel grateful, even blessed, to have embraced the task of steward. American Beeches, Fagus grandiforia, are the only species of beech native to North America. Before the glacial period, beech trees thrived throughout North America. It was common for Native Americans to choose the thick, smooth tree for tribal carvings.

American Beeches are survivors, little to be done, except for a seasonal misting of natural spray to ward off gypsy and winter months. In fall, the leaves thin out and turn golden. Unlike the maples and oaks, they do not shed their leaves in short order but linger. There is one tree, very large, on the line between my neighbor and myself. It sheds a few leaves weekly throughout late fall and all during the winter, leaving a small pile in the corner of the driveway, a reminder to attend to the whole cycle by collecting leaves for recycling into mulch.

Up close and even from behind my window in the midst of winter, the gray lady holds the promise of steadiness, calm, and beauty. Alex Hutchinson, writing “How Trees Calm Us Down, in http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/what-is-a-tree-worth, writes, “ a leafy tableau is more therapeutic than a drab brick wall–­–and puzzling. Whatever curative property the trees possessed, how were they casting it though a pane of glass?

Hutchinson aptly describes elements of my own soul-tracking, emphasizing the matter of attentiveness. “Your eye is captured by the shape of a branch, a ripple in the water; your mind follows.” To receive benefits from a tree, “the environment has to have some kind of stimulation to activate your involuntary attention—your fascination.”

Natural environments provide “softly fascinating stimulation,” and truly, that day in 2004, on the edge of retiring from my long-term psychotherapy practice, I was sorely in need of a soft landing. For the bounty of trees I am privileged to behold from every window in my present home, I am grateful to the beckoning gray lady American Beech for grounding me.